Philadelphia’s teachers union is planning a possible strike vote this week, as negotiations have stalled nearly two months after the union’s contract expired.
Philadelphia Federation of Teachers President Jerry Jordan sent out an email to the union’s 13,000 teachers, nurses, and other workers Monday night, requesting they fill out a ‘Strike Authorization Poll.’
“The poll, and subsequent votes, will NOT trigger an immediate strike” the email reads. “It will authorize me to call a strike on behalf of the membership if, and only if, we are no longer able to move forward.”
Jordan asked members to fill out the survey ahead of a union meeting tentatively scheduled for Wednesday, when workers will discuss either a tentative agreement or the authorization of a strike.
The union is seeking a one-year extension of its previous contract, which expired August 31, with a 2.5% raise.
Teachers are currently paid between $46,267 and $91,852, a scale based largely on years of experience and education level.
Jordan said in an interview Monday night that the request, which is in line with the raise received by the city’s police union this year, is “not unreasonable at all.”
“People are very, very, very frustrated because of the slow pace of the way in which this process has worked,” Jordan said. “They feel disrespected, they don’t feel valued as employees of the school district, and they want me to do something.”
School District of Philadelphia spokesperson Monica Lewis said Monday that the district’s leadership is in “constant communication” with union officials.
“We are hopeful that we can come to a resolution that will allow us to continue educating our students,” Lewis said.
Currently all 124,000 district students are learning virtually. Pre-K through second grade, as well as ninth graders, students with special needs, and students enrolled in technical education are scheduled to come back to class a few days a week on a ‘hybrid’ schedule starting after Thanksgiving. Teachers with those cohorts are expected to be back in school buildings November 9, under a plan which has yet to gain school board approval.
The union is skeptical of that plan, demanding more safety measures before teachers return to the classroom.
If teachers strike this year, it would be the first in decades. The union was barred from the action by state law from 2001 until 2018 during the control of the School Reform Commission.
The PFT’s current contract, negotiated by Jordan in the SRC era, took years to be finalized, only reaching resolution with the arrival of a mayor and a school board more friendly to the union’s interests.
Current negotiations were made more complicated by the economic effects of coronavirus. School districts across Pennsylvania are bracing for budget shortfalls due to the shutdown caused by the pandemic. This summer, anticipating decreased tax revenues, Philadelphia school officials projected a $1 billion dollar shortfall by 2025.
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