During what is supposed to be the highlight of the school year, graduation week, the Mat-Su Education Association (MSEA) authorized a strike vote to take place.
The decision comes after the Matanuska Susitna Borough School District (MSBSD) School Board offered up a last contract offer. MSEA employees have been working without a contract since June, 2022.
“To the best of our collective knowledge, this move on the Districts part is unprecedented and has never happened to school district employees here in Alaska. We stand in support and solidarity with MSEA as they are going through the process of fighting this,” said Rick Morgan, President of the Classified Employees’ Association (CEA), who says that the CEA is prepared to take the same action just as the MSEA is doing.
“CEA is slightly behind MSEA in the bargaining timeline, but there is almost no doubt that they will be doing the same to us in the very near future even though it’s stipulated that we as members get to choose affordable decent health care for ourselves.”
The primary issue is health insurance, while pay and leave also remain sticking points in contract talks.
In a press release, the MSEA says that the district is not taking into consideration cost of living increases while removing an insurance company that has been in place for a while.
“MSBSD’s forced contract does not consider unprecedented inflation costs and removes Valley educators from the Public Education Health Trust (PEHT), forcing them into health insurance plans through Premera, a national health insurance provider. We have serious concerns about the switch that will affect more than 3000 men, women, and children of the valley. Over 90% of MSEA members surveyed oppose this offer.”
At the last MSBSD School Board meeting, the school board and MSBSD attorney John Secor had taken issue with the PEHT provider for a lack of transparency, making the argument that District spends $41,000,000 each year for health insurance but cannot audit and effectively evaluate any information, such as claims, and therefore the District has no way to go to market for alternative coverage or know if the current program is cost effective.
“PEHT is not an appropriate health insurance provider for the Mat-Su school district. PEHT is not transparent. Neither the district nor the association know if the money the employees pay into PEHT goes to cover Mat-Su employee claims.” Secor told board members during the previous meeting.
In a statement from the MSBSD, the district said: “The Matanuska-Susitna Borough School District and MSEA have negotiated for a successor agreement for over a year to no avail. Both parties agree that the threshold or catalyst issue is the health provider, which is currently the Public Education Health Trust. The District is implementing provisions which include increased salaries, district funded health savings account contributions, Premera health insurance options and other tentative agreements.”
“Our goal has always been to avoid a strike,” said Vicki Hewitt, President of MSEA.
“For over a year our bargaining team has been trying to find solutions that work for the district, teachers, and ultimately our students. It’s clear that the district and school board isn’t listening.”
In the meantime, the contract with current health insurance provider, PEHT, is set to be terminated if MSBSD does not pay the premiums by June 30, which has Morgan urging members to update their PEHT during open enrollment, which expires at the end of the month.
“I strenuously urge all members and their families to take care of any medical needs you have, such as obtaining eyeglasses, hearing aids, routine doctor and dental visits, and elective surgeries.”
MSEA, which represents over 1,250 teachers and other certificated personnel in the Mat-Su Borough School District, says that they would like to continue negotiations.
“MSEA is committed to ensuring that students finish the school year without interruption and will continue to work towards a solution that avoids a strike. All members of MSEA want to be in classrooms teaching their students. However, until the district comes back to the table, and addresses our concerns, we will move forward with our job action preparations for next school year,” said Hewitt.
“I can assure you that we will keep fighting for a fair and reasonable contract that CEA members need to survive in today’s economic climate. We're committed to the process. We will fight to maintain autonomy over our own health care decisions as well as to maintain our current affordable provider (PEHT),” says Morgan, adding, “We will fight for wages that we can actually support our families with. We'd rather have a contract that provides the salary and benefits to attract and retain the best employees to work with our children! In the meantime, we're waiting for the arbitrator's report.”
The MSBSD remains open for more discussions surrounding the contract and work with collective bargaining to reach an agreement.
“The District prefers to have a mutually agreed to collective bargaining agreement. It has tried its utmost to achieve an agreed upon CBA but the parties remain gridlocked on the health insurance provider. The District remains committed and willing to negotiate a collective bargaining agreement with MSEA and is open to scheduling discussions.”
All bargaining unit members, regardless of membership in MSEA are eligible to participate in the strike authorization vote.
Voting is set to begin on Wednesday, May 17 and ballots will be collected on Friday, May 19. The Alaska League of Women Voters will count and certify the election results.
Additional detail regarding the latest contract provisions can be found at www.matsuk12.us/mseaproposal
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