Tuesday, June 8, 2004

The National Education Association, one of the nation’s most powerful unions, is trying to work through labor trouble of its own.

Employees of the teachers union yesterday rejected a new labor contract in a dispute over medical benefits.

Management of the 2.7 million member union wants a new formula for deciding when employees can qualify for retirement medical benefits.

Currently, the union’s approximately 550 employees can qualify for the retirement benefit after five years on the job.

The contract staff members voted to reject would use a sliding scale to determine their retirement medical benefits, which the employees say could make them work longer to qualify.

The staff members involved in contract negotiations — mostly program assistants, secretaries, policy analysts, lobbyists and communications staff — are represented by the National Education Association Staff Organization.

“The next stage in the process is for the parties to come back together and try to work things out,” said Michael Pons, NEA spokesman. “This has happened before. I wouldn’t call it a crisis.”

He said he doubted the employees would take any job action before ratifying a new contract.

Medical and dental benefits for current employees remain unchanged and are not an issue in the dispute, Mr. Pons said.

The NEA is using its political muscle to support Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts in his campaign against President Bush.

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