A standing room-only crowd filled the cafeteria of the former D. Ferd Swaney Elementary School on Wednesday at a meeting of the Albert Gallatin Area School Board to support district teachers as they observed their 400th day of working on an expired contract.
Albert Gallatin teachers were joined by community members, colleagues from multiple area school districts and members of the United Mine Workers of America to put pressure on the school district to negotiate in good faith for a contract for the approximately 230 members that comprise the Albert Gallatin Education Association (AGEA).
District teachers have been working without a contract since Aug. 15, 2018.
“It’s been a long time since we shared with (the school board) our frustration, and they needed to know not only were we unified in our goal for a fair and equitable contract but that we have people from outside of our unit who are standing side by side with us,” said Mary Ellen Jones, a UniServ representative from the Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA) who serves as a labor relations specialist for the teachers’ union.
Jones said the meeting was attended by teachers from the Brownsville Area, Central Greene, Connellsville Area, Laurel Highlands and Uniontown Area school districts.
Contract negotiations are slated to continue between the district and the teachers’ union after the two sides failed to reach a resolution through fact-finding over the summer.
The AGEA in August twice rejected a report issued by a state-appointed fact-finder that would have formed the basis for a four-year contract. Earlier this year, the teachers’ union also rejected a tentative three-year agreement that had been reached between the district and the AGEA bargaining team and ratified by the school board.
Albert Gallatin solicitor Lee Price said the district will seek to find out why the union has repeatedly voted down the proposed contracts when the two parties meet at the bargaining table Monday for the first time since fact-finding.
A press release issued by the district in August following the board’s approval of the fact-finding report noted that the district had agreed to higher salary increases than it had initially offered, in addition to the report providing for health insurance through the Allegheny County School Health Insurance Consortium with P.P.O. or E.P.O. health plan options and other provisions.
According to Jones, sticking points for the union that pushed its members to reject the fact-finding report include the length of the proposed contract at four years, rather than five, preventing teachers from experiencing peak savings in their health insurance, and the requirement of teachers to work a three-hour period to meet with parents following a regular in-service day at the start of each school year, resulting in work days of more than 10 hours.
Jones said those grievances are in addition to the union taking “major concessions” in its last contract, including a pay freeze that has set teacher salaries in the district behind the career rate.
The full fact-finding report and recommendations, published by the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board, can be viewed on the state Department of Labor and Industry website.
During the public comment portion of the meeting public, several parents and district residents expressed dissatisfaction towards the school board for the continued contract impasse, as well as concern over large class sizes and program eliminations as a result of recent staffing cuts.
Following the meeting, Melissa Brant, president of the PSEA Southwestern Region that comprises Fayette, Greene, Washington and Westmoreland counties, said Albert Gallatin teachers have experienced much give and little take through the bargaining process.
“Negotiation is supposed to be back and forth. It seems like these (teachers) are being asked to give and lose staff, lose an adequate class size to do instruction in. What are they gaining?” said Brant, who is an Albert Gallatin resident and a teacher in the Central Greene School District.