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Cleveland Heights Teachers Union says they’ve ‘made some progress’ in contract negotiations after going on strike

Posted at 7:40 AM, Dec 02, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-02 13:12:59-05

CLEVELAND HEIGHTS, Ohio — With signs and shovels in hand, welcoming beeps from passing cars, teachers from the Cleveland Heights-University Heights School District braved the cold to go on strike Wednesday. Hours after the early morning strike, a union representative released a statement saying talks with the district were progressing after a late Tuesday night discussion.

"From the start, we’ve been clear. We want to work with our district’s Board of Education to find a fair resolution to our contract that doesn’t weaken standards in a way that will affect the quality of education in this district for years to come," said Cleveland Heights Teachers Union President Kim Rego. "We met with our Board last night for many hours, and we’ve made some progress that we’re going to bring back to our membership. We’ll provide an update as soon as we are able to and we are postponing plans for our virtual rally."

"We love the students in Cleveland Heights-University Heights. We love these families. They're worth it and they deserve quality educators who are compensated fairly for what they do,” said strike captain Daniel Hershman-Rossi.

Pre-school teacher Jamie Blados said the superintendent let families know that her students would receive a packet while the teachers were on strike.

“The suggestion that we could be replaced by a packet really upset me and my families as well. And so I decided to put it in action and talk about how I cannot be replaced by a packet. So I've become a packet saying I cannot be replaced,” said Blados.

With signs and shovels in hand, welcoming beeps from passing cars, teachers from the Cleveland Heights-University Heights School District braved the cold to go on strike Wednesday.

The teachers went on strike Monday in response to the district’s new contract proposal.

"We just want a fair contract. We are working families, we are working mothers and we want to keep and maintain the best, highest qualified staff for our students and families,” said strike captain Nadine Davis.

The CHTU, which represents around 500 teachers, counselors, nurses and other employees in the Cleveland Heights-University Heights City School District, said the contract proposal slashes retirement and health benefits for teachers, estimating to cost members between$3,000 to $5,000 a year.

With signs and shovels in hand, welcoming beeps from passing cars, teachers from the Cleveland Heights-University Heights School District braved the cold to go on strike Wednesday.

Many fear losing their benefits would increase turnover and drive experienced educators out of the district.

"We have people who've been teaching here for 30-35 years who are excellent veteran educators and they're here because of the compensation package and because it's a great place to work. It's not fair to them or to the younger teachers either that they're trying to do this to us,” said Hershman-Rossi

Meanwhile, the district said their offer is fair, equitable and competitive. The district said they need collaboration by all because they are facing a fiscal crisis created by factors out of their control, including EdChoice vouchers and the State of Ohio’s decision to cut funding.

The district said it faces an $8 million deficit in Fiscal Year 2023 unless systematic cost savings are made in the interim.

“These are extraordinary times that call for meaningful collaboration from all. We have met with the Cleveland Heights Teachers Union for more than 60 hours since the start of summer to reach an acceptable contract," the district said in a statement during the week of Thanksgiving. "Our final offer is fair, equitable, and competitive and continues to provide all our union members with competitive compensation and health benefits. In response to the final offer, the Union proposed an offer that would still cost the District nearly $1 million a year. That proposal, which only exacerbates the District’s grim financial reality, was rejected.”

Addressing recent questions on the union’s healthcare coverage during a strike, the district said in a Nov. 29 statement that teachers who are currently on approved leave due to personal or family illness will not lose their healthcare benefits due to a strike, but rather only employees who choose to strike are subject to loss of compensation.

The district continued to explain healthcare benefits in the following statement:

Ohio R.C. 4117.15(C) prohibits the Board from providing “pay or compensation” -- including health care benefits -- to employees while they are on strike. It is not something the Board elected to do with malicious intent amid a pandemic. Rather, the Union, if it strikes, will do so knowing that the law requires the District to cease pay and benefits to those who choose not to work. All Ohio public school districts must follow this law. Hopefully, the Union will choose not to strike, and no member will have to lose his or her health insurance during a global pandemic.

Just as the Union has the legal right to call for a strike, the District has the legal right to make work available to any bargaining unit member who wants to work during the strike. Teachers who choose to continue to work will continue to receive their pay and benefits. Striking employees can also elect to continue their healthcare coverage through COBRA.

This was an incredibly difficult resolution for the Board to pass, particularly during a global health emergency. But the Board recognizes its legal obligation to do so. The Board has been in discussion with the Union for nearly 20 hours over the past week and remains committed to engaging in continued discussions.

RELATED: Cleveland Heights Teachers Union announces it will begin strike on Dec. 2

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