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E. St. Louis Teachers Walk Out; Philadelphia Strike Averted

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Teachers in East St. Louis, Ill., went on strike last week, closing schools two weeks after they had opened for the city's 14,000 students.

Also last week, Philadelphia teachers ratified a contract just minutes before their deadline for taking a strike vote.

In Detroit, where teachers have been striking since Aug. 31, negotiators for the teachers' union and the school board met with the assistance of a mediator and a circuit court judge to try to resolve their differences.

Elsewhere around the nation, the National Education Association reported late last week, teachers were striking in Harrisburg, Ill.; Rockford, Grand Haven, Inkster, and Taylor, Mich.; Springfield, Ohio; and Northern Tioga, Pa.

The strikes affect a total of 215,581 students, the union estimated.

Meanwhile, a judge in Warwick, R.I., ordered 1,000 striking teachers to go back to work.

Since Aug. 21, when the N.E.A. began tracking teacher-strike activity, there have been 22 strikes in eight states. Walkouts in Montana, New Jersey, and Vermont have been settled.

Issues in East St. Louis

Henry L. Medley, the first vice president of the East St. Louis Federation of Teachers, Local 1220, said both sides were continuing to negotiate last week.

"We are talking around the clock to settle this strike,'' he said.

The teachers' union is asking for a three-year contract with raises of 3, 5, and 7 percent, while the district has offered 3 percent raises for each year.

Class size and arrangements for teaching "split'' classes of more than one grade are also issues in the strike, Mr. Medley said.

Carolyn Wallace, a spokeswoman for the N.E.A., said salaries, benefits, and class sizes are common issues in the disputes nationwide.

Talks in Detroit

In Detroit, the union and the school board are at odds over salary proposals and a plan by the board to let individual schools waive provisions of the teaching contract. (See Education Week, Sept. 9, 1992.)

The board of education and a group of Detroit residents on Sept. 4 unsuccessfully sought a court order to compel teachers to go back to work.

Instead, a Wayne County circuit courtjudge ordered the parties to continue talking, rejecting an argument that the strike would cause "irreparable harm'' to Detroit students.

Lois Vagnozzi, the editor of the union's newspaper, said the judge is now playing an active role in trying to resolve the dispute. A state mediator also is assisting with the talks.

"The fact that the judge came to where they were talking at the mediation building offers reason for hope,'' she said.

Philadelphia Averts Strike

Philadelphia schools opened on schedule Sept. 11 after the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers and the board of education reached a last-minute agreement on a two-year contract.

The union had set a strike deadline of midnight Sept. 7. That night, nearly 10,000 teachers, paraprofessionals, and other school workers gathered at the city's civic center to await word on the continuing contract talks.

After 11:30 P.M., the union members overwhelmingly approved a two-year contract offering no pay raise the first year and a 3 percent raise the next year.

The school district also agreed to pay $19 million to the union's health and welfare fund and to keep members' current medical benefits intact, according to Hal Moss, a spokesman for the union.

Although the district had sought to change limits on class size and the length of the school day, Mr. Moss said, "we were able to hold firm. There were no givebacks of any kind.''

The talks were complicated by the city's ongoing dispute with its two municipal unions, which are threatening to strike. First, however, they must await a decision by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court on whether fact-finding should occur.

Ted Kirsch, the president of the teachers' union, said recently that the threat of the municipal strike was holding up progress on the teachers' contract.

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