School for Blind Children
Staff Choose UE (Twice),
Gain New Contract
Teachers and nurses at the Western
Pennsylvania School for Blind Children rally October 16th for a decent contract. Their
independent staff union voted to affiliate with UE in September. The school’s
staff reaffirmed that decision with a strong showing in a Labor Board election
in October — and went on to win contract improvements.
The teachers and nurses of the Western Pennsylvania School for
Blind Children have high standards. They expect a high level of performance
from themselves and each other. Their dedication led the United States
Department of Education to recognize the institution’s excellence with a
"Blue Ribbon School" designation in 2001.
That same insistence on high standards led them to join UE.
In less than a month, the WPSBC nurses and teachers voted to
affiliate their independent staff association with UE, reaffirmed their
commitment to UE in a representation election conducted by the National Labor
Relations Board and negotiated a contract that provides substantial salary
The WPSBC staff has more than a quarter century’s experience
with unionism. An independent union established in 1974 affiliated four years
later with the American Federation of Teachers, becoming PAFT Local 3692.
In the 1980s, the school changed its mission statement to
focus on multiple-challenged blind students. The new student population
resulted in a change in the staff mix; finding themselves outnumbered, the
professional staff approached the PAFT attorney regarding unit clarification.
The union attorney said a redefinition of the unit wasn’t possible.
In the 1990s, professional staff organized to be fairly
represented. They rejected what they perceived as PAFT misinformation and lack
of interest in their concerns. In 1998, WPSBC staff voted to decertify from
PAFT Local 3692. Early the following year they formed their own independent
union, the WPSBC Professional Staff Association.
The new independent union successfully negotiated a three-year
contract in 1999. But with the opening of negotiations for a second contract
on May 9, 2001, it became clear to Staff Association members that they faced a
fight. The administration proposed a giveback contract, with a half-percent
annual salary increase for some employees, increased charges for parking and
health care and a longer working day.
The contract expired on Sept. 1 without a new settlement in
place. On Sept. 14, the union membership voted to reject the school’s
proposal — and voted to affiliate with UE, 54 to 4.
UE had been recommended to WPSBC staff as early as 1998 by the
association’s attorney, Sanford Kelson. But, says UE Local 613 Pres. Norm
Yeargers, "We were reluctant to rejoin a national union after our
negative experience with PAFT."
UE was willing to work with the staff association, regardless
of that reluctance, Yeargers observes. "(International Representatives) Carol
Lambiase, Marion Washington, and (District Six Pres.) John Lambiase
spoke to our membership on numerous occasions," he says.
"Additionally, UE invited our officers to attend their district
The school administration and the AFT challenged the
affiliation vote, leading to a Labor Board election. The members of new UE
Local 613 concentrated on building support for their negotiating committee. On
Oct. 18, WPSBC employees voted 46 to 14 to reaffirm their decision to join UE.
UE Intl. Rep. Washington joined negotiations the following
weekend for a marathon session that produced a settlement. The Local 613
committee unanimously recommended approval; WPSBC staff ratified the agreement
on Nov. 2.
The three-year contract raises salaries by between 16 and 19
percent, bringing WPSBC teachers and nurses closer to parity with their peers.
The contract upgrades health insurance to include the High
Option Dental Insurance plan, increases short-term disability payments and
provides for a $10,000 retirement benefit and related benefits. A seniority
clause will govern how vacancies are filled permanently. School staff can look
forward to free parking in years two and three. The contract contains
The UE Local 613/WPSBC negotiating committee consisted of Vasu
Babu, chairperson; Maura Puglio and Jim Woods, teacher
representatives; Meredith Houser, nurse representative;and Local Pres.
Yeargers. They were assisted by attorney Sandy Kelson and Intl. Rep.
UE News - 11/01