The contract between the Philadelphia School District and its largest union expired Monday with no new deal inked.
Union president Jerry Jordan on Monday night asked the 13,000 teachers, counselors, nurses, secretaries, and other school workers who comprise the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers to give him two weeks to continue negotiating a deal, making plain his displeasure with the school system’s negotiating tactics, which he called “reprehensible.”
“The district is attempting to shake down our membership, and I won’t allow it,” Jordan said at a news conference after PFT members approved a two-week continuation of negotiations.
Recognizing the challenges from the pandemic, Jordan said he was asking district leadership for a one-year contract extension with a “modest” salary increase.
But the district, Jordan said, is tying raises to the union’s agreeing to a school reopening plan. The school system’s 125,000 students are set to begin the 2020-21 school year virtually on Wednesday; officials hope to get children back in classrooms in November.
PFT officials released their own reopening plan this summer and said the district had not consulted the union substantively as it lays out conditions under which students and teachers would return to class.
“The district concocted an appalling scheme to attempt to make our membership choose between a modest wage increase and their lives,” Jordan said.
“We need a clearly defined and agreed upon procedure for addressing the district’s all too familiar failure to actually deliver on their commitments,” Jordan said, adding that he would not “agree to insufficient plans that come November could cost our members, their families, or their students their lives.”
The expiration of the three-year contract comes during a pandemic that will cost the district an estimated $60 million in COVID-19 expenditures — money the district says it does not have.
But it also comes as the union possesses, for the first time in nearly two decades, the power to strike.
Jordan said PFT accountants proved that the district has enough cash to cover raises and COVID-19 costs.
Monica Lewis, district spokesperson, said that the school system remains “optimistic that a fair agreement will be reached. The district is on target to having a successful first day of school on Sept. 2.”
The contracts of other large city unions could be bellwethers for the PFT contract. The membership of the Philadelphia police officers’ and municipal workers’ unions approved one-year contract extensions this spring, with pay increases of 2% to 2.5% plus bonuses under $1,000 per worker.
For the 17 years the district was under state takeover and governed by the School Reform Commission, the PFT was legally prohibited from striking. That prohibition ceased when local control and a school board returned in 2018.
Jordan said that a strike was not off the table, but that he was hopeful a deal could be reached in the next two weeks.
The last PFT contract was signed in June 2017 after city teachers spent nearly five years without a contract or pay increase. That deal included raises and came with a $395 million price tag.