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Office workers criticize proposal

Members of the Amherst Office Personnel Association took their concerns public Tuesday. The union, which has gone without a contract for 18 months, is unhappy about a proposed contract that would raise health insurance premiums and cut benefits.

"After almost two years of negotiations, we now feel it is necessary to publicly speak out about the district's failure to respond to our continual efforts to resolve this situation," said union Co-president Mary Biesinger, who read from a prepared statement during Tuesday's Amherst School Board meeting.

The contract offer put forth by the district would require union members to accept a single health insurance provider. However, unlike similar offers made to the teachers' union and other employees, the offer extended to the office workers union has both higher health insurance premiums and higher co-pays for office visits, according to union Co-president Gina Santa Maria.

The Amherst Office Personnel Association has 28 members, Biesinger said. About 50 people attended the board meeting to show support for the union, including several district teachers.

Speaking on behalf of the teachers' union, high school teacher Dave Ulrich said the district's office staff does not get the attention or recognition it deserves.

"They have been victims of competence and anonymity," Ulrich said. "Many times, the only time the office staff is noticed is when making mistakes. Our secretaries rarely make mistakes."

Biesinger said that while the union has been willing to work within the parameters set by the state Public Employment Relations Board, negotiations have taken a turn for the worse.

"The district's offers, and especially [its] latest offer, would actually have a negative economic impact on our members," he said.

School Board President William Blanford said the board would not negotiate details of the proposed contract in public but said he thought both the office personnel union and district administrators were negotiating in good faith.

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