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Cleveland Heights-University Heights City School District votes to strip healthcare benefits for striking teachers

The move comes as employees of the district are set to begin striking on Dec. 2.

The Board of Education for Cleveland Heights-University Heights City School District (CH-UH) has voted to strip healthcare benefits from striking teachers, counselors, nurses, and other school support professionals, the Cleveland Heights Teachers Union (CHTU) revealed in a release on Friday.

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Last week, the CHTU filed a notice to strike following months of negotiations between the union and school district on a new contract. The CHTU's strike is set to begin on Wednesday, Dec. 2.

“This outrageous move by our Board of Education is a heavy-handed attempt to quash our collective action by taking away our health insurance during the peak of a global pandemic,” CHTU President Karen Rego said in a release. “We made the hard decision to plan for a strike to protect the quality health insurance that we have gained over the years by forgoing wage increases, and now the district is seeking to punish us by eliminating our healthcare altogether.”

In a statement, CH-UH City School District Superintendent Elizabeth Kirby and CH-UH City School District Board of Education President Jodi Sourini said that the district remains committed to resolving its issues with the Union. They also noted "when public school teachers choose to go on strike, they are knowingly walking away from wages and benefits."

"That is the definition of a strike - employees choose to walk away from their compensation in order to influence terms and conditions of employment," the statement reads. "Ceasing wages and benefits is required for public sector employees in Ohio under state law. We sincerely hope Union leadership informed its members of this and what choosing to strike means."

The school district also noted that employees are eligible to continue their health benefits through COBRA during the strike, but will be responsible for paying for the coverage. The union, meanwhile, stated that its strike comes after "the district unilaterally imposed the terms of their final contract proposal, which will raise healthcare premiums to 250% of the current rate, while also reducing other compensation by 1%. For many CHTU members that adds up to a $3,000-$5,000 loss in total compensation."