Teaching Profession

Teachers’ Unions Coming to Terms With Their Districts

By Laura Greifner — September 12, 2006 3 min read
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Teachers in Gary, Ind., returned to work Sept. 1, the morning after resolving an 11-day strike.

The teachers’ union and district officials agreed to a 2 percent pay raise for teachers for three consecutive years—beginning with the 2004-05 school year—and will not have to ante up more than they already do for health insurance. They had been asked to pay 10 percent, up from the 7 percent they currently contribute. Teachers’ lunch hours will, however, be reduced from a full hour to 45 minutes, beginning next school year.

Mary Steele, the superintendent of the 16,000-student district, had sent a letter to the 1,000 striking teachers earlier in the walkout that alerted them to the consequences of their actions, including the potential loss of their jobs. (“Labor Unrest Shuts Schools in Midwest,” Sept. 6, 2006.)

Students, who had originally been scheduled to start classes Aug. 23, ended up having their first day of school on Sept. 5 instead.

Sandra Irons, the president of the Gary Teachers Union, an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers, said that despite the two-week delay, classes were resuming as usual, and teachers were happy to be back in the classroom.

“It seems that everything is going well,” Ms. Irons said last week. “We’re back to normal, almost.”

Catholic Teachers Settle

Elsewhere, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Philadelphia and the Association of Catholic Teachers agreed to a two-year secondary school teachers’ contract in the early hours of Sept. 5, in time for the first day of school the next day. The new contract affects 955 high school teachers in 20 schools. More than 21,000 students attend high schools in the five-county area the archdiocese covers.

Irene Tori, the executive secretary of the Association of Catholic Teachers Local 1776, said the agreement includes salary increases of about $1,500 for the first year and $1,700 for the second year of the contract. In addition, teachers were able to maintain their current medical plan, although their contributions to their health insurance will be increased from 9.5 percent to 10.5 percent this year, and 11.5 percent next year. In the evening of Sept. 4, the union stopped negotiations and left the building, preparing to go on strike, Ms. Tori said. But two hours later, she said, the archdiocesan office of Catholic education called and pleaded with the union to resume talks. The two sides worked through the night and reached an agreement shortly before 7 a.m. the next day.

“It was a long night,” Ms. Tori said.

Archdiocesan officials did not return phone calls.

In nearby Wayne, Pa., meanwhile, the 3,500-district Radnor Township teachers’ union and school board agreed to a tentative contract agreement, averting a potential strike. The school board was scheduled to vote on the measure late last week.

According to a district spokeswoman, the contract had not been closely examined in about 10 years, so negotiations lasted from this past January all the way until last week.

“There were a lot of language issues, like what the definition of ‘long-term sub’ is,” said Laurie Smith Wood, the spokeswoman. “This was the year, unfortunately, to go word by word, page by page, through the entire contract.”

Teachers in Radnor, whose union is affiliated with the National Education Association, were in the classrooms for the first week of school, which began Sept. 5, but were scheduled to strike this past Friday, Sept. 8, had an agreement not been reached.

Other districts that have reached tentative agreements with teachers, thus averting possible strikes, include Denver and the Community Consolidated School District 15 in Palatine, Ill.

A version of this article appeared in the September 13, 2006 edition of Education Week as Teachers’ Unions Coming to Terms With Their Districts

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