As Manatee Education Association officials and Manatee County school negotiators head into next week’s impasse hearing, district teachers are preparing displays of solidarity.
Beginning Wednesday, teachers are planning a series of “walk-ins.” At a walk-in, teachers dress in red and gather in one spot 10 minutes before the official start of their school day to walk into the building together. Florida statutes prohibit public employees from going on strike.
Manatee Education Association President Pat Barber said the walk-ins are union-organized events designed to raise awareness as the district and union remain at an impasse over teacher contract negotiations. The union wants salary increases and larger contributions toward health insurance premiums for employees with spousal and family coverage. The district says it doesn’t have the money to meet the union’s demands.
We are all in this together. Most of my friends have to work a second job to make ends meet.
- Harllee special-education teacher Holly Clouse
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“We hope it achieves the consciousness-raising of management, so that they start to understand how much people give of themselves,” Barber said. “Teachers volunteer a whole ton of unpaid time to the school district.”
The walk-ins will start Wednesday and continue at different schools over the next week. On Jan. 25, teachers countywide will stage walk-ins at every district school, Barber said.
Holly Clouse, a special-education teacher at Harllee Middle School, said the district is “top-heavy and micromanaged,” and she hopes the walk-ins put pressure on the district to raise salaries.
“We are all in this together. Most of my friends have to work a second job to make ends meet,” Clouse said. “They say it’s about, ‘No money, no money, no money,’ and yet, I don't know how to explain it, except that I believe there is a way for us to get a fair wage.”
Special Magistrate Robert Hoffman will arbitrate the dispute at a hearing Jan. 25. Both sides will have the chance to ratify Hoffman’s decisions. Any decision both sides do not ratify will be decided by the school board. The final agreement will consist of whatever rulings both sides ratified and whatever items the school board adjudicated.