Philadelphia Teachers May Strike

P H I L A D E L P H I A, Sept. 4, 2000 -- Three days before classes were scheduled to begin for 200,000 Philadelphia students, the city’s teachers’ union today announced it would urge teachers to approve their first strike since 1981.

Negotiators for the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers and the School District of Philadelphia spent Labor Day at the bargaining table, but union President Ted Kirsch today said that negotiations were not progressing.

Kirsch said the union’s leaders would recommend teachers voteTuesday morning to strike.

Under state law, the union must give the district 48 hours’ notice of a walkout. Classes are scheduled to begin on Thursday.

“We have responded positively and creatively at the table, willing to break ground on each and every issue to improve education in the district. But at the 11th hour, it has become apparent that the district has no intention of honoring their side of the bargain,” union spokeswoman Barbara Goodman said today.

Mayor Calls for Contract

Mayor John F. Street, who hand-picked the school board now locked in negotiations, took to the podium at a Labor Day rally today and tried to reassure the teachers of the city’s intentions.

“There’s nothing that we would like more than to get a contract. We have to have a contract,” he said.

The 21,000-member union has so far rejected the district’s proposals to extend the school day and school year, increase co-payments for health insurance, institute a pay scale based on teacher performance rather than years of experience and level of education, and give principals more say in teacher job assignments.

The union wants smaller classes, stronger early-childhood education, a new reading program and enhanced school security. Its teachers in 1997-1998 earned between $28,600 and $57,200 according to the union.

State Might Take Over Schools

District officials have said they will face an $80 millionshortfall in their $1.6 billion budget even without granting thepay raises that the union says are needed to keep talentededucators in the city.

Gov. Tom Ridge has promised to work for additional state fundingif teachers agree to a contract overhaul.

Ridge also has said the state might take over the chronicallyunder-performing district if teachers walk out. A state law passedin 1998 allows the governor to assume control of city schools ifthe school board does not produce a valid budget or state officialsdetermine that it is not adequately educating pupils.

Although state law does not bar teachers from striking, it doesprevent a work stoppage denying school children of 180 days ofschool per calendar year. Teachers could strike for more than sixweeks without a disruption to the 180-day school year, althoughthere would likely be no scheduled vacations and days off.

Teachers at Labor Day Rally

Hundreds of teachers gathered in downtownPhiladelphia for the Labor Day rally today pledged solidarity and vowedto strike if necessary.

“It’s going to hurt the children. Is the board really thinkingabout the children?” said first-grade teacher Jacqueline Chapman,wearing a sandwich board that read “Striking for safe schools” onone side and “$$$ for schools before stadiums!” on the other—areference to the city’s plans to spend hundreds of millions on newbaseball and football stadiums.

“There’s no question in my mind and in the minds of every PFTmember I’ve talked to that they’re ready to go out on strike,”Kirsch said.