Philadelphia teachers could consider their first strike vote in decades as talks with the Philadelphia School District on a one-year contract extension drag on with no end in sight, officials said.
Philadelphia Federation of Teachers president Jerry Jordan gave members the news in a meeting Monday night.
“The district has decided that they are unwilling, at this time, to resolve our one year contract extension,” Jordan wrote in an email to 13,000 teachers, nurses, counselors, secretaries, and other school workers. “And as I shared with you, it is necessary for me to ask you to consider authorizing me to call for a strike if (and only if) we reach a point that negotiations have entirely stalled.”
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If a strike is called, it would be the first such action in years. The teachers’ union was forbidden by state law from striking during the 17-year state takeover that ended in 2018.
Monica Lewis, a spokesperson for the district, said the school system “remains in constant contact with the PFT leadership. We are hopeful that we can come to a resolution. We know that our teachers are just as committed to the students of Philadelphia as we are.”
PFT’s contract expired Aug. 31. Jordan has said the two sides had agreed on everything but money in the one-year extension he is seeking.
The union is looking for a deal in line with what two large city unions got earlier this year: extensions with raises in the 2% range. It’s also seeking for pay bumps for years of experience and education.
Jordan, in an interview Monday night, said the last time he negotiated a one-year extension, in 2012, the deal was done in a day.
“Unfortunately, this has just gone on and on,” Jordan said. “There is a level of disrespect that my members are feeling while working harder than ever. There’s something very wrong with this picture. I’m voicing it on their behalf.”
Jordan has asked members to submit their thoughts on striking, and said he will be guided by their wishes.
“It’s not what I want to do. It’s not what I’ve ever wanted to do, but sometimes it’s what has to be done,” said Jordan.
Philadelphia teachers are currently paid $45,360 to $91,852.
The news of the possible strike vote comes a week after Jordan asked his members to consider a “work to rule” action that would have them work only during contracted hours.
Jordan has previously said the district was trying to “shake down” the PFT by tying raises to an endorsement of the district’s reopening plan. The PFT signed off on provisions for personal protective equipment and social distancing and was consulted but not given final say over other elements.
All 120,000 Philadelphia students now attend school virtually; district officials last week announced plans to return up to 32,000 prekindergarten through second-grade students to buildings two days a week beginning Nov. 30.
Some other students could return by February, but there is no current timetable for when the majority of young people in grades three through 12 could come back.
Teachers responsible for the students returning in November are expected back in schools Nov. 9, but Jordan has said he’s skeptical of the district’s ability to have buildings ready in time.
Lewis, the district spokesperson, said she was “hopeful we can come to a resolution” by Nov. 9.