PALMER — Teachers in Alaska’s second-largest school district voted Friday to authorize a strike.
The Mat-Su Education Association announced Monday that just over 90% of 1,226 bargaining unit members voted in favor of the strike authorization. The union has just over 1,000 members, union officials say. The bargaining unit also includes non-members.
Negotiations with the Matanuska-Susitna Borough School District began in early 2022, union president Vicki Hewitt said. Union members are working without a contract and using an existing contract instead.
The vote does not mean a strike is imminent, Hewitt said. Instead, it gives the union’s bargaining team the latitude to call a strike in the future. The union is required to give 72 hours notice if it intends to strike.
“If the school board and the district force us to strike, we will,” Hewitt said. “But in the meantime, we’re trying to get a negotiated agreement instead of this imposed contract.”
If a settlement is not reached, union officials said in a statement Monday, they “will strike sometime in the fall of 2023.”
The union’s main issues are pay raises that don’t reflect high rates of inflation and an immediate switch from current Alaska-based health insurance provider Public Education Health Trust to Premera, starting July 1.
District officials in a statement Monday said the strike vote was “anticipated” and it didn’t change the district’s interest in continuing negotiations “toward a mutually agreeable settlement.”
The union last week said that, after more than a year of negotiations, the district imposed a last best contract offer rather than continuing bargaining. Both sides are still waiting on an overdue report from an independent arbitrator, Hewitt said Monday.
District officials in a statement last week said provisions being implemented in the offer on the table include salary increases and district-funded health savings account contributions. The parties are gridlocked on health insurance, they wrote.
In a statement Monday, the district said officials remain open to scheduling discussions and are “committed and willing to negotiate a collective bargaining agreement” with the union.
Mat-Su families in the school year that ended last Friday experienced a prolonged school bus worker strike that ended in March, as well as rolling bus route cancellations for much of the year.