Contract negotiations will continue after members of the Albert Gallatin Education Association voted down a proposed collective bargaining agreement for district teachers.

The teachers’ union met Thursday for a vote of its approximately 240 members to ratify a proposed contract and put an end to nine months of working on an expired contract. The proposal, however, was reportedly defeated by a considerable margin.

According to Mary Ellen Jones, UniServ representative from the Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA) who serves as a labor relations specialist working on behalf of the teachers’ union, more than two-thirds of the AGEA membership voted against the proposed contract, which had been approved Wednesday by the Albert Gallatin Area School Board.

Jones said there did not appear to be one single factor that influenced union members to vote down the contract. She said a survey will be issued to members to gauge their perception of the proposed contract.

District teachers, guidance counselors and nurses that comprise the AGEA have been working without a contract since Aug. 15, 2018, while negotiations for a new contract have been ongoing.

School directors had voted 8-1 to ratify the three-year agreement between the district and the AGEA. Board President Janet Swaney cast the sole opposing vote.

The district and the AGEA will return to bargaining and will enter into fact-finding, a process that school districts and employee groups can use to resolve contract disputes when traditional negotiations haven’t produced a contract. The process is handled by a third-party intermediary who listens to both sides and offers recommendations.

Jones said the two parties can continue to negotiate during the fact-finding process.

The two parties were poised to enter into fact-finding eight weeks ago in an attempt to end the collective bargaining impasse after the union had requested and was awarded an independent arbitrator by the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board to mediate a settlement.

However, the district and the union came to a tentative agreement through mediation without the need for fact-finding. As part of the agreement, the two sides agreed to submit a joint fact-finding request to the labor board if the contract were to be voted down, said Jones, adding that a fact-finder is expected to be appointed to the matter in June.

The fact-finder will have 40 days to issue a report to the two parties. Once a report is filed, the parties will have 10 days to respond with a vote to be taken for its acceptance or rejection. The school board is required to take the vote during a public meeting. If both parties accept the report, the report forms the basis for a new contract. If either party rejects the report, it is released to the public for a five-day period, after which a second vote is required. If the report is again rejected, the two sides return to the bargaining table.

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