COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — The Columbus teachers’ union has inched one step closer to going on strike.
The Columbus Education Association, which represents 4,500 educators in Columbus City Schools, filed a notice of its intent to strike and picket with the State Employment Relations Board on Thursday as a result of its ongoing labor dispute with the district’s Board of Education, according to a news release from CEA.
The filing opens the door for the union to strike on Monday, Aug. 22 — two days before the first day of school — if a contract agreement with the district is not reached.
“CEA has consistently maintained that we are fighting not just for CEA members, but for our students and community,” CEA spokesperson Regina Fuentes said in a statement. “That is why CEA will continue that fight until a fair agreement is reached for the schools Columbus Students Deserve.”
The union unanimously voted on Thursday, Aug. 4 to issue a 10-day strike notice following months of contentious contract negotiations with the Board over issues like class size, functional heating and cooling, and working conditions. The current contract expires on Sunday, Aug. 21, one day before teachers are due back in the classroom.
The 10-day strike notice came after the Board delivered its final contract offer to the teachers’ union on Thursday, July 28 — a “fair, comprehensive, and respectful” agreement in the eyes of the Board but a “take it or leave it” deal that CEA President John Coneglio said the union will not accept, demanding continued negotiations.
A few days later, the board said it is preparing “alternative outcomes” — including remote learning — should a strike happen.
Board of Education President Jennifer Adair said the Board is “deeply troubled” by the CEA’s intent to strike, claiming that after its 20th negotiating session on Wednesday, the CEA failed to respond to the Board’s offer, including questions about compensation.
“CEA has continued to refuse to provide a response to all remaining issues,” Adair said in a statement. “With this lack of good faith efforts by CEA, we believe announcing a strike is premature and a disservice to our school community.”
The Board said it is determined to reach a contract agreement to prevent a strike that it said would be “disruptive” and harmful to students.
According to the union, some of the sticking points in the contract include HVAC issues in district schools, recruiting and retaining teachers, and smaller class sizes. Sufficient planning time for teachers, a cap on the number of class periods during the day, and outsourcing positions to private, for-profit corporations are also a point of contention, CEA said.
Charles Wachs, whose 7-year-old son Carlo will soon start kindergarten at Columbus City Schools, said ideally, he’d love for his son — who is excited to get back into the classroom — to start on the first day. But, he’s preparing for the potential strike.
“He has a daycare he goes to in the summer as well, so we’ll work it out, we’ll make it work until they get that resolved I guess,” he said.
Columbus City Schools parent Dena Sico said she was frustrated to hear that negotiations had stalled yet again, an indication that there are challenges with negotiating in good faith, she said.
“My hope is that they will reach an agreement that is in line as close as possible to what the teachers are asking for the — teachers know most what the students need so I hope we can get as close as possible to that,” Sico said.
Both sides have filed unfair labor practice complaints with the State Employment Relations Board: the union in July and the board earlier this month.
CEA members met with the Board on Wednesday — the first time the two parties met for negotiations since Friday, July 29 — to continue negotiations alongside a federal mediator, which stalled yet again with no agreement reached.
Coneglio said CEA is planning another mass meeting on Sunday, Aug. 21, the day the current teachers’ contract expires, to discuss the next steps regarding a potential strike. The first day for students is Wednesday, Aug. 24.
Should a strike happen, the union said it selected Education First Credit Union as its strike loan provider.