The teachers union for the second-largest school district in Alaska authorized a strike vote on Monday.
The Mat-Su Education Association, which represents more than 1,250 teachers and staff in the Mat-Su Borough School District, is set to start voting on Wednesday.
The vote doesn’t necessarily mean educators will go on strike, but it would give their bargaining team that avenue, said Vicki Hewitt, president of the union. She said the union wants to avoid a strike but “the district and the school board have forced us into this position.”
Negotiation issues primarily surround health care and wages, according to Hewitt. After more than a year of negotiations, the school district imposed its last best contract offer on Friday rather than continuing bargaining, according to a release from the union Monday afternoon.
Hewitt said in an email the contract offer doesn’t keep pace with inflation, and would change current health insurance plans from an Alaska provider to a national provider.
“The District’s and school board’s action took place before an independent arbitrator could render a decision, which could have helped resolve this issue, undermining the whole process of good faith bargaining,” a press release from the union said.
The union is required to give 72 hours of advance notice if they do intend to strike, Hewitt said.
“So far there is no scheduled plan for negotiations. We are willing to go to the table any time they are ready to bargain in good faith,” Hewitt said in an email.
The district in a statement said the root of negotiation issues was over health care providers.
“The District is implementing provisions which include increased salaries, district funded health savings account contributions, Premera health insurance options and other tentative agreements,” the statement said.
”The District prefers to have a mutually agreed to collective bargaining agreement,” they wrote. “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.”