LIU teachers protest stalled contract talks

Mark Guydish mguydish@timesleader.com

October 23, 2013

KINGSTON — The 3-year-old daughter of one Luzerne Intermediate Unit teacher carried a sign that put stalled teacher contract talks into a different perspective: “Waiting for a contract my whole life.”

The teachers contract expired August 2010 and negotiations for a new contract began seven months earlier, but the two sides have yet to come to an agreement.

More than 100 union members gathered outside the LIU headquarters at 5 p.m. Wednesday to stage an “informational demonstration,” as union president Ed Clark dubbed it, wearing blue shirts that read “We care for those who can’t.”

The LIU provides a variety of services to area districts, primarily special education, including classes for students with severe emotional, mental or physical needs.

“The purpose of this demonstration is to remind the board of the positive impact we have upon students, their families and our communities,” Clark said. “We believe after four years of negotiation the board may have lost sight of that.”

Whenever a board member approached the building, the group chanted, “Be fair to those who care.” Most walked past without comment, but Board Member Dave Usavage, a retired teacher and administrator asked for and received a sign and shirt he took into the meeting. After the meeting, Usavage said he supports the teachers’ right to negotiations, noting the two sides have at time quibbled over the location for talks.

The union represents about 140 teachers. Stalled negotiations are a rarity because the LIU is run jointly by 12 member districts and the contract is generally an averaging of salaries and benefits of staff in those districts.

Lead LIU negotiator attorney John Audi has said a major hang up is a “sneaky escalator” in older contracts that lets salaries creep above the average, and the board wants it removed. Union lead negotiator John Holland contends the board’s proposals would weaken contract language in ways that are “unacceptable.

The teachers crowded the room during the board meeting and Clark spoke briefly highlighting the work of special education teachers, itinerant teachers and therapists, the Alternative Learning Center for students too disruptive for regular classrooms, and other services the union provides, often going beyond their job requirements. He asked the board “to engage in a process of bargaining that, as it has in the past, looks to provide us with a contract commensurate with the work we perform day in and day out.”

Clark said there have been no talks since May 21. After he spoke, LIU Executive Director Anthony Grieco said the board has proposed three dates for renewed talks.