The return of students to school in September also means that ongoing contract negotiations between districts and teachers will become more urgent as the specter of untaught students looms large. While teacher pay is the traditional sticking point in teacher labor disputes (as elsewhere), healthcare benefits seem always and everywhere to pose a problem right alongside them.
The wildest contract talks were in the City of Brotherly Love where the Association of Catholic Teachers Local 1776 rejected two contract offers, one made at midnight on Tuesday, the other tendered at 6 a.m. of the same day. Schools are supposed to start Wednesday, September 3rd and the teachers walking the picket line "promise[d] cordial behavior." The crucial issue was medical insurance, for which the teachers had been burdened with contributions that would almost completely negate their pay raises of $900, $1,200, and $1,400. The issue was so compelling that the vote came in at a lopsided 669 to 231, with a majority of teachers voting to reject in each of the city's 22 schools.
The Northshore school district in Seattle has agreed to a work-to-rule strike by voting to fulfill only basic classroom duties if the district won't meet demands by Sept. 15. While part of the issue is the union's demand for either increased pay or a shortened work year, healthcare costs figure strongly in the union demands. The union wants increased health benefits but balks at the $30 per month surcharge that the district says it will need to offset those increased costs.
Denver is not in danger of work lost due to a strike, as DPS teachers have accepted a contract. Naturally the contract involves less instructional time; their contract shaves three days off the school year in exchange for no pay raise. But while salaries are frozen, benefits are not. The Denver district absorbing an increase in health insurance that has hiked benefit allowances from $3,288 to $3,172, an increase of $424 per teacher. Counting health and retirement increases, Denver's compensation costs will rise by 2.8% this year.