Philadelphia teachers were poised to begin a strike last Friday afternoon, provided no new contract had been worked out by the end of the school day.
“Most teachers will be on the picket line by 3 p.m. [Friday],” Barbara Goodman, a spokeswoman for the 21,000-member Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, said late last week. “The most egregious issue is the imposition of work terms and conditions.”
Meanwhile, union leaders, city officials, and school board members were trying to pull together a contract and head off a walkout in the 210,000-student district. The union has not held a strike since 1981.
PFT President Ted Kirsch announced the starting date for the strike at an Oct. 23 school board meeting, as more than 4,000 union members gathered outside in a candlelight vigil to await word from their leader.
Barring a last-minute deal, teachers and other union members were scheduled to cease participating in all school functions, including extracurricular activities, as of the afternoon of Oct. 27. The district holds a limited number of Saturday classes that were also up in the air at press time, but the earliest that most students would have been affected was Monday, Oct. 30.
“We are extremely disappointed that the PFT has decided to strike,” school board President Pedro A. Ramos said in a statement. “We continue to believe that the terms and conditions laid out by [Mayor John F. Street] and adopted by the board are fair and reasonable.”
The board imposed a five- year “interim” contract on teachers Sept. 28 as what it viewed as a last resort, following eight months of unfruitful negotiations with union leaders. The old contract expired Aug. 31, and a state law forbade any continuation of it.
Union members had been working without a contract before the implementation of the September plan.
The interim contract would lengthen the school day by one hour, increase teacher salaries by 17 percent over five years, and implement a voluntary pay-for-performance system, beginning next September. Until then, union members are working under the old salary schedule.
Some city leaders expressed concern that a strike could disrupt the Nov. 7 elections, because most voters cast their ballots in schools that are temporarily used as polling places. But Ms. Goodman said union members would not interfere with the elections and would instead work to “get out the vote” in the event of a strike.