Teaching Profession

Philadelphia and Boston Facing Labor Unrest

By Julie Blair — September 06, 2000 3 min read
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More than 1,000 teachers and other school personnel affiliated with the 21,000-member Philadelphia Federation of Teachers were working without a contract as of Sept. 1, when their agreement with the school district, crafted four years ago, expired. And in Boston, the president of the teachers’ union literally ripped up the city’s offer Aug. 29, with no new talks scheduled.

The 210,000-student Philadelphia district and the 65,000-student Boston schools were two of four big-city districts on the verge of labor breakdowns late last week. But union and district officials in Cleveland and Denver settled at the 11th hour. Sticking points included salaries, class size, and seniority. All but Denver are American Federation of Teachers affiliates.

Negotiators in Philadelphia were still scrambling to splice together a contract late last week, said Barbara Goodman, a spokeswoman for the Philadelphia union. She said talks were expected to continue this week.

Neither Ms. Goodman nor district officials would provide details on the contentious issues.

Legal Complications

Bargaining in Philadelphia began eight months ago and continued late into Aug. 31, but no final decisions were reached by the time the contract expired, Ms. Goodman said.

“There are many, many major issues still on the table,” she said. “Our goal is to have something to ratify Tuesday morning,” Sept. 5—the first day that most teachers in the nation’s sixth-largest district report back to school.

“We continue to put our focus and energies on getting a contract that gives our kids more time with educators and more incentives to teachers to be better at their jobs,” said Alexis Moore, a spokeswoman for the district.

Teachers and other employees working in the city’s one year-round school, day-care centers, and administrative offices have been instructed to return to work for the time being, Ms. Goodman said. Earlier in the summer, union members authorized their leadership to mobilize for a strike.

The contract negotiations have been complicated by Act 46, a state law passed in 1998 that allows Pennsylvania to take over the district and prohibits contracts from being extended.

As a result, workers have been stripped of all rights and protections, according to Ms. Goodman. For example, they could be made to work more hours.

Union lawyers planned to seek an injunction late last week to ensure that workers’ rights were not voided. The lawyers have also asked the state supreme court to declare the law unconstitutional.

“That fact of the matter is, employees remain our employees,” Ms. Moore said. “If you work, you are going to get paid.”

Teacher Transfers

In Boston, meanwhile, negotiations between the 6,000-member union and city officials lasted only 15 minutes last week. The session ended with Boston Teachers Union President Edward Doherty shredding the latest contract proposal. No new talks were scheduled before the start of school Sept. 6.

The union has objected to proposed changes in the way seniority affects teaching assignments and to the proposed amount of a salary increase. Mr. Doherty said last week that the city’s offer of a 9 percent raise over three years was unacceptable.

Union members planned to meet Sept. 5 to take action, Mr. Doherty said. Members could vote to strike immediately or later this fall, or to return to school on a “work-to-rule” basis that would bar them from putting in extra hours.

The 77,000-student Cleveland district settled its contract with teachers only two hours before the Aug. 31 contract deadline.

The contract includes a 15 percent raise over three years, an improved health-care plan, and a pledge to spend $1 million to draft a plan to relieve overcrowded classrooms, said Joanne DeMarco, the vice president and chief negotiator for the Cleveland Federation of Teachers. Beginning teachers will now earn about $31,000 this school year, up from $28,666.

Educators in the 69,000-student Denver public schools will receive a 3.1 percent raise this school year as part of the contract agreement reached last week.

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