Teaching Profession

Hostility Intensifies as Teachers Resume Strike in Buffalo

By Julie Blair — September 20, 2000 3 min read

Contract negotiations grew increasingly hostile in Buffalo, N.Y., last week, while in Philadelphia, teachers began working without a contract for the first time in 35 years.

District officials filed charges Sept. 14 against Buffalo Teachers Union President Philip Rumore, who had called a walkout in a state where such practices are illegal. In addition, Mr. Rumore was held in contempt of court for violating a judge’s order not to strike. No hearing date for his arraignment had been set as of late last week.

The union, in turn, is filing charges against the district on the grounds that it violated negotiating procedures—the union’s third such attack.

District and union leaders have agreed to meet with state mediators this week.

The legal charges apparently did little to dissuade disgruntled union members from their action against the district. Some 4,000 teachers resumed their strike the same day, following the school board’s rejection of a compromise negotiated by district and union leaders earlier in the week, according to Mr. Rumore. Though district and union leaders had found common ground, the board did not agree to the plan.

Mr. Rumore ordered the walkout, the second since school started this year, leaving some 15,000 students waiting in vain for school buses or already on board and headed for closed schools.

“It is hard to negotiate when the superintendent and the chief negotiator say they are going to do something, and then they don’t do it,” Mr. Rumore argued.

“We have to protect the interest of the children,” J. Andrew Maddigan, a spokesman for the 47,000-student district, said of the district’s action. “In the legal process, you just don’t take the law into your own hands if you don’t get what you want,” he said. “You appeal to a higher branch. They haven’t done that.”

Teachers first walked out Sept. 7, but returned to school Sept. 8 and had been in class until Sept. 14. Educators have been working on their old contract for more than a year. The union, an affiliate of the National Education Association, has not called a strike in 24 years.

Protections Retained

In Philadelphia, meanwhile, a court order mandating that the teachers’ old contract be extended expired Sept. 11, leaving union workers without protections.

Mayor John F. Street, however, pledged to retain the conditions of employment, provided that negotiations between the administration and the union continued in good faith.

Union leaders had feared that the city would take advantage of teachers by requiring them to work extra hours or give up health-care benefits.

“If the talks progress, [Mayor Street] is not going to change working conditions,” said Barbara A. Grant, a spokeswoman for the Democratic mayor. “The operative word here is ‘progress’,” she added. “There are still a lot of issues to wade through. This is an extremely complex contract.”

The contract expired Aug. 31, and teachers returned to school for the first day of class, Sept. 7, after being granted a contract extension by a state court. Under a 2-year-old state law called Act 46, teachers’ contracts in Philadelphia cannot be extended.

Mr. Street’s “announcement was a great relief to the members, who had been concerned about their salaries, benefits, and work responsibilities,” said Barbara Goodman, a spokeswoman for the 21,000-member Philadelphia Federation of Teachers.

Contract negotiations in the 210,000- student district began eight months ago. On Sept. 5, the union voted unanimously to strike, giving its president the power to call a walkout. He is required by law to give the district 48 hours’ notice.

The school district and the union, an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers, are at odds over salaries, a pay-for-performance initiative, and a policy that would give principals more say in teacher job assignments.

Unrest Elsewhere

Salary is also at issue in Boston, where union and district leaders continue negotiations.

Members of the Boston Teachers Union earlier this month agreed to limit their work to activities specifically outlined in their contract, which expired Aug. 31. They will vote again Oct. 11 on whether to strike if a contract has not been approved.

The beginning of the school year has seen more labor unrest than in the past few years. (“Teacher Walkout in Buffalo Leads Season of Unrest,” Sept. 13, 2000.)

Strikes continued late last week in Hamilton Township, N.J., and Punxsutawney, Pa. Meanwhile, members of the 43,000-member United Teachers Los Angeles plan to take a strike-authorization vote this week.

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