Old Forge, Lackawanna County -- Teachers carrying "On Strike" signs began picketing Thursday morning outside the Old Forge School Complex. By the afternoon, the language on the signs changed to read "Lock Out". "The district's decision to impose their last deal onto the association is interpreted by us as a lock out," said Old Forge Education Association President Patrick McLane. District labor attorney John Audi disagrees. He told Eyewitness News that the district's last, best offer had not been implemented prior to the strike taking effect.
What led to picket lines is a teachers' contract that expired in August 2010. Both sides have drawn battle lines over salary and benefits. The teachers aren't getting much public sympathy. "I don't have any sympathies for any of them if you want to know the truth," said Diane Miller of Old Forge. Others say teachers have to be willing to make health care concessions. "They've got to start paying something. The taxpayers, it's an older community. Taxpayers can't afford these teachers anymore. I mean if they're going to be that greedy, maybe we don't need Old Forge anymore. Maybe they should merge with and get this over with," said Pat Weller whose two children graduated in recent years from Old Forge. Ms. Miller removed her two children from the Old Forge school district in recent years in favor of private schooling. "I just thought it was a better educational experience somewhere else," she said.
The start of picketing begins the winter school break in Old Forge by two days early. The school superintendent says that fact that no other school days will be jeopardized during the winter break could actually prove to be a good thing for negotiations. Superintendent Scott Jeffrey wouldn't speak on camera but said perhaps cooler heads could prevail during the winter break. The union president says the only way there'll be labor peace is to have meaningful negotiations. "Let's sit down, let's talk about it, let's come to a common ground. That's all we've ever wanted," said Mr. McLane.
No new contract talks are scheduled. Old Forge teachers say they'll return to the picket lines on Friday as the district reaffirmed that classes on Friday are canceled.