District employees voice concerns in contract battle

Dozens of teachers told TBAISD board members their thoughts regarding contract proposals.

Two unions within the Traverse Bay Area Intermediate School District have been without contracts since last June.

As negotiations continue, the workers impacted are making their presence known.

More than 60 people packed into the board room and dozens more crowded into the doorways. The TBAISD superintendent said it was probably the most attended meeting they've ever held.

Hundreds of employees are looking for answers in the contract negotiations.

â??My pledge to you is to try to get this thing done,â?? said TBAISD Board President Joseph Fisher, â??but bear in mind we have a responsibility to the taxpayers.â??

â??We started negotiating February 2013, here we are now March of 2014,â?? said Julie Rittenhouse, a TBAISD social worker. â??Weâ??re encouraging people to get involved in the process. I think it's great to see everyone here tonight.â??

The main hitch in negotiations stems from salary and wages and insurance issues.

â??When we originally started, we were quite a ways apart in terms of the collective bargaining process with wage and health insurance,â?? said TBAISD Superintendent Michael Hill. â??Over time, we have been very fiscally responsible.â??

â??What we're asking for is very modest,â?? said Kendra King, a TBAISD speech language pathologist. â??The fact that they've been stubbornly resisting and dragging their feet for going on a year now, does not to me show good faith.â??

After months of negotiating, a state appointed fact finder was sent in to take a closer look.

Superintendent Hill said this time, the district's offer to the two unions was much closer to the fact finders recommendations, but the employees are still questioning the district's available fund balance.

â??I still feel like there's a reoccurring surplus that seems to be more than enough to cover a decent raise to, a raise that keeps up with rising costs,â?? said Mason Palmer, a TBAISD teaching assistant. â??I came to support my coworkers.â??

Hill said it's a fact that the district has the extra resources, but responsibility is integral.

â??It's our job to look out for the district three, five, seven, ten years. This process is difficult, but we have to keep our eye on the long-term strength of this organization for the region. We take great pride in what we've been able to do fiscally during a recession. But we have to be veryâ??and the board is committed to thisâ??continue that responsibility with the fund balance.â??

The union members said they want to be appreciated.

â??It has to do with our families, our livelihood; it affects the way we are seen. We want to be valued for the work that we do and we feel like paying us fair and reasonable wages is one way to show that,â?? said Rittenhouse.

â??The people that are providing the services are the backbone of TBA. We wouldn't have a school board or superintendent if we didn't have the people out there providing the services,â?? said King.

The superintendent agreed that his staff should be recognized. â??Throughout the entire organization, we're 550 employees. We have proud, dedicated people.â??

Both sides will meet again March 12 to go over the latest proposals.