Monday, September 20, 2004

Central Ky. teachers reluctant to join planned strike

The Associated Press

LEXINGTON - Teachers in the state's second-largest district say there's not much support among their ranks to join a proposed strike next month to protest changes in health care benefits.

Mattie Katz, president of the Fayette County Education Association, said most union members do not want to strike and would prefer the Kentucky Education Association continue negotiations with the governor and the General Assembly.

A strike would be harmful to students and could generate a public backlash that would destroy popular support for better benefits, she said.

"I am afraid of it taking the focus away from the reason, which is the cuts put forth by the governor's office, which is bad and will hurt us extremely," Katz said.

KEA's board of directors voted Saturday to give Gov. Ernie Fletcher an ultimatum with a list of demands that, if not met, could result in a strike by teachers and school employees. The strike proposal calls for school districts across the state to voluntarily cancel school on Sept. 27 to allow teachers to participate in a statewide protest. Negotiations would continue beyond then. If teachers' and public school employees' demands are not met, they would go on an indefinite strike starting Oct. 27.

Katz said she would ask Fayette County Education Association members if they want to ask the school board to close schools Sept. 27.

Fayette County district officials said it is doubtful that school would be dismissed that day.

Fletcher urged the union to reconsider its decision in a written statement issued Saturday. The governor said the KEA went too far in calling for an illegal strike and said it would be inappropriate for him to negotiate in response to the threat.

"The disregard of law always has serious consequences and is highly inappropriate for those who serve as role models for our children in public schools," Fletcher said. "No illegal strike or other organized job action can be justified."

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