WILKES-BARRE — After another drive-thru style hearing Thursday, the Dallas School Board and teachers union will be following a court-directed schedule of contract negotiations.
It represents a significant breakthrough in the protracted labor strife because now both sides will be forced to negotiate every weekday starting next month. And if that still cannot break the stalemate, negotiations could go to seven days a week.
The brief hearing, which lasted no more than five minutes, was held before Luzerne County Judge William H. Amesbury after Dallas School Board attorney Vito DeLuca asked for more time Wednesday to consider the Dallas Education Association’s request for the court-supervised negotiations.
Amesbury supplied attorneys with a proposed order for the schedule Wednesday, but said he would not sign it until Thursday.
The Dallas School Board, through another of its attorneys, Charles Bufalino, indicated it wished to make one minor change to the schedule — starting negotiations July 10 instead of July 3.
Amesbury’s proposed order requires at least five members of the school board to attend each negotiation session with five members of the bargaining team, including the union’s chief negotiator. Bufalino said that would be difficult for the first week of July due to personal conflicts for some school board members, including one who has to fulfill “military obligations” that week.
Bufalino then offered another proposed order, with this one setting the start date as July 10. Pennsylvania State Education Association attorney Jeffrey Husisian offered no argument, so Amesbury signed the order.
Beginning July 10, negotiations will continue every weekday from 6:30 to 10:30 p.m. If an agreement is not reached by July 14, members would have to negotiate seven days a week, including noon to 6 p.m. weekends.
A court-appointed mediator — either William Gross, executive director of the Pennsylvania Bureau of Mediation, or someone he appoints — will be overseeing the negotiation sessions. A hearing will be held Aug. 9 to discuss progress.
As he did Wednesday, Amesbury reiterated the importance of an agreement being reached.
The last contract expired in August 2015. The board and union started negotiating a new deal in 2014.
Since then, there have been three strikes — the first in the fall of 2016, followed by one in September 2017 and this week’s one-day strike.
“It’s important we move this matter along,” said the judge. “This has been festering in the community for the past three years.”
Amesbury indicated if progress is not made, binding arbitration would be considered as an option. However, he’s hoping it will not come to that.
“I believe it would be in the best interest for all if the parties would decide,” he said.
Amesbury told attorneys they would need to have briefs to him regarding binding arbitration by July 20.
Reach Patrick Kernan at 570-991-6386 or on Twitter @PatKernan