DEXTER — SAD 46 directors and representatives of the educational support staff made little headway Tuesday during a mediation session to settle a contract dispute.
About 74 employees representing food services, secretaries and educational technicians have been working in the district without a contract since July 1, 2001.
To show their solidarity with the educational support staff Tuesday, SAD 46 teachers, bus drivers and custodians joined them outside a Dexter Regional High School classroom where the session was conducted. Teachers, bus drivers and custodians each have their own unions and bargaining for their contracts has begun.
Sharon Palmer, chief negotiator for the association, believes directors are using support personnel to send a message to other bargaining units in the district. The message, she believes, is: "If you don't settle your contract on or before the expiration date, then you will be punished."
Palmer said 95 percent of the educational support staff are women.
SAD 46 Superintendent Lester Butler declined to comment on the matter.
Negotiations on a new contract for the educational support staff began about a year ago but broke down in June over health insurance costs, according to Laurie Haapanen, a spokesman for the Maine Education Association.
"We went in with a status quo proposal," Haapanen said Tuesday, but the directors suggested a change in health insurance costs.
After long and difficult negotiations, the contract dispute went to mediation with the Maine Labor Relations Board and in October went to fact-finding, according to Haapanen.
Support personnel have since agreed to changes in the health insurance program. Now, however, support personnel have proposed the contract be retroactive to July 1, 2001, while the board of directors wants it to be retroactive to six weeks prior to contract ratification, Haapanen said.
"The association has agreed to pay some of the increased costs of health insurance to help the school district in cost savings and yet the board's negotiators continue to resist a fair settlement," Palmer said in a prepared statement. "Instead of giving employees their raises that they would have received in July had the contract been settled, the board's representatives prefer to spend taxpayer money on legal fees rather than employees."
Haapanen said Wednesday the mediation "did not even come close" to settling the contract dispute. The issue now, she said, is why the directors are litigating when they could have settled and saved the district legal fees. Had directors accepted the contract in September, the district would have paid significantly less and the morale factor would have been better, she said. She believes the additional cost to have the contract retroactive to July 1 would be about $21,000.
On behalf of the SAD 46 educational support personnel, the MEA has filed two complaints with the Maine Labor Relations Board over the district's failure to bargain in good faith as required by law.
Palmer said the educational support staff would go now to interest-based arbitration in which representatives of the Maine Labor Relations Board would look at both sides of issues.
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