Mat-Su schools, support staff far apart in talks

Posted: Tuesday, October 08, 2002

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Matanuska-Susitna school officials and the nearly 700-worker support staff union have not met face to face for more than a month. But that hasn't stopped both sides from taking their contract battle public.

The ads are the latest salvos in a protracted dispute that may not end soon.

The main argument is over health benefits.

The school district has offered a three-year contract that halves employee health insurance costs in the first year. Those costs could rise in the latter two years depending on how much rates increase.

The union wants a one-year contract, or a three-year contract that offers better breaks in health insurance payments in the latter two years. District officials maintain the three-year offer is the best they can do.

The union represents custodians, tutors, receptionists, special education aides and other employees.

In a letter to Superintendent Bob Doyle, union president Sheila Dickman said district officials are running a ''demeaning campaign'' that could undermine future relations.

The union has also filed an unfair labor practices complaint against the district, charging that some employees had been told they would be fired if they supported a strike vote.

District spokeswoman Kim Floyd said officials know of no such threats and would not condone them.

Floyd said the district's current offer is more than fair and many classified employees in Mat-Su would be making better or equal wages to their counterparts in Anchorage.

Union members will meet Saturday and could decide whether to hold a strike vote, Dickman said.

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