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Teachers need World Series ... for contract help

By Samuel Reed III on Nov 3, 2009 07:25 PM

Hopefully, SEPTA and the Transport Workers Union Local 234 will be able to “play ball” and resolve their pending contract negotiations. I give credit to the transit union for leveraging the Phillies and Yankees World Series while it was in town. 

Governor Rendell used his political clout and urged the transit union to drop the threat of a strike, while also threatening SEPTA with loss of state support if both sides didn’t continue to negotiate for a fair contract. Rendell said a strike while national attention is focused on Philly for the World Series games would be "a little bit of black eye" for the city but produce no real gains for the union since the series shifts back to New York City this week.

I don’t agree with the governor. It seems the threat of strike during the World Series was enough to get both parties to the negotiation table.But now with the World Series back in New York, SEPTA and the union stopped  “playing ball.”

Hopefully the transit strike will not last long . Like many of my students, I rely heavily on SEPTA  - I don’t own a car. But if the World Series was the impetus required for SEPTA and the transit workers to finally hammer a deal, that’s a good thing.

I just am wondering how the  Philadelphia Federation of Teachers Union (PFT) could leverage the World Series to get some traction with their pending negotiations with School District of Philadelphia. Because this is not a congressional, mayoral, or presidential election season, the PFT has very little leverage to bring the District to a resolution on contract issues such as teachers’ salary, benefits, and working conditions. 

The teachers’ contract, which originally expired on August 31, has been extended to November 30.

Where is Congressman Bob Brady when we need him? 

Brady has often been the mediator in these types of contract stalemates. According to Inquirer reporter Paul Nussbaum, last week Brady said, “it’s too soon for him to get involved” with transit talks. “As long as they are talking, it's fine,” he said. The transit union contract with SEPTA expired on March 15; it appears they had been talking for a considerable time. 

I appreciate when Brady is able to get opposing sides in contract negotiations, to lock themselves in a hotel suite, and settle contract disputes.

It appears that Rendell, Nutter, and Brady will need to continue to constructively weigh in on the contract talks. Just as SEPTA and the transit union were able to avoid the bad press of a strike during the World Series, they need to find a way resolve their dispute for benefit of the region's daily commuters.

Win or lose: Whether the Phillies have their parade down Broad Street or not, Governor Rendell should maintain the pressure to help broker a deal.

Once SEPTA's deal is done. Brady should not waste time getting the School District and PFT to lock themselves up in a hotel suite and hammer out a deal. Teachers deserve a fair contract and we should not have to wait for another World Series to get one.

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Comments (19)

Submitted by Hilary (not verified) on November 4, 2009 12:36 am

It gives me hope to see that some workers still have a little power over their own lives. I support the strikers and hate to see other working-class people getting down on them. They deserve an honorable wage just like all of us do. And just because most of us get s*#t on by our employers doesn't mean the strikers are wrong. We should all support and learn from their brave actions. Sometimes striking is the only alternative to living on less and less and less. Point your misguided fingers at SEPTA management. Point your fingers at the billionaire bankers whose bailout is the reason public agencies can't get the funds needed to continue operating properly.

Submitted by Erika Owens (not verified) on November 4, 2009 11:07 am


Submitted by Rita S (not verified) on November 4, 2009 5:41 am

Way to go, Sam.
You scored a home run on that one!
This time around the working conditions are a big issue.
Our PD days are more like a boot camp than a professional opportunity for growth.

Submitted by Robert Rivera-Amezola (not verified) on November 4, 2009 7:47 am

Having worked for the school district now for nearly ten years and having sustained more than my share of mind-numbing professional development days (like yesterdays) I have become quite sympathetic to the usefulness of collective bargaining. But when the general public is largely unaware of the realities of teaching in the school district we receive little to no sympathy for our right to strike. Indeed, the law prohibits us from striking. I found myself in that "general public" category when I woke up to hear that SEPTA had decided to strike in the wee hours of the morning giving little notice to working people who were either preparing to go to work or coming out of a graveyard shift. My heart went out when I saw people at bus stops on my way to work early in the morning. I think I agree with Rendell that it was unprofessional and that the very least SEPTA could have done was given a few days notice that the strike was going to happen. Otherwise, my heart is with the workers of the union. The very best of luck to them.

