Teachers in the Crosby-Ironton School District, who have been working without a contract for 19 months, voted Tuesday night to authorize a strike if necessary to settle their 2003-2005 contract.
Stan Nagorski, co-union president of Education Minnesota Crosby-Ironton Local No. 1325, said the district's 86 teachers are frustrated by the lack of progress in negotiations with the school district.
"We've gone 19 months and we haven't made a lot of progress," said Nagorski. "It's a frustrating position to be in. We've tried to look at different alternatives to the contract and the district leaves us with no alternatives now. We've waited 19 months and we've got 30 years of agreed upon benefits that they want to remove and take away. And basically we're asking for an average settlement and not to go backwards."
The teacher's union met Tuesday at Gary's Sports Bar in Ironton where 93 percent of its members voted to give the union's executive board and negotiating team the authority to call a strike "if and when they deem it necessary," Nagorski said.
A similar vote was called in October. Nagorski said that earlier vote started the process to plan for a strike if negotiations failed to reach an agreement. The teacher's union is in the process of setting up a settlement headquarters in Crosby, which will become the strike headquarters if they choose to strike.
"You have to prepare for worst-case scenario," said Doug Mayfield, a Crosby-Ironton English teacher and head negotiator for the local union. "We have to be able to hit the ground running if there is a strike. ... We'll keep discussing this and trying to achieve a resolution without a strike. Nobody is wanting to do that. The situation is very frustrating, I'm sure, for both sides."
Mayfield said the vote cast Tuesday gives the negotiating committee and the executive board the authority to call for a strike. If that decision is made, there will be a 10-day cooling off period followed by a 15-day window in which a strike may legally occur. The district and the union have met in more than 20 bargaining sessions and have been in mediation for the past 11 months. They plan to meet again Jan. 11 and 18.
"We continue to meet and we continue to work hard and work things out and working things through," said Crosby-Ironton Superintendent Linda Lawrie. "I'm still very hopeful we'll find a compromise that everyone can live with that is fair and equitable for everyone."
"We are very open and hope to continue to negotiate without any distractions to students' education and hopefully we can come to a mutually agreed upon settlement," said Nagorski. "We're not hoping to strike one bit."
Major issues include salaries and the district's proposals to reduce or eliminate long-standing employee benefits, including health insurance for current employees and retirees.
Lawrie said the district, which is in statutory operating debt, can no longer afford to leave retiree health benefits as they are.
"It's just a benefit we just can't bear the weight of," said Lawrie. "We're not trying to cut anyone out of retirement benefits altogether."
Nagorski said Crosby-Ironton teachers receive some of the lowest starting salaries in Minnesota. They also pay $2,600 a year more for their health insurance than they did two years ago.
The district's most recent proposal, according to the union, would provide no salary increase for the first year of the two-year contract and 1 percent the second year. District negotiators offered to increase those figures slightly in return for reduced benefits, according to the teacher's union.
The union has proposed no salary increase the first year and a 4.65 percent increase the second year, with no reduction in benefits.
Crosby-Ironton is one of 12 school districts in the state, including the Pequot Lakes School District, with unsettled contracts.
(This story contains information provided by The Associated Press.)
JODIE TWEED can be reached at email@example.com or 855-5858.
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