workers freedom

economics as if workers mattered

Philly schools cancel teachers union contract

The state-controlled Philadelphia School Reform Commission (the name the state chose when it took over the Philadelphia schools in response to the former school board’s effort to press the state for adequate funding) canceled its contract with the teachers’ union at a sneak meeting Oct. 6. Teachers had been negotiating for a new contract for two years amidst a pay freeze, massive lay-offs, a budget that forces teachers to spend thousands of dollars a year out of their own pockets for classroom supplies, and a government that refuses to fund the schools.

Administrators say they will not cut salaries, but will stop paying into the teachers’ health care plan; teachers who want health benefits will now have to pay $55 to $200 a month. The schools will also stop covering retiree health care and slash other benefit programs. Philadelphia teachers were already among the lowest-paid in the state.

The Commission did not inform teachers of its plans, and effectively barred public comment. The 17-minute-long meeting was not announced on the SRC web site, the union was not notified of it, and state requirements for public notice were met only through a classified ad buried in the Sunday newspaper which stated the meeting was for “general purposes” and required anyone wishing to comment to sign up with the school district by 4:30 Sunday afternoon. Only one person managed to do so.  This “heartbreaking act of political cowardice,” as Daily News columnist Will Bunch termed it, takes $44 million from teachers’ pockets in its first year, and $70 million or more in future years. It also has the potential to leave teachers defenseless against administrative retaliation and favoritism, eliminates contractual limits on class sizes, and generally presents teachers with a stark choice: build a real union prepared to carry out direct action to defend the interests of teachers and students or grovel supine at the feet of the state, accepting whatever crumbs they might offer.

State law prohibits teachers from striking. Administrators have been imposing ever-tighter controls on curriculum. But with most schools operating with just a single principal and security guard on staff, what’s to stop teachers from using math classes to teach labor economics, social studies classes to teach labor history, art classes to make picket signs, reading and writing classes to study conditions in students’ communities, and the like?


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