Penn-Trafford support workers at impasse on contract talks; union authorizes strike

·3 min read

Oct. 4—Support personnel at Penn-Trafford schools rejected the district's latest contract offer and are willing to go on strike, the union said Monday.

The 76-member union local, representing custodians, secretaries, paraprofessionals and certified personnel assistants, voted overwhelmingly Friday to authorize a strike if "necessary to receive the wages they need and deserve," said Sam Williamson, Western Pennsylvania district leader of Service Employees International Union Local 32BJ.

"With Penn-Trafford's tremendous wealth, a growing enrollment and general fund balance, the board can and should do better," Williamson said in a statement.

The union did not offer any details of the school district offer that members rejected. The SEIU officials declined to say whether they recommended to members that they reject the offer, the actual vote count or if the union allowed members to conduct a secret ballot vote on the contract offer.

"We believe it's irresponsible to bargain through the media," said SEIU spokeswoman Julie Karant.

Negotiations on a new contract to replace a pact that expired on June 30 have reached an impasse, the school district said.

Union members rejected the school district offer despite what Penn-Trafford said was an offer to raise the wages of secretaries and custodians by annual average of 3.6% over four years, and hike the pay of paraprofessionals and personal care assistants by 19% in the first year of the deal.

Penn-Trafford Superintendent Matthew Harris could not be reached for comment on the strike authorization vote by the union.

"We are considering all our options," the district said in a statement on the status of the negotiations.

The school district said that its custodians and secretaries are among the highest paid in Westmoreland County, with a top wage of $23.60 an hour — which it contended was more than $2.50 an hour higher than the average in the county.

"Workers at the top of the scale make almost $50,000 a year. Many custodians and secretaries make more than some of our teachers," the district said.

The school district said it was responding to SEIU ads in recent editions of the Penn-Trafford Star, claiming "the Penn-Trafford School Board doesn't treat us like we're essential," even though the workers "put their health at risk" in doing their jobs, according to the ad.

In contrast to the custodians and secretaries, Penn-Trafford said that its paraprofessionals and certified personal assistants are among the lowest paid, so one of the district's goal in the new agreement was to bring those employees in line with their counterparts in other school districts. While the average paraprofessional starts at $14.79 an hour, Penn-Trafford's starting wage is at $10.35 an hour. It's offer proposed raising the starting wage to $15.50 an hour, which is 71 cents an hour above the county average.

Joe Napsha is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Joe at 724-836-5252, or via Twitter .

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