I'M BAFFLED by the School Reform Commission's resolution empowering the administration to sit down with the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers to renegotiate our contract in "good faith" or cancel it on June 30. The SRC resolution raises two puzzling questions:
1. How do you negotiate in "good faith" with the same people who want to break the contract they negotiated in "good faith" just 17 months ago?
2. How do you bargain in "good faith" when the other party has a gun to your head and seems eager to pull the trigger?
I doubt anyone at the school district knows what "good faith" means. If they're willing to break one agreement negotiated in good faith, there's little reason to expect them to abide by a new one negotiated in good faith.
In collective bargaining, good faith means the parties commit to meet and negotiate, to use their best efforts to respond to each other's proposals, to respect the role of their negotiating partners and to work hard to reach an agreement on the issues.
Rarely does either party get everything it wants, but once the contract is signed, honorable people agree to uphold it until it expires, which in this case is Aug. 31, 2012.
When one party decides unilaterally to force the other to return to the table and threatens to terminate the agreement if it doesn't reopen the contract, that's not good faith. That's duress in legal jargon - and extortion on the street.
Some people suggest that circumstances have changed since the negotiations concluded. But over two years of negotiations, everything we know today was known by the time the agreement was reached in January 2010.
When Arlene Ackerman arrived in 2008, the country was already in the most severe recession in the nation's history. The Democratic governor was in the last years of his second term. During the course of negotiations, President Obama was elected, the federal stimulus money was approved and everyone knew it would stop flowing on June 30, 2011.
Prudent leaders would've begun paring expenses then and would've followed guidance by the state advising school districts not to use stimulus funds to pay operating expenses. Prudent leaders would not have doled out millions to private contractors, opened additional, costly charter schools or spent recklessly on programs with no record of success.
The current administration took a $73 million financial hole dug by the previous administration, grabbed its shovels and happily increased it ninefold. It created a giant financial mess - none of which has anything to do with the PFT-school district contract - and now it wants us to backfill the hole from our pockets.
Isn't it ironic? The very people appointed by the state to put the financial and academic affairs of the district in order are responsible for the biggest deficit in the district's history.
In Wisconsin, Indiana and Michigan, elected officials are also trying to do away with collective-bargaining rights by convincing the public that robbing workers of their voices will somehow repair large deficits. But even when workers agreed to pay cuts and other concessions, officials sent pink slips to thousands of employees anyway.
The fact is this administration has no intention of negotiating in good faith with the PFT or anyone else. If it wanted to negotiate in "good faith," the SRC wouldn't be threatening to cancel our contract on June 30, and wouldn't have passed a resolution declaring teachers at a handful of schools exempt from layoffs - in violation of state law and the 2009-2012 collective bargaining agreement that both Ackerman and [SRC chairman] Robert Archie signed.
THERE'S NO ONE at the district with whom PFT can bargain in "good faith" because, sadly, the district doesn't seem to have any grasp of the concept.
Jerry T. Jordan is president of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers.