Teachers' Unions Anticipate Some Decline in Number of Strikes

Labor Peace Attributed to Higher Salaries, Additional Funding From Reform Initiatives

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As of the opening of schools this month, officials of the nation's teachers' unions are predicting that bargaining this season will result in salary increases exceeding the inflation rate and a drop-off in strike activity.

Nonetheless, teachers in several large school districts--including Chicago and Philadelphia--had not reached contract agreements by the end of last week and were still threatening to strike.

And teachers in several other districts around the nation did not show up for work when schools opened last week.

Fewer Strikes, Higher Pay

According to Howard Carroll, a public-information officer who monitors negotiations nationwide for the National Education Association, strike activity will probably be down this year because salary increases thus far have outpaced in1lation and the outlook for settlements in ''bellwether" blue-collar states such as Michigan, Illinois, and Pennsylvania is good.

Mr. Carroll predicted there would be fewer than 100 strikes nationwide this year.

He said the number of strikes has declined significantly since 1980-81, when teachers in 181 districts walked out. There were 108 strikes in 1981-82--a deep recession year--and only 95 in 1982-83.

Last year, the number of strikes jumped to more than 105, largely because of numerous unexpected wildcat strikes in Mississippi and a new collective-bargaining law in Illinois.

Scott Widmeyer, public-information director for the American Federation of Teachers, said there has been no significant increase in strikes by A.F.T. locals over the past two or three years. "We've averaged about 15 to 20 strikes per year, which is about half the number of strikes that took place 5 or 10 years ago," he said. "This year, we probably won't see more than 10 or 15."

Many contracts offered to teachers thus far include salary hikes of between 7 and 10 percent, union officials said.

Last year, salaries rose at almost twice the 4 percent rate of inflation, climbing by 7.3 percent, according to Mr. Carroll.

Strikes, Settlements

Among strike and settlement activities last week:

  • In Michigan, some 1,650 teachers in Flint, the state's second-largest district, went on strike, along with 189 teachers in the nearby suburb of Beecher and 103 teachers in the 2,300-student Linden Community School District.

    Teachers in Kalamazoo went back to school on a contract extension while negotiations continued.

    Meanwhile, a major strike was avoided in Detroit when school-district and union negotiators agreed on a tentative two-year contract giving the district's 11,500 teachers a 10 percent pay hike this year and a 5.5 percent increase in 1986-87.

    As of last Wednesday, teachers in 63 of the state's 525 school districts had no ratified contracts or tentative agreements.

    But according to Tom M. Farrell, assistant superintendent for public affairs for the state department of education, at this point "the state appears to be in much better shape than at any time in the last 12 years of monitoring negotiations." Last year, there were only 13 strikes during the entire school year.

  • In Girard, Ohio, the district's 104 regular classroom teachers honored picket lines on the opening day of school last week, after an 11th-hour bargaining session failed to avert the city's first teacher strike. Only high-school classes have been held, with substitute teachers, according to school officials there.
  • In Pennsylvania, some 173 teachers in the 2,958-student Montour School District went on strike, along with 83 teachers in Bellwood-Antis School District in Blair County.

    Officials of the state's largest union--the Pennsylvania State Education Association--said they were "optimistic" that there would be fewer teacher strikes this year than last, when 20 districts had strikes.

    So far, 482 of 501 districts have reached contractual agreements, with salary increases averaging about 8 percent, officials said.

    The union attributes the more optimistic outlook to a $154-million state subsidy increase for education that has eased fiscal pressure on districts, particularly low-income districts.

    As of late last week, however, no progress had been made in contract negotiations between the 19,000-member Philadelphia Federation of Teachers and the School District of Philadelphia.

    A state mediator has imposed a gag rule on negotiations, which are being held in secret and could possibly go into 24-hour sessions, according to Richard Cecchine, strike coordinator for the P.F.T.

    Teachers were scheduled to report to school on Tuesday, Sept. 2, with classes beginning on Thursday, Sept. 4.

  • In Minnesota, where contracts are negotiated every two years, the renewed financial health of state and school-district budgets have led union officials to expect few strikes and big pay raises during this year's negotiations.

    Harry S. Stankiewicz, negotiations specialist for the Minnesota Education Association, said 36 districts went on strike m 1981. This year, no more than 8 strikes are expected, he said, the same number as during the last bargaining period.

    Last week, 2,500 teachers in Minneapolis--members of an A.F.T local--averted a strike and ended 11 months of negotiation by tentatively agreeing to a two-year contract providing teachers with a 6.5 percent increase this school year and a 5.1 percent increase next year.

  • In Illinois, eight districts--including Chicago, Villa Park, Glenbard, and Wheaton--have filed intent-to-strike papers with the Illinois Labor Relations Board, according to Reginald Weaver, president of the Illinois Education Association, which represents most of the state's school districts, with the exception of Chicago.

    School-board and union officials were far from an agreement in Chicago last week.

    The board has been offering an annual increase in pay for teachers of under 2 percent, while teachers are seeking a multi-year agreement with 8 to 10 percent pay hikes annually, according to John Kotsakis, administrative director of the 23,000-teacher union, the nation's second-largest local.

Vol. 05, Issue 01, Page 4

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