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Union President Finds Reasons for Optimism

MASD teachers remain on the job as contract nears end; no intention of ‘immediate’ strike

By Adam Reinherz
The Tube City Almanac
August 30, 2023
Posted in: McKeesport and Region News

With only one day remaining until teachers’ contracts expire on Aug. 31, there’s uncertainty — but optimism — at McKeesport Area School District.

Gerald McGrew Jr., head of the teachers’ union, said negotiations are “moving forward” but didn’t offer a date when parents, students and district members could expect the potential labor crisis to resolve.

“I don't personally see it dragging on too long. But I can’t answer for any factual ending,” he said.

The school board and members of the McKeesport Area Education Association have been negotiating a new contract since January. McGrew said the early stages of the process began “very professionally,” and with positive input from both sides.

A tentative agreement with the district was reached at the end of May, and the union ratified the agreement at the beginning of June. But that’s when the breakdown occurred, McGrew said.

Since then, the conflict has resulted in vitriolic posts on social media — including from members of the school board and the public.

During the June meeting, the school board “seemed to be in disarray and completely confused,” McGrew said. The board tabled a motion on the contract and didn’t vote on it.

“Then the frustrations set in” due to the board’s inactivity, McGrew said. “They never met. They never reached out to us. They never tried to rectify the problem.”

Representatives of the district and school board declined multiple attempts for comment.

The proposed five-year contract between the district and the teachers’ union would have run through Aug. 31, 2028, and included raises ranging from 6 to 6.59 percent during each of the first three years, a 4.38 percent raise in the fourth year, and a 3.26 raise in the final year.

The contract was rejected Aug. 9 by an 8-0 vote after school board members said the district could not afford the agreement.

But McGrew said the board also admitted that it made a mistake by “not being proactive over the summer.”

“They promised to rectify the problem as soon as they possibly could,” he said. “We agreed to sit down with them once again. And we have started to do that.”

McGrew said the groups met at the district’s administrative building on Aug. 17 — the same day teachers reported to work. “We sat down with their negotiation team, and some of the school directors, along with our negotiation team. Everything was hashed out as far as needing to move on.”

Since then, the mindset has been that “pointing the fingers and scapegoating people is not going to solve anything,” McGrew said.

Similarly, he said, some of the hostility being posted on Facebook and elsewhere has nothing to do with what’s happening in classrooms or at the negotiating table.

Students reported for classes on Aug. 21. Since then, McGrew has been teaching government and political science to juniors and seniors. After school, he handles union affairs.

“The teachers are just as dedicated as they were before. They know that they have a job to do,” he said. “As of right now, there is no intention of a strike immediately.”

But McGrew also didn’t rule out further labor action if a settlement isn’t reached. “It is always a possibility,” he said.

Most of his recent afterschool activities have included dispelling digital rumors, he said.

What’s important for people to know, McGrew said, is that current conversations between the district and union are productive. “We are both working on ironing out numbers that we want to present,” he said. “It’s been peaceful with just a couple hiccups.”

The other point, McGrew added, is that people should understand the relationship between the groups.

“We all know each other. The majority of us all grew up together, so this is not strangers sitting down,” he said. “They are working with us. We are working with them … We need to let bygones be bygones. Those mistakes, they were admitted and we're moving forward. Things are going to hopefully end soon.”

Adam Reinherz is a freelance writer. He can be reached at adam.reinherz@gmail.com.

Originally published August 30, 2023.

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