Strike Ends in Western Pa. District, Begins in Phila.
California, Pa.--Their lunchboxes shiny from lack of use, schoolchildren here returned to classes last week after an 82-day teachers' strike--the longest in Pennsylvania history.
Meanwhile, across the state, Philadelphia's 207,000 students missed classes last Thursday when district bus drivers and maintanance workers walked out in a dispute over a salary increase.
Pennsylvania's Commonwealth Court last week ordered the Board of Education and Local 1201, which represents 4,000 workers, to return to arbitration to determine whether the workers should receive a 10-percent salary increase included in a past contract.
In California, parents said that their strike had left them with mixed feelings of anger and relief. Teachers said they were more interested in returning to the classroom than in talking about the strike.
"I'm relieved the strike ended, but I am a little angry because the kids missed school for so long," said Nancy Whitcheck, a parent in the community of 7,000 located near Pittsburgh in the Monagahela Valley. "I've been teaching my 2nd-grade daughter at home and we've become very close. I don't know if she wanted to go back to school. She kind of gave up like the rest of us."
The district's 1,400 pupils will now attend school 136 days--instead of the usual 180--this year, with one day off for Memorial Day, according to Theodore C. Carlson, the district's superintendent.
Even those 136 days seemed in peril before contracts were signed Jan. 30. "Over the weekend, it seemed like the school year was going down the drain," said Oliver N. Hormell, the lawyer for the district.
But finally the 75 teachers and the California Area School District board agreed to a four-year contract that promises teachers a raise of $1,600 the first year, $1,700 the second, and $1,800 the third, with a wage reopener in the fourth year.
Concerned About Penalties
Toward the end of the negotiation process, however, money was not the main impediment to an agreement, Mr. Hormell said. "It was a philosophical thing beyond money. Amnesty had been holding up the [negotiations]," he said, referring to the teachers' request that they not be penalized later by layoffs, demotions, or transfers.
Ten years ago, the Pennsylvania legislature passed Act 195, giving teachers the right to strike. "But it is a limited right to strike," said Mr. Hormell. "When the court decides striking becomes dangerous, then it is prohibited."
The court reached that conclusion on Dec. 20, when Washington County Judge Samuel Rodgers ordered the teachers back to school, but the teachers refused to return. Every day since, each teacher has been fined $100 for contempt of court. The teachers feared that their noncompliance with the court order would have repercussions and they requested that the new contract include an amnesty provision to protect them from losing jobs or being penalized for strike activities.
Ultimately, the amnesty language was excluded from the new contract, but the school board and teachers signed two agreements stating that teachers will not be discharged, demoted, or laid off, and that, if the district takes any action against teachers, a state-appointed negotiator will decide whether the agreements have been violated.
Ronald Watzman, a lawyer for the Pennsylvania State Educators Association, said he thought both sides were relieved to have signed the agreements. He said the teachers still will have to pay the court fines.
"Under the law those fines cannot be reduced unless the board partici-pates in a petition," he said. "As of now, the board has not consented."
The first day back in class Jan. 31 was a quiet one. Most teachers would not talk about their feelings on the strike. Mr. Carlson, the superintendent, said, "the teachers and administration just want to get back to the business of educating."
Philadelpia Strike Issues
The Philadelphia workers who walked off the job were entitled to a 10-percent raise starting September 1981 under a contract that ran from September 1980 through last August. But the board delayed the raise because of budget problems.
An arbitrator decided that the workers were entitled to receive the pay raise, and the Court of Common Pleas upheld that ruling. But the Commonwealth Court rejected the ruling and sent the case back to arbitration. The workers have been working without a new contract since last September.
"I think this was the straw that broke the camel's back," an official for the school board said last week.
Base salaries for the workers range from $10,000 to $19,000, the spokesman said.
Elsewhere, an 18-day strike in the Willoughby-Eastlake district in Ohio ended Jan. 27 after 12 hours of bargaining with a federal mediator.
The new contract raises the base salary 6.8 percent from $13,310 to $14,200. The new contract, retroactive to Jan. 1, expires Aug. 1. The teachers had asked for an immediate 7-percent raise in base salaries and another 5.3-percent boost in August. The district originally offered no immediate raise and a 3.6-percent hike in August.
Charlie Euchner contributed to this report.
Vol. 02, Issue 20