Negotiator says teachers union is stalling talks

February 23, 2007|by ERIN CUNNINGHAM

HAGERSTOWN - The Washington County Teachers Association called off contract negotiations for the third time Thursday, prompting the Board of Education's chief negotiator to accuse them of stalling.

"This is a deliberate attempt by the association to delay negotiations," said Tim Thornburg, employee and labor relations coordinator and chief negotiator for the board.

The teachers association canceled Thursday's talks, saying the board needs to respond to information requests before the association can resume and finalize the bargaining process, according to information released by T. Scott Miller, Maryland State Teachers Association UniServ Director and chief negotiator.

Thornburg called the decision to cancel the bargaining session negligent and irresponsible.

Negotiations for the 2007-08 school year contract have been ongoing since December. The last meeting was Feb. 12.

Thornburg said the board was prepared to answer the association's questions during Thursday's meeting. He said the board was not told it needed to provide the answers before the scheduled negotiating session.


The board's team was prepared to conclude negotiations Thursday, Thornburg said.

The questions, which Thornburg said he received Tuesday, included seven requests for information from the board, including why a vision-care plan could not be provided, data on tuition reimbursement and the attrition rate for Washington County Public Schools teachers.

"We need the board to provide the information we requested," Miller said. "We are not stalling. We need the information we asked for."

In a press release Thursday, Miller said the association supports a significant raise for teachers. The board's last offer was a 7 percent increase, plus a step increase, which would be an 8.5 percent increase for most teachers.

The association, however, opposes part of that proposal, which would extend the teacher work year by two weeks in the summer for mandatory professional development, Miller said.

"The association is committed to protecting our members from the impact that such a situation would cause for our teachers, especially those who rely on second jobs during the summer and for those who use that time to earn the academic credits necessary to keep their teaching certificates," Miller said.

Thornburg said the association's cancellation of Thursday's meeting showed it was not committed to completing the contract negotiations in a timely manner.

"This is their third time canceling," he said. "We're never going to get anything done."

Miller said the association is eager to complete contract negotiations as soon as possible.

However, the association's position is firm on issues of health insurance and tuition reimbursement, he said. Both sides have discussed tuition reimbursement during negotiations, and the board has said it has no interest in negotiating the health insurance proposals the association has presented.

Miller said the board needs to provide teachers with retirement benefits and a joint committee to provide input for those benefits. He also said the association is committed to providing tuition reimbursement for all teachers during every stage of their career.

"Some excellent offers have been made by the board," Thornburg said. "And unfortunately the negotiation team and association leaders are not making decisions based on benefits to the full membership. It appears that one select group of proposals coming from the association favors the more senior teachers. It's unfortunate that the association wants to exclude its younger bargaining members."

Miller said the association will be addressing its members in a series of informational meetings next week.

Thornburg said the board plans to respond to those meetings and the press release issued Thursday by the association with "accurate" information for all stakeholders.

Know more

The issue: The Washington County Board of Education and the Washington County Teachers Association have been in contract negotiations for the 2007-08 school year since December 2006.

What's new: The association canceled Thursday's bargaining session, saying it needs information it requested from the board before continuing. The board's negotiating team said it was prepared to answer those questions received Tuesday at Thursday's meeting.

What's next: A new date for negotiations has not been set. Both sides say they would like to settle as soon as possible.

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