After another round of negotiations showed little movement, a potential strike by Kenai Peninsula teachers is a step closer.
The bargaining teams from the school district the Kenai Peninsula Education Association and Support Association met again Tuesday, but found little compromise. The associations issued a release Wednesday saying they would be ready to strike as soon as September 16th if a new contract can’t be worked out. KPEA President Dave Brighton says they want a healthcare plan similar to other districts around the state, in particular the Fairbanks North Star School District, which covers its employees monthly premiums to the tune of $400 a month.
“We asked the district why is it that we are expected to pay so much more. It’s important to recognize that the district’s overall costs for healthcare have actually gone down in the last two years and the employee’s share has increased. So the cost has shifted over to the employees and we can’t continue to bear that burden. I’ve gotten calls from members looking at paychecks realizing they’re bringing home $200-$300 less (per month) this year than what they were getting last year.”
In its statement, the associations say they want a realistic proposal for healthcare. District spokesperson Pegge Erkeneff says given the political climate for education funding at both the borough and state levels, a realistic offer includes making sure that the district can sustain its healthcare spending into the future.
“The offer is around healthcare and finding some common ground and right now we’re $3.2 million apart. The district recognized that in the offer the associations made, that they did put a cap into the offer, however, there’s still that mix of what does that district pay on behalf of an employee and what does an employee pay.”
Notice of a potential strike date doesn’t mean a strike will happen, but it is a signal that the two sides are having more difficulty making progress with each round of negotiations. Erkeneff says the district has made seven offers over the last year and a half since the previous contracts were approved, while the associations have made five offers. Union subcommittee work was expected to continue this week.**
**The original post has been updated to properly reflect ongoing negotiations.