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Teachers On Strike In Old Forge

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OLD FORGE -- Some students in Lackawanna County got an early start to their holiday break. Teachers in the Old Forge School District hit the picket Thursday morning.

Old Forge teachers, who have been working without a contract for more than two years, started picketing at 8 a.m., around the time classes at Old Forge High School would have started.

Teacher's union reps say there are many contract issues they're concerned about.

Teachers heard calls of support and yells of dissent from drivers as the group paced the picket line outside Old Forge High School.

Last week, the teacher's union announced their intent to strike and since they say they didn't get any satisfactory contract offers, they carried out their plan.

 “Obviously, myself and all my colleagues, we'd rather be in there with our students enjoying the last couple days before Christmas break, but as I said, we feel like we've been backed into a corner and this is our only recourse at this point,” said Old Forge Education Association President Patrick McLane. 

McLane said teachers have been working without a contract since 2010 and that what started as a dispute over salary and benefits escalated, and now teacher's feel disrespected by the school board.

The school board and district administrators said their hands are tied, too. They claim they've been hit hard by state budget cuts and the cost of health care keeps going up, making the teachers' demands are hard to meet.

At last night's school board meeting, members passed a motion to implement the board's last best offer by the end of the year. But, union officials went ahead with their plans anyway.

“The big issue is, not only the economics, such as salary and benefits, but the Old Forge school board is trying to strip away from the contract professional language issues that affect the professionalism of the teachers,” said John Holland of the Pennsylvania State Education Association.

Holland said the Old Forge school board's move to implement a contract changes the game. Even though their signs read "strike" legally, Holland says, the teachers are "locked out" until negotiations resume.

“This relationship is not good,” Holland added.

A lawyer for the school district says the teachers are not in a lockout, they are on strike.

Superintendent Scott Jeffery says so far there are no plans for the two sides to head back to the bargaining table.

Students were supposed to have a half day of school Friday and then begin their holiday break.