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Cleveland Heights Teachers Union set to strike if 'fair contract' not reached

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Posted at 4:16 PM, Nov 20, 2020
and last updated 2020-11-20 16:16:34-05

CLEVELAND HEIGHTS, Ohio — The Cleveland Heights Teachers Union announced Friday that it intends to strike next month if a fair contract is not reached.

CHTU represents around 500 teachers, counselors, nurses and other employees in the Cleveland Heights-University Heights City School District.

"We’re fighting for a fair contract because we know that the alternative -- lowering standards for teachers and staff -- will increase turnover and drive experienced, skilled educators out of our school district,” said CHTU President Karen Rego.

The union says the district’s board of education has “imposed contract terms that slash compensation by dramatically increasing costs on healthcare and eliminating a 1% retirement contribution which was negotiated in a previous contract in lieu of a raise.”

The union says that members will lose around $4,000 due to changes made to its healthcare premiums. Additionally, some members could also see a loss of more than 8% of their take-home pay.

“Our schools are facing unprecedented challenges due to COVID-19 and remote learning,” said CHTU 2nd Vice-President Tamar Gray. “Teachers and staff have been working harder than ever and rising to meet these challenges. But at the same time, our district’s board has been fighting to push us backward on wages and benefits. We can’t continue to do more with less.”

According to the union, members have received raises totaling 8.5%, but the raises haven’t covered cost of living increases. The union also states that the raises are “far less” than what other teachers in neighboring school districts have received.

"We understand the financial state of our school district, especially the impact of voucher deductions in our district,” said 1st Vice-President Ari Klein. “We’re committed to working together with our board to change state policy and end the harmful EdChoice voucher deductions. We’re disappointed that instead, our board has chosen to attack the teachers and staff who keep this school district running.”

The union said it intends to strike on Dec. 2 if an agreement hasn’t been reached.

Jodi Sourini, president of the Cleveland Heights-University Heights City School District Board of Education, released the following statement about the strike notice:

"The Cleveland Heights Teachers Union’s decision to strike is unfortunate given our good faith efforts to negotiate a fair and fiscally responsible contract. Our final offer continues to provide fair and competitive compensation and benefits for our teachers while being responsible to our taxpayers. An action like this does not serve our students, our community or the teachers.

Our students and their families are our top priority. Students’ education must and will continue. Students will continue their studies remotely as they have been in response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

We firmly believe our CH-UH schools have some of the best and brightest teachers in the classroom, and we have nothing but the highest respect for them and what they do for our students every day. However, we recognize that we face a fiscal crisis created by factors beyond our control, including EdChoice vouchers and the State of Ohio’s decision to make cuts to our district funding.

The official results show that the Heights community has narrowly passed our 4.8 mill operating levy. However, as the Lay Finance Committee indicated in July, this millage was the bare minimum needed to keep the District afloat, and only if paired with $2 million in additional cuts for Fiscal Year 22. Our financial situation remains dire. The district faces an $8 million deficit in Fiscal Year 2023 unless systemic cost savings are made in the interim. The board has a responsibility to make fair decisions for the welfare of our students, their families, staff, teachers, other union members and the community.

The compromises we have asked for are reasonable. The healthcare plan currently in place is out of line with those of any comparable school district, as is the Board’s pick-up of 1 percent of the teachers’ mandatory retirement contribution. Our offer aligns the union’s healthcare and retirement contributions with other similar-sized school districts.

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. Our final offer is fair, equitable and competitive and continues to provide our teachers and other represented employees with competitive compensation and health benefits. In response, the Union proposed an offer that would still cost the District nearly $1 million a year. That proposal only exacerbates the District’s grim financial reality and was rejected.

Because the Board determined there was no realistic possibility that continued discussions would be fruitful, and that good faith negotiations towards reaching an agreement had been exhausted, the Board voted to implement our last, best, final offer, which remains in effect. The Union thereafter asked the Board to come back to the bargaining table, which it did, only to be presented with an offer that would cost the District approximately $3.5 million over two years. That proposal was also rejected.

We have worked hard to produce a fair offer during this challenging economic time. The threat of a strike given these extraordinary circumstances is disappointing. It remains our goal to resolve this contract swiftly and amicably."

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