School union, workers at odds

Federal mediator asked to resolve claims that NEA-Alaska is stalling

Posted: Thursday, December 21, 2000

The statewide union that represents school employees is having union troubles of its own.

NEA-Alaska has reached an impasse with NSO-Alaska, the union representing NEA-Alaska's 23 employees in Juneau, Anchorage and Fairbanks.

NSO-Alaska fired off a press release Wednesday saying NEA-Alaska proposed substantial rollbacks in salary, benefits and working conditions for its employees in August and that it hasn't budged from its first offer despite many hours of bargaining.

"This is the type of behavior we'd expect to see from the most unenlightened school district that doesn't realize the value of its employees not from the people whose mission it is to see that public school employees receive fair treatment and competitive wages," said Willie Anderson, president of NSO-Alaska. "It's very disappointing."

Rich Kronberg, president of NEA-Alaska, denied his organization proposed salary cuts for staff and said "it is absolutely not true we haven't budged from our first economic offer. We have compromised many times."

He said the two sides reached an impasse this month because NSO-Alaska is demanding pay increases that would "bankrupt" NEA-Alaska. Kronberg said his organization earns revenue through member dues and that salaries for teachers and other school employees who pay dues to NEA-Alaska have gone down the last decade, seriously affecting the union's ability to give raises to its staff.

NSO-Alaska's demands "would either bankrupt us or result in huge dues increases for our members, or cuts in programs that would totally compromise the organization and our ability to deliver services to members," said Kronberg. He said his staff already earns more money than most other NEA employees across the country.

"They have seen increases every single year. They have a fully paid health insurance program, while our members are paying thousands of dollars (in dues) out of pocket to fund their increases," Kronberg said.

A federal mediator has been assigned to the negotiations, but Anderson of NSO-Alaska said NEA-Alaska has refused to schedule mutually agreeable meetings with the mediator.

"It is very troubling that NEA-Alaska management is refusing to bargain in good faith," Anderson said.

Kronberg countered NSO-Alaska has been the bad player all along and that it has put up obstacles to meetings since August, when negotiations began. He said most of NEA-Alaska's labor negotiators are school employees and that NSO-Alaska has tried to schedule meetings to convene when his negotiators are in class. He also said NEA-Alaska has been working with the federal mediator.

"We were the ones who wanted to call a mediator at an earlier point and they refused," Kronberg said. "This is just blowing smoke."

Kathy Dye can be reached at kdye@juneauempire.com.



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