USC teachers say mediation session failed; union may strike

Published 12:00 am Thursday, November 7, 2002

The USC teachers’ union may be close to striking, after a state-mandated mediation session between the district and the union Tuesday night in Albert Lea.

&uot;I’m really disappointed in their lack of movement,&uot; Karen Robbins, president of the USC teachers union, said after the meeting. &uot;Of course, the last thing we want to do is strike, but we are getting nowhere.&uot;

The district and the union met at Albert Lea City Hall, a neutral meeting site, with a state appointed mediator, Alan Olson, from the Bureau of Mediation Services.

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&uot;The parties did not reach an agreement but there were some changes that the teachers will go back and vote on.&uot; Olson said.

&uot;It depends on who you talk to whether or not big progress was made.&uot;

The teachers and the district have been negotiating a contract since mid-summer. While progress has been made on some of the contract, the sides are still far apart on the focal point of the dispute: the severance package.

USC Superintendent Frank Lorentz said he thought the mediation session went well.

&uot;I think this is about the best mediation that we’ve had so far. It seemed to run smoothly,&uot; he said. &uot;But we’re down to a ‘you make it work or the strike will happen’ situation. None of us want a strike.&uot;

Lorentz said progress was made on many of the language issues in the contract and said the district offered a four-year contract to the teachers instead of a two-year deal.

&uot;We’ve impeded a strike for the time being,&uot; he said. &uot;The teachers still have the power and ability to vote no. We expect them to come back in a few days with their answer. It’s their call.&uot;

Robbins agreed that progress was made in language, but the central severance issue it still far from resolution.

She also said the four-year contract was not discussed in depth because the mediator felt the contract at hand needed to be settled before negotiating something more.

&uot;I would just say we met for six hours trying to come to some sort of agreement but the board made no monetary movement (on the severance package),&uot; she said.

&uot;We reduced our insurance package to $66,000,&uot; she added. The previous number that had been demanded by the union was $72,000.

The district has many times said it would not move from their $60,000 offer and so far, hasn’t.

Robbins said she will meet with the union board members late this week to discuss the contract.

&uot;What I’m taking back to my people in essence is the same contract that they voted down before with a few minor language changes,&uot; she said. &uot;I think the potential for a strike is there.&uot;