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Subcommittee optimistic talks will resume with Manchester teachers union

New Hampshire Union Leader

September 20. 2013 8:07PM

MANCHESTER — The school board’s negotiations subcommittee met on Thursday, and its chairman expressed cautious optimism that talks may resume with the teachers union.

The district and the Manchester Education Association, its largest union, reached an impasse in June over a new contract. Three of the district’s five bargaining units did agree to new contracts that increased health care premiums to 15 to 20 percent (depending on the plan), and gave employees raises of approximately 2 percent in each of the next two years.

The teachers are currently operating under the previous contract, with the same health plans but without any pay raises.

Ward 10 school board member John Avard, who chairs the board’s negotiations subcommittee, said he was hopeful that the two sides would sit down again. “There’s always a possibility to come back to the table. I don’t think either side wants to be done. Each side from the beginning wanted to come to a fair and equitable solution for everybody,” he said.

Ben Dick, the president of the MEA, also said its members were interested in reaching a deal. “I think the heart of the matter is that both sides want to make a deal happen,” he said. “We’re trying to test the waters to see if we might be able to reconvene.”

The sticking point in the negotiations has been health care. The teachers currently pay a premium contribution rate that is less than 10 percent, and co-pays for most doctor visits and prescriptions are $5. The negotiations committee has been pushing the teachers to agree to new plans that would have contribution rates of 15 to 20 percent.

The MEA has maintained that it was willing to adopt new health care plans, but to blunt the impact by extending the changes over a couple years. Dick said he would be looking for flexibility from the district on this score. “Considering we believe we showed willingness to move from where we currently are, we need some sort of movement toward a phase-in by the district,” he said.

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