New Kensington-Arnold, teachers union bracing for strike; no talks scheduled

No further talks are scheduled between negotiators for the New Kensington-Arnold School District and its teachers union ahead of a strike the union says it will begin on Monday, union and district representatives said Friday.

The New Kensington-Arnold Education Association announced a work stoppage Thursday, after the union and district were unable to come to an agreement Wednesday on how much teachers should pay for health care benefits in a new five-year contract.

The union says it will picket in front of all four schools, beginning at 7 am Monday at Valley High School and 8:30 am at Martin, HD Berkey and Roy A. Hunt elementary schools.

In a statement Friday, the district said it is willing to return to bargaining if asked.

“This is a dispute over the teachers’ unwillingness to pay a portion of their health care as most Americans have to do,” said a statement from the district released Friday morning. “The district has the last reasonable offer on the table, so whether or not a strike can be averted is in the hands of the association’s membership.”

It is not yet known how long teachers can remain on strike before state law will require them to return to classrooms.

Superintendent Chris Sefcheck said Friday that no classes will be held during the strike. Sports, after-school activities, the spring musical and school lunches will continue, he said.

Performances of the musical, “Newsies,” are scheduled for April 21-24 at the Valley High School auditorium.

A representative of the Northern Westmoreland Career and Technology Center, located next to Valley High School, could not immediately be reached for comment on the strike’s impact on its operations.

The last contract expired Aug. 31. Health care is the only unresolved issue in the current talks.

In announcing the strike Thursday, the association said it was left with no choice because of the district’s refusal to meet it in the middle on health care premium contributions.

In its statement, the district said the sides could not agree on what the middle was.

“The union wanted to ignore a year’s worth of negotiations, hit a reset button, and say the middle was between where both sides started on day one,” the district’s statement said.

According to the district, the union offered to pay about 11% of the total premium in its last written offer in February, while the district asked for 15% on average in its offer from January. The district says the union rejected its offer to meet in the middle at 13%.

The district said the association went back to its offer of 8% in December 2020, the percentage paid under the expired contract, in coming up with a middle figure of 11.5% – 11% in the first and second years, 11.5% in the third , and topping off at 12% in the fourth and fifth years.

The district said it proposed an average of 12%, increasing by half a percent each year from 11% in the first year to 13% in the fifth year. The union responded with a letter of its intent to strike, according to the district’s statement.

The district said it is disappointed the association will not take its offer to its members for a vote “particularly when the parties are only 1/2% apart in years 2, 3 and 4 and only 1% apart in year 5.”

Brian C. Rittmeyer is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Brian at 724-226-4701, [email protected] or via Twitter .

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