SWEA members threaten to strike

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The members of the South-Western Education Association (SWEA) are one step closer to a strike.

On Nov. 19, SWEA adopted a resolution to authorize its bargaining team to issue a notice of intent to strike should it be considered necessary.

"Our membership has reinforced the position of the SWEA bargaining team," said Rolla Beach, SWEA president. "This action constitutes a solid show of support."

Beach explained that there is no time table to issue a notice of a strike. He also said that this does not mean the members will automatically serve a strike notice.

"We hope to get this matter resolved at the bargaining table. We intend to bargain in good faith and to work with the board’s bargaining team in an effort to bring about a reasonable settlement," Beach noted.

The negotiating teams of the SWEA and the South-Western Board of Education have met on numerous occasions since the opening bargaining session on April 25. In late September, a federal mediator said no agreement could be reached at that time and no further progress has been made since.

In a statement from South-Western City Schools, responding to the intent to strike, the district said the board firmly believes and is optimistic an agreement can be reached by the parties at the negotiating table. Neither side will comment on the terms of the proposed contract but the district issued this statement: "The board has a competitive, fair and equitable offer on the table. The district has a goal to remain competitive with surrounding districts, while operating in a manner that is financially responsible to the taxpayers of the district. The board has reached a tentative agreement with both the classified employees (OAPSE) and the administrators association."

The previous contract for the SWEA expired on June 30. That contract has been extended until a new one is reached.

"Our members are dedicated professionals who work hard every day for the well-being of their students," said Beach. "In the past couple of years, employees have made great sacrifices for the district. They deserve to be presented a fair and equitable contract."

Executive Director of Communications for SWCS Sandy Nekoloff, said the board will make plans to deal with any potential union action. When asked what kind of effect a strike could have on the community and the students Nekoloff said, "We will cross that bridge if and when we get to it. Our main goal has to be the students."

Board President Jim Lester said he would not comment on the matter until the parties are negotiating.

The board of education and SWEA have both stated that they want to resolve the issue at the bargaining table, but Beach said he cannot confirm that a meeting date has been made. He explained that federal mediators would have to authorize the bargaining session, but would not comment on whether anyone had been in contact with their mediator.

The SWEA is the certified bargaining agent for the district’s largest group of employees including teachers, tutors, guidance counselors, school psychologists, school nurses, speech therapists and other certified employees. It has over 1,400 members.

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