The West Chester Area Education Association has voted to reject the terms of a tentative contract agreement that followed nearly two years of negotiations. Both the WCAEA negotiating team and the West Chester Area School Board’s negotiating team had agreed on September 25, 2013 to the tentative settlement. The settlement was a modification of a fact-finder’s recommendation issued September 3rd.
“I am extremely disappointed with the union’s rejection of the tentative agreement,” said Board President Vince Murphy. “The Board went above and beyond by adding additional concessions and more than $500,000 in salary increases to the fact-finder’s report.”
At some point, both sides will return to the bargaining table to continue to work on negotiating a settlement. In July, both sides had agreed to enter the fact finding process. The independent fact finder appointed by the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board submitted a report to the WCASD on September 3rd and the School Board voted to accept those findings, while the teachers union voted to reject the report’s recommendations. In a subsequent negotiating session using the fact finder’s report as a basis of discussion, the union presented its areas of concern and the School Board offered modifications to contract language in several key areas.
The term of the tentative agreement was three years. The settlement went above what the fact-finder recommended. It called for no salary increase in year one (2012-13 school year), followed by increases of 1.7% for 2013-14 – at the Act 1 Index - and 3.1% for 2014-15. The fact finder’s report had placed the increases at zero for 2012-13, 1.3% for 2013-14, and 2.7% for 2014-15.
Four areas representing the Education Association’s greatest concerns were addressed by the School Board in the negotiated contract agreement, rejected by the union membership on October 1.
In the area of salary, the contract language moved the implementation date for increases from the 14th pay period up to the 12th pay period of the school year. That modification represents an addition of $168,000 to the contract.
Another area of negotiation arose over course credits earned by teachers over the past two years. Credits for previously and properly approved courses completed by teachers would count towards salary, representing a change from the fact finder’s report which had allowed only limited use of some credits by teachers to advance on the salary scale. That modification accounted for an additional $381,000 cost for the District in the contract.
The healthcare issue raised by the Teachers Association involved an ability to “buy up” to plans that offered improved and more costly benefits. The implementation of the national Affordable Care Act will cause premium insurance plans – referred to as “Cadillac Plans” – to be assessed a special tax. Buying up to these premium plans will now be allowed only if the employee pays the added costs. As a result, teachers will be able to move up from the Independence Blue Cross PC320 plan to either a 10/20/70 or the PC 10 levels but will be responsible for any additional expense of those plans.
The fourth area of concern being addressed by modifications in contract language involved retirement benefits. The tentative contract agreement called for coverage by a modified healthcare arrangement in which retiring employees would be provided a stipend of $6,000 per year, for a period of up to five years, towards single employee healthcare coverage to purchase a plan of their choosing. Retirees must be 50 years of age by July 1, 2014 in order to qualify. Current retirees would start with PC320 and could buy up to maintain their existing plans until reaching the age of Medicare eligibility. Anyone under the age of 50 after July 1, 2014 would not receive district-paid retirement benefits.