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No Progress Reported in School District-Teachers Union Contract Talks

By Eileen Buckley

Buffalo, NY – Talks between the Buffalo School District and the Buffalo Teachers Federation are at a standstill.

Schools Superintendent James Williams says the effort to resolve the ongoing dispute over health care with the teachers union has fallen short. Williams describes it as a "stalemate."

"I do not understand where they are coming from because it is a no brainer," Williams said. "When you can save $27 million of taxpayers money and it is not costing anyone a penny, you are keeping money from going into the providers' hands."

The union has refused to agree to a new single health insurance provider and awaits an arbitrator's decision. The BTF says the district violated the union contract by changing the health provider without their approval. BTF President Phil Rumore says it doesn't appear there is any light at the end of the tunnel.

"After our last meeting, where we were told that even if we go to a single carrier there would is no money for raises for teachers for four years, I don't think we have a lot to talk about," Rumore said.

Despite the union's opposition, all school employees were still placed under the Blue Cross-Blue Shield health plan. Williams claims the district has received only a few complaints from union workers.

"We are monitoring any concerns or complaints that our employees might have, and I understand those numbers are very low," Williams said. "The questions have been nothing out of the ordinary, so we are very pleased."

But Rumore disagrees. He says the union is receiving daily complaints from members who are dealing with changes in their health plan.

"Some teachers are saying they are being overcharged for prescriptions, other teachers are saying their family member wasn't covered, and we continue to work through the issues," Rumore said. "But it seems that everyday there seems to be a problem."

Rumore says arbitration has been delayed because the union learned that the arbitrator assigned to the case had a previous relationship with the School board's chief negotiator. The BTF has asked for a new arbitrator.

Williams says he expects arbitration to begin the first week of October.