Statewide school union has its own labor troubles

Posted: Friday, December 22, 2000

JUNEAU (AP) -- It represents school employees statewide, but now the National Staff Organization of Alaska is having union problems of its own.

Negotiations have broken down between NSO-Alaska and the Alaska branch of the National Education Association. NSO-Alaska is the union representing NEA-Alaska's 23 employees in Juneau, Anchorage and Fairbanks.

Union leaders said that NEA hasn't budged from substantial rollbacks in salary, benefits and working conditions that it proposed for employees in August. They said the impasse comes after many hours of bargaining.

''This is the type of behavior we'd expect to see from the most unenlightened school district that doesn't realize the value of its employees -- not from the people whose mission it is to see that public school employees receive fair treatment and competitive wages,'' Willie Anderson, president of NSO-Alaska, told the Juneau Empire. ''It's very disappointing.''

Rich Kronberg, president of NEA-Alaska, denied his organization proposed salary cuts for staff and said ''it is absolutely not true we haven't budged from our first economic offer. We have compromised many times.'' He said the two sides reached an impasse this month because the union wants pay increases that would bankrupt NEA-Alaska.

Kronberg said his organization earns revenue through member dues and that salaries for teachers and other school employees who pay dues to NEA-Alaska have decreased the last decade, seriously affecting the union'ss ability to give raises to its staff.

Kronberg said his staff already earns more money than most other NEA employees across the country.

A federal mediator has been assigned to the negotiations, but NSO's Anderson said NEA-Alaska has refused to schedule mutually agreeable meetings with the mediator.

''It is very troubling that NEA-Alaska management is refusing to bargain in good faith,'' Anderson said.

Kronberg countered that NSO-Alaska has been the bad player all along and that it has put up obstacles to meetings since August, when negotiations began. He said most of NEA-Alaska's labor negotiators are school employees and that NSO-Alaska has tried to schedule meetings to convene when his negotiators are in class. He also said NEA-Alaska has been working with the federal mediator.

''We were the ones who wanted to call a mediator at an earlier point and they refused,'' Kronberg said. ''This is just blowing smoke.''

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