Submitted by dkbog (not verified) on November 4, 2009 11:15 am

I am tired of hearing about Bob Brady, etc. First, everytime he gets involved the teachers get a lousy 3% across the board raise. Coming from a family of 3 Philly teachers, the teachers deserve more pay to be equitable with their suburban counterparts, reduced class size (which the union has been fighting for since 1967), and RESPECT. Bus drivers at SEPTA get top rate in 4 years- It takes a teacher 11 years (Step 11). Also, there is a loophole in the law where teachers in Philly can strike for 21 working days (3 weeks). If the SRC and Ackerman plan on ramming a contract with all of their goodies down the teachers throats, then all 9,000 teachers should walk off the job. There is no way they can replace 9,000 teachers- Also, lets see the SRC and Ackerman try and recruit teachers in Philly----bottom line is no one wants to teach here and everyone wants to teach in the suburbs. By the way, Philly teachers only get a $100 voucher towards school supplies while teachers in Plymouth- Whitemarsh School District get $1000 for supplies. Thank god the teachers union still has the upper hand-- Go PFT!!!!!

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on November 4, 2009 4:13 pm

hahaha...the PFT has the upper hand...

Any more jokes?

Submitted by dkbog (not verified) on November 5, 2009 11:13 am

If you read my post thoroughly, maybe you wouldn't have such a response. Truth is if 9,000 teachers walk, the SRC and Ackerman won't be able to do a thing about it. That's why the PFT has the upper hand in negotiations. People don't seem to realize that.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on November 4, 2009 7:05 pm

I asked Kristen Graham about this supposed loophole, and she said it didn't exist. Anybody know the particulars about our ability to strike? I thought the state takeover forbids it, without exception.

Submitted by dkbog (not verified) on November 5, 2009 11:53 am

Former PFT Pesident Ted Kirsch said about three years ago that it is under PA State law. He mentioned this because people don't think teachers can strike--they can legally for 21 working days (3 weeks).

Submitted by Beentheredonethat (not verified) on November 4, 2009 7:32 pm

It's inteeresting how some have mentioned yesterday's PD. Am I th eonly one that noticed that the Corrective Math is nothing more than the dreaded Kill and Drill that teachers have been asking for for years? The only difference is that we get a script (are they grooming the students for TFA drones that can only read from a script once all the teachers have been fired by Ackerman?) and teachers didn't need one in the old days. After years of telling us Kill and Drill was the wrong way to go it seems it's back under the name Corrective Math. Guess the school district doesn't mind Kill and Drill if somebody down at 440 makes some money off the deal. It is yet another example of more busy work being dumped on the teachers (just wait until you see all the extrenious crap you have to do for record keeping for both Corrective Math and Reading!)

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on November 4, 2009 9:18 pm

I am Kristen Graham sympathetic toward Philly's successful school district? I am curious...

Submitted by Beentheredonethat (not verified) on November 5, 2009 8:31 pm

How is it I can't strike? Unless I have personally signed a contract that says I won't strike nobody has the right to take that away from me or any other teachers. If Ted Kirsch made a deal that is on him, not us. Ackerman's blockhead approach to working with teachers (she claims we don't see eye to eye on "some" issues when in reality we have yet to see eye to eye on anything she's done). As usual it's Arlene's demands or else. Name one innovative thing she's done to make the schools better? She has repeatedly misled both the public and teachers and consistently failed to set an example of real leadership. No wonder they ran her out of San Fran. The halfassed implementation of the Corrective Reading and Math programs shows that Queen Arlene doesn't know what's going on in her own school district. They only just now getting around to ordering the materials needed for Corrective Math. Why was there no all day PD for Corrective Reading (which will NOT help raise PSSA scores for any time soon)? On top of this she shows how little she cares for teachers by trying to muzzle anyone who tries to call the cops about violence in the school. She needs to think very carefully about such policies. . . .

