Philly teachers poised to ink new ‘on time’ deal with 3% raises

Union leaders say a voice vote Wednesday indicated that members will ratify a new contract, which was negotiated just ahead of the old deal expiring.

Jerry Jordan, president of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, spoke of education woes like toxic school buildings and overcrowding at a vigil for George Floyd on the one-year anniversary of his death outside Philadelphia’s City Hall on May 25, 2021. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Philadelphia Federation of Teachers President Jerry Jordan. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Philadelphia educators are on the verge of approving a new, three-year contract …

A voice vote among members Wednesday night suggested the contract will be formally ratified in the coming weeks, according to the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers (PFT). Union President Jerry Jordan said 93% of members at the Wednesday meeting voted in favor of the deal.

“Today I come bearing good news,” said Jordan. “I’ll be honest. I’m a little relieved.”

The PFT — which represents classroom teachers, nurses, paraprofessionals, and an assortment of other school staff — reached a tentative agreement with district leaders late Tuesday night, just hours before its old contract expired.

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“There were some tough negotiations,” said Jordan. “And yes, we were on the brink of a strike vote.”

For the tentative deal to be etched in stone, a majority of members must vote to ratify the deal. Voting will take place over the next two weeks.

There is no word yet on how much the deal will cost the school district.

The 13,000-member union had its one-year contract expire at the end of August, which also happened to be the first day of classes. Through that day, union officials indicated that they were mobilizing for a strike — which would have been the PFT’s first in four decades. But by evening, union president Jerry Jordan said he had a deal members could be “proud of.”

The first details of that deal came out Wednesday. They include an average 3% pay bump each year of the deal and no increase to insurance contributions, according to the PFT, along with continued pay bumps for years of experience and education. With those increases, annual salaries for Philadelphia’s classroom teachers will range from roughly $48,000 to $102,00.

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The union also highlighted an immediate, 10% increase in the salary of paraprofessionals, who are among the district’s lowest-paid employees.

Jordan said district leaders pushed for a longer labor contract. He disagreed.

“I felt a lot more comfortable with the district being able to fund the three-year [deal],” said Jordan.

Jordan added that this is the first time in more than 20 years that the PFT and the district have come to a new labor deal “on time.”

Though the PFT has not had a work stoppage since 1981, that’s partly because the union did not have the authority to strike during the nearly two decades the district was overseen by the School Reform Commission.That five person board with three state-appointed members dissolved in 2018 and a local nine member school board took its place.

During those years, labor relations were often rocky. Prior to 2017, the PFT went more than four years without a contract.

The School District of Philadelphia’s financial position has improved since then, especially with an influx of more than one billion dollars in federal stimulus. Those dollars aren’t allowed to be used for recurring expenses like salaries, but a district analysis run before this contract was factored in showed the once-teetering district holding off a budget shortfall until 2026.

The district also still has to sign new deals with the union representing school police officers and the union representing school administrators. The administrators’ pact also expired at the end of August.

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