The Philadelphia teachers union used Wednesday’s international women’s strike to highlight the importance women play in schools and to call for a better contract.
Over 930 teachers in the School District of Philadelphia did not show up Wednesday, although it’s unclear how many of those absences were related to the “A Day Without a Woman” protest. District officials said teacher absences were higher than normal, but not unprecedented.
“A Day Without a Woman” was intended to highlight gender inequality and the important role women play in society. The movement was not specific to teachers, but Philadelphia educators seized on the opportunity to make their own political statement about fair pay.
The Philadelphia Federation of Teachers encouraged teachers across the district to hold “informational pickets” before the school day began to underscore the lack of a valid contract for union members. Teachers and other school staff represented by the PFT haven’t had a contract since 2013. They’ve gone without raises since 2012.
Roughly 75 percent of PFT members are female, said union officials. Teachers picketing outside of H.A. Brown School in Kensington said their plight related to broader inequities women face in the work place.
“Teaching is such a women-heavy career so it kind of goes together,” said Niki Vazquez, an autistic support teacher at H.A. Brown. “Not having women, you wouldn’t really be able to have schools, either.”
Her colleague, Keren Tal, said Philly teachers would have a more lucrative contract by now if the profession were male-dominated.
“I feel like we’re easily stepped over,” said Tal. “It’s 2017 and women are equally important to our nation.”
To help supplement her income during the wage freeze, Tal has begun driving Uber. It yields her between $200 and $400 a month. Vazquez, meanwhile has delayed having a third child because of financial concerns.
At least a pair of schools–Science Leadership Academy in Center City and Bayard Taylor School in Hunting Park — an overwhelming majority of teachers skipped work in protest.
Despite the unusually high number of teacher absences, just under three-quarters of all teacher openings were filled by substitutes, according to district officials. That’s about in line with the average fill rate.
“While there were challenges today, with more than 930 teacher absences, it was another good day of instruction and growth across the School District of Philadelphia,” said district spokesperson Lee Whack in a statement. “Principals, staff and teachers pulled together to ensure children were learning and academic instruction continued.”
Editors note: This story previously had a headline that inaccurately said how many teachers participated. While 930 teachers were absent, it’s not clear how many of those missing teachers were participating in the protest. We regret the error.