JUNEAU (AP) -- Twenty-three employees of the union that represents most Alaska teachers went on strike Tuesday after reaching an impasse over a new contract.
The employees of the National Education Association of Alaska, including three from Juneau, picketed NEA-Alaska offices in Anchorage and plan pickets in Juneau and Fairbanks on Wednesday, said Willie Anderson, president of the National Staff Organization of Alaska.
Each side accuses the other of failing to make arrangements to meet with a federal mediator and failing to bargain in good faith.
''I'm extremely disappointed they've chosen to take this step before we have a chance to meet with the mediator,'' said Rich Kronberg, president of NEA-Alaska.
He said a mediation session had been scheduled for Feb. 1-2 and his bargaining team also communicated a willingness to meet Jan. 24-25.
Instead, NSO-Alaska has been insisting on meeting when members of the bargaining team aren't available because of their regular school jobs, Kronberg said.
But Anderson said that NSO-Alaska was willing to meet this Friday night and through the weekend, but NEA-Alaska rejected that offer.
Board members of NEA-Alaska are taking over the work of striking employees, Kronberg said. The union represents 11,000 people, about 90 percent of the teachers and educational support workers in school districts in the state, he said.
Employees represented by NSO-Alaska have been working without a contract since September, when their one-year agreement expired.
The union rejected a contract extension.
Kronberg acknowledges NEA-Alaska is not offering its employees any increase in pay. He said average teacher salaries have declined, driving down the dues that pay for the union's operations.
Anderson doesn't dispute that but says NEA-Alaska has saved money by keeping a position vacant and paying less in salaries as more experienced people have left and been replaced.
Those savings should be on the table in the negotiations, he said.
Instead, NEA-Alaska actually proposes to roll back compensation by 2 to 7 percent a year, Anderson said.
NSO-Alaska is willing to compromise on a two-year contract with annual salary increases of 2 percent, Anderson said.
But Kronberg said the union has been seeking an increase of $1 million from the NEA-Alaska's total budget of $5 million, and has not budged from its first offer. Anderson calls that a mischaracterization of the package.
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