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on November 5, 2009 9:01 pm

What do you mean the PFT "can't" strike? It might be the law, but the law also says the speed limit on certain highways is 55mph. So, nobody drives faster than that because that's the law?

Submitted by dkbog (not verified) on November 6, 2009 6:13 am

If you read my comments above, I said the teachers CAN STRIKE and can do so legally for 21 working days.

Submitted by Ron Whitehorne on November 6, 2009 11:12 am

Pennsylvania Teachers can strike.   Philadelphia teachers cannot.   The state takeover law passed in 1998 and added to in 2001prohibits strikes and limits the scope of collective bargaining.  The constitutionality of the law has not been tested and until now the District has not sought to use its powers under the law.   But at this juncture a strike would be illegal.   This may not rule it out as an option, but it should be clear that it would face difficult challenges. 

Submitted by dkbog (not verified) on November 6, 2009 11:27 am

Thank you for the information. But, even if it were illegal now and that is the last stance to prevent the SRC and Ackerman from ramming what they want down their throats, common sense says if 9,000 teachers walk, they will never be able to replace them. They can threaten them with taking away their certifications (doubt that would happen). Judges will be sympathetic with the teachers than the SRC and Ackerman. It ought to be interesting come November 30th. Teachers need to be RESPECTED and as professionals who many have Masters and Doctorate Degrees are not treated right. Fact is also that most people who graduate college with a degree in Education want to teach in the suburbs. When my wife who teaches in Philly for the past 12 years graduated from college, went to a Teacher Hiring Expo, there was hardly anyone in line for Philly. It is a demanding job and I chaalenge anyone to do it. My mom has a Doctorate in Education and has been teaching for 27 years in Philly and my sister has a Master's plus 60 credits in Special Edu. in Philly. Principals have too much control and Ackerman has "Zero" respect for Philly teachers. In the end, the Union will challenge in court ACT 46 and will win. Go PFT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Submitted by Ron Whitehorne on November 6, 2009 12:33 pm

While I agree with your sympathies I think you seriously underestimate the difficulty a strike would pose.   I disagree that the courts will be sympathetic.   The courts historically have a bias toward managment and here we are talking about a strike that would be illegal. Union leaders and members were enjoined, fined and went to jail in past Philadelphia teacher strikes.     The Republican dominated PA supreme court, which would ultimately decide on the law, , is certainly a long shot. 

And don't count on support from the political establishment either.   The state legislature passed this law in the first place and its political complexion isn't real different now.   Dwight Evans was one of its leading proponents.   Both Nutter and Rendell are vested in the appointment of Ackermann.  

There are also serious quesitons about how much community support the PFT would have.    

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, how solid are the ranks?  In past long strikes substantial number of teachers crossed the picket lines and scabbed...and these strikes were legal and the union was much stronger than it is now.  

Depending on what happens in negoiations the union may have to go this route but it certainly will not be easy.   Assuming there is not an acceptable agreement there are alternatives to striking...mass demonstrations, aggressive outreach to the community,and  working "to rule", that the union will certainly examine. 




Submitted by dkbog (not verified) on November 6, 2009 12:06 pm

Thank you Ron for the information. What is working "to rule"?

Submitted by Ron Whitehorne on November 6, 2009 1:57 pm

Working to rule means working strictly to the contract denying management the flexibility they need.   In the industrial trade union context this meant,  for example refusing overtime, filing greivances over every minor infraction, and generally trying to punish the boss while avoiding the risks of a strike.   In a teacher union context it has involved things like working only the hours stipulated in the contract.   Historically it is a tactic that  National Education Association (NEA) locals have used while the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) has generally discouraged it.

The problem with the tactic in the minds of many teacher unionists  is that it undermines relationships with students (so does a strike but in a different way) and alienates parents and the community.

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