Negotiators on both sides of the contract dispute in the Granite School District are re-examining their positions the day after more than 100 teachers rallied against proposed benefit cuts.
During the half-hour rally Tuesday outside district headquarters at 345 E. 3545 South, negotiators for the Granite Education Association tried to explain that teachers may need to begin paying part of their medical insurance premiums.Some teachers remained opposed to giving up a benefit they've had for at least 20 years - health insurance coverage for themselves and their families that is completely paid for by the district.
"If we lose anything, we are hurt. I've taught for 17 years. I deserve my insurance and a pay raise, too," said Kristine Swisher, a second-grade teacher at Thomas W. Bacchus Elementary School.
As of last Friday, the union position has shifted to oppose any contract that includes changes in insurance benefits. That position was taken by the union's more than 100 teacher representatives.
However, union negotiators have seen their job as getting teachers enough of a raise to compensate for the additional $5 to $10 a month the district wants them to pay toward spouse and family medical insurance costs.
The union declared an impasse last week after failing to reach agreement over how much extra money teachers need to see on their paychecks to make up the difference. Both sides will meet with a federal arbitrator Monday.
The district suggested 0.5 percent above the 3 percent salary hike; the union said 0.75 percent if the reductions are made in the district's contribution toward family medical insurance premiums.
The union also wanted a one-time bonus for teachers to be paid out of the district's surplus. The district has set aside some $1.6 million for bonuses for all employees, according to union leaders.
Other offers made on behalf of the teachers included a 3.25 percent pay increase with no changes in insurance benefits and a $325 bonus, or a 4 percent pay increase with no changes in insurance benefits and no bonus.
Lilia Eskelsen, Utah's 1989 Teacher of the Year and a member of the union negotiating team, said as many teachers are angry with the union over the proposed cuts as are angry with the district.
"I understand the frustration. The last thing teachers want to hear is that we've taken a step backward," she said. "But if insurance costs continue to skyrocket, the sad fact of life is they will eat into our salary increases."
Eskelsen said the extra 0.25 percent sought by the union amounts to $250,000, which will ensure that even the lowest-paid teachers see at least a 3 percent salary increase after they pay toward the medical insurance premiums.
Granite School Board President Lynn Davidson said the real issue may be explaining to teachers the district's problem with rising health care costs.
"The board thinking was that this was a good time to do this. Maybe it's not," Davidson said. "We've got a marketing problem. How do we market the district's need to control insurance costs to teachers?"