Philadelphia’s School Reform Commission and the city teachers’ union are headed for a showdown over whether the school district can unilaterally disregard the union contract—which expired in 2013—and require union members to pay $27 to $71 per paycheck toward their health benefits.
The commission made the stunning move last week, after more than 21 months of negotiations with the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers. Other unions had made similar concessions, said William J. Green, the commission’s chairman.
Members of the commission, created by state law in 2001 to manage the 130,000-student district, argue that the law gives it expansive powers to make the contract changes. Despite that, the commission and the state education department promptly headed to court to request a declaration affirming the action.
Meanwhile, hundreds of high school students boycotted classes in protest of the commission’s action, according to local media accounts.
PFT President Jerry Jordan called the commission’s move a “union-busting” tactic that he vowed to fight. American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten said it was a “well-planned Hail Mary ambush” by Gov. Tom Corbett, a Republican, who is battling for re-election amid criticism that he made massive education cuts during his first term.
“This is not an effort by the SRC to address the fiscal crisis,” Mr. Jordan said in a statement. “This is the Corbett administration’s attempt to vilify the PFT in order [to] distract from his horrible record on education funding and boost his chances of re-election.”
Mr. Green and schools Superintendent William R. Hite said the move was necessary to help the perennially underfunded district free up revenue and avoid more cuts and layoffs.
A version of this article appeared in the October 15, 2014 edition of Education Week as Battle Waged in Philadelphia Over Quashing of Union Contract