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In an early-morning meeting Monday morning, the Philadelphia School Reform Commission abruptly ended two-year negotiations with the teachers union there by unanimously voting to terminate the contracts of the city’s teachers. The meeting was held with little notice, and the SRC unilaterally used its nuclear option to obtain funding by making teachers pay for part of their own healthcare costs.
This cancellation only affects healthcare for teachers. This move intends to abolish the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers Health and Welfare Fund, which is union-controlled, and move control of benefits into SRC jurisdiction. Teachers in Philadelphia are not expected to take pay cuts at the present time. Changes are expected to take affect on Dec. 15.
The SRC also intends to “stop underwriting the union’s Health and Welfare Fund, which provides prescription, dental, vision and other benefits to active members and retirees. The District, which now pays $4,352 per member per year to the fund as required by the PFT contract, plans to provide the coverage directly to current employees but end benefits for retirees”, according to The Notebook, an independent publication which specializes in Philadelphia education issues.
This move will likely precipitate legal action against the takeover law, Act 46, that the SRC uses as validation to bypass negotiations and impose terms unilaterally. The SRC, in anticipation of such a move, joined the administration of Governor Tom Corbett in asking state courts to affirm the right of the SRC to void the contract.
Gov. Corbett’s office issued a press release, saying “Philadelphia is one of only two districts across the commonwealth that pays zero towards healthcare. It is now time that members of the PFT join the thousands of public school employees across the state who already contribute to their health care costs. Today’s action by the SRC will effectively close the funding gap and provide the district with the ability to hire new teachers, counselors and nurses, and secure educational resources that will benefit the students of Philadelphia.”
Philadelphia mayor Michael Nutter has also supported the cancellation of the contract, saying “I support this and hope others can see it for what it is – another consequence of this horrible situation our schools have had to face year after year”, according to local ABC 6 news. Philadelphia Superintendent William Hite said “We cannot further reduce central office and school budgets and continue to function” in the press release issued by the SRC.
SRC Chairman Bill Green said “We are compelled to pursue this action by the PFT’s refusal to negotiate meaningfully for almost two years. We remain committed to reaching a new agreement through collective bargaining with the PFT – a goal we hope this action expedites”, according to Philly.com.
The new terms mean that, on Dec. 15, teachers will begin paying for either ten or thirteen percent of their healthcare costs, depending on salary. The new costs to individual workers will vary from $27 to $71 a month, while those with a family plan will have to pay $77 to $200 a month. The redistribution of these costs stand to save the cash-starved Philadelphia school district $54 million this year, and up to $70 million in subsequent years, according to Philly.com. This cancellation allows for $44 million to go directly into schools.
Union leaders are furious with the unilateral abrogation of the contract, saying it qualifies as union-busting. They have also accused the move as a political maneuver meant to use teachers as a scapegoat to boost Corbett’s election chances.
Featured image from Shutterstock
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