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Court battle brewing between Philly schools, teachers union

Ted Kirsch (left)

Ted Kirsch (left)

In response to having its contract unilaterally terminated, the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers filed several legal actions Friday.

The union has petitioned the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas to prevent the district from implementing health care concessions until a legal ruling is made.

PFT president Jerry Jordan said the law is on the union’s side.

“We believe they don’t have the right to do that,” he said in a telephone interview. “Health care benefits are a subject of mandatory bargaining.”

The union filings come in response to the SRC asking the state Commonwealth Court to make a judgment on whether terminating the contract was legal. The district jointly filed the motion with state Secretary of Education Carolyn Dumaresq.

The union believes the education secretary isn’t a party to the matter and, therefore, the case belongs in the city Court of Common Pleas, the Pennsylvania Labor Relations board or another labor arbitrator.

“The Pa. Department of Education should not be a part of this dispute,” said Jordan in the PFT’s official release. “Our position is that they were added as a plaintiff simply so the SRC could plead their case before the Commonwealth Court.”

The district intends to proceed as planned. Teachers are set to begin seeing reductions in take-home pay in December, but the district is using cash flow to pump $15 million into schools immediately. Another $30 million is planned for disbursement throughout the year.

SRC Chairman Bill Green defended the district’s decision to start spending the money before a ruling is made.

“We believe our position will be upheld, and we’re taking the risk that it will be upheld, because we need to get resources into schools to support the teachers in their classrooms,” Green told reporters after Thursday’s SRC meeting.

The union also filed several complaints with the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board.

“The PFT never wants to settle a contract this way, but the SRC is giving us no choice,” Jordan said in the release. “They abandoned negotiation in favor of litigation; we are responding forcefully that the courts are no place for this dispute. We’re hoping for a quick resolution that brings this matter where it belongs — back to the bargaining table.”

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