Is Paying Only $2.50 for Health Care Unreasonable?

If you’ve been watching back-to-school news, you’ve probably heard that teachers unions in three Pennsylvania school districts—Shaler Area, Wyoming Area and Old Forge—have gone on strike. Like Philadelphia, which had a shaky opening Monday, the wrangling is largely over salaries and health care benefits.

Take Old Forge, where teachers have been working under a contract that expired in 2010. School employees pay nothing towards their health care premiums, and the local union, a branch of the Pennsylvania State Education Association, rejected multiple proposals from the district.

In fact, if you were wondering if the union’s demands might be unreasonable in the middle of a still-lagging economy, you need only look at the fact that Old Forge school employees pay only $2.50, or $5, for prescriptions. That’s their only health care cost. Yet the union’s last proposal was a 23.25 percent salary increase over seven years with no change to health benefits, despite medical insurance premiums costing the district $750,000 a year.

Sadly, the return of teacher strikes means things are back to normal for Pennsylvania’s public schools.  Last year, for the first time in over 30 years, there were no teacher strikes in the state.

That was a huge break with history for Pennsylvania, known as the “teacher strike capital” of America. But we were warned it wouldn’t last: “I don’t see this happening twice,” said PSEA spokesman Butch Santicola in August.

Tragically, while the teachers union portrays itself as the victim, the real ones suffering are the students—for whom our entire public school system exists—and the beleaguered parents who must scramble to find other arrangements for their children. As one frustrated parent with a special needs child noted, “I can tell, it could be a long September, right?”