Teachers' Labor Troubles Disrupt School

Labor disputes between school districts and school employees are disturbing the start of a new school year in many parts of the country.

In Buffalo, teachers went on strike today after negotiations broke down Wednesday night. But the school district is promising to take the teachers to court to force them back to class. It is illegal for teachers to strike in New York state and teachers could face jail time.

Meanwhile, in one of the largest school districts in the country, more than 200,000 Philadelphia students were able to begin school this morning as school officials and union negotiators continued contract talks.

Although the contract with teachers expired last week, a court order extended the terms until Monday to give negotiators more time.

“We are working very hard, long tedious hours,” said Barbara Goodman. “We are reinventing our contract, it’s like we were starting from scratch.”

Teachers voted to authorize a strike earlier this week but the union president held off on calling a walkout while negotiations remained promising.

Under state law, the union must give 48 hours before teachers walk off the job.

Boston Teachers

In Boston, students will not go without teachers this week, but the possibility remains that classes may be interrupted next week.

The Boston public school teachers union has agreed to return to the bargaining table, a day after members decided not to strike over stalled contract talks.

The Boston Teachers Union and School Department negotiators will resume talks at 3 p.m. Monday. The last talks were held Aug. 29.

“I think it was the understanding on both sides that after Sept. 5, we’d resume negotiations after we cleared the air on the fact that the [city] proposal on the table was unanimously rejected,” BTU President Ed Doherty said Wednesday.

The issues between the teachers union and the Boston School Department, among other things, are class size, pay raises and the weight of seniority in teacher assignments.

School for the approximately 63,500 students began Wednesday.

Teachers Out of School in Buffalo

In Buffalo, differences remain over wages, health-care concessions and a provision to contract with social agencies outside the district to serve troubled students.

“This move is something that we’ve been forced into,” Buffalo teachers union President Philip Rumore said. “This is not something that we do lightly.”

The teachers stand to lose two days’ pay for each day on strike and could face jail time for defying a court injunction prohibiting the action. The union has a $5.5 million strike fund.

Throughout the city, parents unaware of the strike walked with children to schools and found pockets of picketing teachers.

The district’s 3,800 teachers are working under the terms of a deal that expired in June 1999.

“We’re all very sad. We’re sad for us and sad for the children,” said reading teacher Sue Webster as she picketed outside a school. “We’d all much rather be inside.”

Students also asked for the end of the strike.

“We’re not learning anything, so maybe they should figure out a contract or something to get these teachers back in the classrooms where they belong,” said Mattt Gausback, a high school junior in Buffalo.

More Labor Troubles

Eastern Michigan University in Ypsilanti filed an unfair labor practices charge with the Michigan Employment Relations Commission against the American Association of University Professors, which represents the 687 tenured and tenure-track professors who went on strike Tuesday morning.

The school’s three allegations: the AAUP violated its duty to bargain in good faith by insisting on bargaining to impasse over restrictions on the appointment of lecturers who are represented by another union and by demanding minimum staffing levels by tenured and tenure-track faculty; the AAUP has engaged in a strike that is illegal; and the union has taken a nonnegotiable and fixed position on intellectual property.

A union spokesman didn’t immediately return a call seeking comment.

At the University of Texas, the 17,000 non-teaching employees are seeking pay raises, including an hourly minimum of $9.16, and want their insurance premiums to remain unchanged.

The university has said it was forced to raise premiums to offset rising insurance costs. Workers earning $30,000 a year or less were given a $50-a-month raise to help offset the increases.

University operations were normal Wednesday, the first day of the three-day work disruption, said Pat Clubb, vice president of employee and campus operations.

ABCNEWS.com’s Maria F. Durand, ABCNEWS Radio’s Jim Ranney and The Associated Press contributed to this report.