AKRON, Ohio (WJW) – Union representatives for Akron teachers are speaking out for the first time since filing a 10-day strike authorization notice last week.
After over eight months of negotiations, the union and the school district have settled some of the items in their contract.
They remain far apart on issues that include wages, healthcare and addressing violence in the city schools.
“What we are mostly concerned with and overwhelmingly need addressed is what’s happening inside our buildings… issues of teacher assault, weapons in the buildings, with assaults happening on teachers almost on a daily basis,” said Akron Education Association President Pat Shipe.
“They are not addressing that in any meaningful way other than saying they are and not taking action and, quite frankly, again, if they were serious about it, why are they seeking to water down language and make assaults on teachers not assaults on teachers?” she said.
Union representatives say they have two scheduled work sessions this week, but they are prepared to deliver pickets to their members first thing Monday morning.
“Our last counter proposal was unmet because they said they didn’t have the authority to make the decision in the room, so the board actually walked away from the last mediation,” Shipe said.
The district sent out a written statement following the strike notice last week:
“Akron Public Schools respects and values its teachers and the work they do for children every day. We know that if we keep negotiating, we can reach an agreement in the best interests of Akron educators, students, parents and our community. APS is prepared to stay at the table day in and day out to resolve this situation and keep children learning. We hope the Akron Education Association shares this commitment with us.”
Akron’s school board has also contracted with an outside company to continue online learning from home in the event teachers do strike on Monday.
But, the union insists the district’s words do not match their actions.
With respect to their wages, Malarcik says the union hired two former treasurers from the district who reviewed their proposals and called them fair.
“I think the public has to know that the administration has acknowledged that they are in a better shape financially than they have ever been in their history, so this idea that somehow they are not being fiscally responsible to pay teachers what they deserve is just outrageous,” said Malarcik.
But a fact-finding report that was rejected by teachers concluded that the union’s requests are unsustainable.
How likely it is that the two sides will reach agreements on the outstanding issues before Monday is not something Shipe or Malarcik will forecast.
“I know that our teachers are dedicated. They would much rather be in the classroom. They would much rather get the respect that they believe is missing directed toward them from the administration, from the board,” said Shipe,
“Striking is something that we do not want to do, but I have said it before and I will say it again. We are not going to stay silent. We are particularly not going to stay silent any longer when the safety and security of our students and our teachers is at risk,” she concluded.
“If there is a strike it will be because there is a lack of good faith negotiations on the part of the administration. Whether we strike or not is entirely 100% up to them,” said Malarcik.