CLEVELAND HEIGHTS, Ohio – Members of the Cleveland Heights Teachers Union argue with the Cleveland Heights-University Heights City school district over employee wages and health care compensation.
"This is a first for many of our members," said Tiffiny Underhile. "We never thought it would come to that."
Teachers, counselors, nurses and other support staff announced that after months of negotiations they will go on strike from Wednesday December 2, but have not reached an overall agreement.
"Our district is frankly in a very difficult financial position due to several factors beyond our control," said Jodi Sourini, president of the education committee.
Union members, including Underhile, argue against what they call unfair changes in workers' wages and higher health care costs.
"Potentially three to five thousand dollars more a year for each member," Underhile said. "And that's just the premiums and the other health care supplements."
Union members said the changes could drive seasoned educators out of the district and reduce the quality of student education.
Sourini said the district could no longer function under previous employee health insurance plans.
"They have no co-pays, no deductibles, no co-pays for office visits," Sourini said. "And to be honest, our church just can't afford that anymore."
In addition to disagreements over the contract, union members are upset that they will lose health insurance during the strike.
"My family, we are on my health plan," said Underhile. "In the midst of a global pandemic, it is scary to know that we will for sure cut off our advantages."
However, Sourini said the cuts to striking union members were state protocol.
“It is a legal obligation to stop wages and benefits for workers on strike. It's not about whether it is the right thing or not. It's about obeying the law, ”said Sourini. "I sincerely hope that your union leadership has informed the members of what they are voting and what it means to strike."
Longtime Cleveland Heights resident Henry Alexander said the lack of an agreement between the district and the union hampers educational opportunities.
“The students pay the price. The parents pay the price, ”said Alexander. "Because now these parents definitely need to find someone to be home with these kids, maybe in grades K-5 or K-6."
Read the full Cleveland Heights Teachers Union strike notice below:
“The Cleveland Heights Teachers Union (CHTU), which represents 500 teachers, counselors, nurses, paraprofessional and other school support professionals, filed a ten-day strike notice effective December 2, 2020. The strike notification follows months of negotiations with the Cleveland Heights-University Heights City school district and an overwhelming vote in October for a strike if a fair contract is not reached.
"We are fighting for a fair contract because we know that the alternative – lowering standards for teachers and staff – will increase sales and drive experienced, skilled educators out of our school district," said CHTU President Karen Rego.
The school district's school board has introduced contractual terms that reduce compensation by drastically increasing health care costs (increasing the employee's share of the premium to 250% of the current share) and removing a 1% age contribution negotiated in a previous contract instead of an increase. On average, members lose nearly $ 4,000 due to changes in healthcare alone. When the pension franchise is added, some members can lose up to 8% or more of their takeaway salary.
"Our schools are facing unprecedented challenges due to COVID-19 and distance learning," said Tamar Gray, 2nd vice president of CHTU. “Teachers and staff have worked harder than ever before and faced these challenges. At the same time, our district board of directors has struggled to push us back on wages and benefits. We cannot do more with less. "
In the past 10 years, CHTU members have received increases totaling just 8.5 percent. far below the cost of living rises and far less than in neighboring districts.
"We understand the financial situation of our school district, especially the effects of voucher deductions in our district," said 1st Vice President Ari Klein. "We are committed to working with our board of directors to change government policies and end the harmful EdChoice voucher withdrawals." We are disappointed that our board of directors has instead decided to attack the teachers and staff who keep this school district going. "
The school district is projected to lose $ 9 million in voucher withdrawals for private schools this year alone, despite the Fair School Funding Plan (HB 305 and SB 376) moving forward in Lame-Duck's legislative session Would finish deductions. In addition, a levy of 4.8 million has just been approved by the municipality.
"The Union has made several proposals that offer concessions on our insurance benefits," said Rego. "We know the district has the resources to get a fair deal and we stand ready to work with our board of directors to find a solution as our students deserve a school district that can recruit and retain the best educators. "
Read the Cleveland Heights-University Heights City School District School Board's response:
“There has been a discussion on social media and in the community about whether Ohio public school teachers are giving up their rights to pay and benefits from the first day of a strike. Please understand that the Board of Directors is fully aware of its legal obligations in this regard. We think it is important to provide you with further details.
First of all, we would like to emphasize that, despite our longstanding negotiation efforts, the Cleveland Heights Teachers Union decided in good faith on November 20th to inform the district of its members' intention to strike on December 2nd. We have had talks. We have worked with the Union for almost 20 hours over the past few days to resolve our differences and we remain committed to the process.
When public school teachers go on strike, they knowingly walk away from wages and benefits. That is the definition of a strike – employees choose to back off their pay in order to influence employment conditions. The suspension of wages and benefits is required by state law for public sector employees in Ohio. We sincerely hope that the leadership of the Union has informed its members about what strike decisions mean.
Our district is not alone in this. Ohio public school districts that have seen strikes in recent years have consistently taken the same steps to comply with the law. These include, for example, the fall 2020 strike in the Gahanna Jefferson School District, where the district took steps to end health insurance for teachers when they went on strike.
However, employees can also choose to continue their health benefits through COBRA during a strike. If you choose COBRA coverage, the coverage will not expire. The change is that the employee, not the board of directors, has to pay for coverage. While we know that these costs will be a burden for some striking teachers, it allows coverage to continue during a strike.
Just as the union has the legal right to call a strike, the district has the legal right to provide work to any member of the negotiating unit who wishes to work during the strike. Teachers who choose to continue working will continue to receive their salary and benefits.
This was an incredibly difficult decision for the board of directors, especially during a global health emergency. However, the Board of Directors recognizes its obligation to do so. We still hope that a strike can be averted for our students. No matter what, we will certainly respect our teachers and their right as public officials to make their own choices. "
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