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Neshaminy teachers authorize second strike

Union members also suspended "work-to-contract" job action and supported an impartial arbitrator's recommendations for a new contract with reservations.

Neshaminy teachers, working under the terms of an expired contract for four years, voted Wednesday to lift their controversial "work-to-contract" job action and to authorize their second strike of the school year.

There has been no decision on whether the 633 members of the Neshaminy Federation of Teachers will go on strike, union President Louise Boyd said in a written statement Thursday. Members authorized the NFT Executive Committee to call a strike "when and under the circumstances the committee decides are appropriate."

The teachers, guidance counselors, librarians and nurses staged an eight-day strike in January because of the longest current contract impasse in the state. They are allowed by state law to strike again so long as the 180-day school year is completed by June 30.

School board president Ritchie Webb said a strike would "inconvenience families, disrupt children's education and prolong the school year."

The union is required to give the district 48 hours' notice of a strike, he said.

The contract talks have been suspended since January, first for the strike and then for a nonbinding arbitration. The impartial arbitrator issued her findings last week, which the school board rejected, 9-0, on Tuesday, and NFT members accepted with reservations on Wednesday.

The arbitrator's recommended seven-year contract included back pay, contributions for health care, continued retirement bonuses, and raises for the final four years. The contract, from July 2008 through June 2015, would cost the district about $20 million, Webb said at Tuesday's public meeting.

For back pay, the "award" calls for 50 percent of missed raises and credits for service and education from July 2008, when the contract expired, through June 2012. The recommendation would cost the district $9.2 million, Webb said, with payments spread over three years, but only to current union members.

The union had proposed 80 percent of back pay, while the district ruled out any back pay except for educational credits.

For health care, the arbitrator recommended NFT members pay 10 percent of their premium starting July 1, 11 percent for the 2013-14 school year, and 12 percent the following year. The union offered 8 percent, while the school board proposed 15 percent.

The finding would retain the retirement incentive, lowering it from $27,500 after 10 years to $20,000 after 20 years, with an additional $1,000 a year to $25,000.

NFT members would get raises of 1 percent for the 2011-12 school year, followed by 1.5 percent, 2 percent and 2.25 percent per year. The lowest base salary in the expired contract is about $42,500.

The district lost on proposals to eliminate payment to NFT members who opt out of health care coverage, to allow for drug testing, and to set student-teacher ratios without NFT approval. It won on extending the work day from seven to 7 ½ hours and the work year from 188.5 days to 190.5 days, and reducing the number of personal days from six to three.

While Webb criticized the arbitrator's finding as "capitulation" to the NFT's demands, Boyd said it "is not a clear victory for either side."

The arbitration was conducted by impartial arbitrator Rochelle K. Kaplan and a lawyer for each side. They conducted four hearings in February and March, with each side able to present testimony and evidence, to cross examine witnesses, and "offer arguments in support of their respective final best offers."

To get back to the bargaining table, the union dropped its "work-to-contract" job action, Boyd said. In the past two years, members were told to refrain from taking work home, arriving early or staying late. They skipped Back to School nights and graduations and declined to write letters of recommendation.

Webb said he is in favor of resuming talks, but none are scheduled.