Danville, Pa., teachers

By Ben Mabus

DANVILLE, Pa.--After a three-day strike in this small, rural community in central Pennsylvania, the 130 members of Danville Education Support Professional Association returned to work with a contract that contained the pay raises they had sought.

The cooks, custodians, classroom aides, maintenance workers and secretaries had worked without a contract for the last 19 months.

Union members will receive $2.70 in raises over five years (the board offered $2.25) and receive back pay to July 2006. For full-time workers, that will amount to about $1,300. "That's going to come in handy," said union president Pam Hoover. The strikers had no strike benefits. "Those three days hurt for our single moms. We're happy to be going back to work and to know that we are worth something."

"We're not asking for a big increase, we're not asking for the world, just a fair living wage," said Sandra Stefanovige, an aide with 17 years of experience.

The union also agreed to pay about $43 every two weeks for teachers' health insurance.

Workers took two-hour shifts on the picket lines with temperatures plunging below freezing. Hoover vowed that they would continue the strike until the staff got what they were asking for. "We're going to brave it because [the school board] did not think we were going to do this and that we were not going to be able to do it, but we're tough."

The settlement came just hours after more than 250 people packed the regularly scheduled school board meeting. During an hour of public comments, only one person urged the board to hold out against the union.

Student Deshan Moore asked how the school district could afford a $24 million for a building project if it couldn't pay the support staff, and parent Russ Ackley said shutting the schools "over pennies" was too much.

Hoover believes that the strong show of support went a long way toward changing the board's stance. "They really rallied around us," she said.