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'Strike?' Unlikely... 'We are not indentured servants,' says union president Jerry Jordan... Philadelphia 'Reform Commission' abrogates union contract, imposes health care benefit cuts on teachers and other union members

In a dramatic move that demonstrates that corporate "school reform" is still on the attack against unions in the nation's largest cities, the Philadelphia "School Reform Commission" late on October 6, 2014 announced that it was canceling the contract with the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers (PFT). The cancellation means that the school district is imposing new costs for health care benefits on the union's members and on retirees. Philadelphia, the nation's eighth largest school system currently serves more than 146,000 students. The district has been under a "School Reform Commission" modeled after Chicago's "School Reform Board of Trustees" of the 1990s since 2002. Paul Vallas was Philadelphia's first "School Reform Superintendent" beginning in 2002.

The School Reform Commission barely notified the public about the late-night meeting that voted to undermine collective bargaining and the union. According to PFT officials, the district didn't announce the meeting on the district's web site, instead placing a small ad in a local newspaper. The stealth approach meant that few critics were present when the commission, which is effectively Philadelphia's Board of Education, met and voted unanimously to gut the teachers' contract

Philadelphia 'School Reform Commission" chairman Bill Green (left) and the Schools Superintendent William Hite, Jr. (right) announce that the school district is unilaterally abolishing the teachers' union contract. Hite was put into power in 2012 by the School Reform Commission after being approved by the Broad Superintendents Academy, which produced him (and also Chicago schools CEO Barbara Byrd Bennett). Bill Green, who was appointed to head the "School Reform Commission" in January 2014, is a Rahm Emanuel Democrat. He has long been a supporter of charter schools and has long bashed the city's real public schools.Philadelphia Federation of Teachers (PFT) officials said that they would fight the action in court. Since the school reform law went into effect in 2002 and Pennsylvania's Governor appointed Paul G. Vallas the first Chief Executive Officer of the Philadelphia school district, "reform" has been aimed to bust unions and impose massive privatization on the nation's eighth largest public school system.

Despite the ban on striking, which is similar to what Chicago faced during the first four years of corporate "school reform" (1995 - 1999, when Vallas was CEO of Chicago), union members across Philadelphia are talking about the need for a strike, according to Substance sources.

Once one of the most powerful unions in the American Federation of Teachers, the PFT, Local 3 of the AFT, has been undermined for more than a decade by a combination of corporate "school reform" and the attempts by the union's leadership to compromise with the union busting and privatization policies of local Democrats and state Republicans. The latest attack on the union comes as the school district claims the need for an "austerity" budget while the economic situation in both Pennsylvania and in the region is better than it has been in nearly a decade. The austerity claim is made against the refusal of state officials to raise taxes on the state's wealthiest people. Since 2002, Philadelphia's real public schools have been undermined by charter school, the expansion of which was begun in 2002 and 2003 under Paul Vallas.

At Substance press time, stories were still coming in, but below are some of the most detailed:

PHILADELPHIA ABC NEWS, OCTOBER 6, 2014 (URL: http://6abc.com/education/src-cancels-contract-with-philly-teachers-union/338474/)

ABC, Monday, October 06, 2014

The Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, the union representing educators in the city's school district, came out swinging on Monday just hours after the announcement that the School Reform Commission had canceled their contract.

That move came during a hastily-called meeting of the SRC, the entity that runs the school district, on Monday morning.

In their announcement, the SRC said it 'exercised its authority' in cancelling the contract with the PFT after "21 months of negotiations with no resolution."

At a news conference on Monday afternoon, the union said it was a "cowardly" act by the SRC.

"What happened this morning at the School Reform Commission meeting was a perfect example of the total, total disrespect for the teachers and other school employees who work in the School District of Philadelphia, " said union president Jerry Jordan.

Jordan went on to say the move was "illegal" and the union will fight it in court.

The move means the school district will administer the health and welfare fund, which is currently controlled by the union. Teachers currently pay nothing toward healthcare. The change will require teachers to make a 10% to 13% contributions to healthcare, which ranges from $27 to $71 from each paycheck based on salary. That change would take effect December 15th.

Overall, the district said the change will save the district $54 million this year, and $70 million a year in the future.

Philadelphia Federation of Teachers (PFT) President Jerry Jordan denounced the abrogation of the union contract at an October 6 press conference. "We are not indentured servants," Jordan said, but warned that the teachers probably wouldn't go out on strike despite the latest attack. "We now have increased our stable, predictable revenue by approximately $212 million when you combine the cigarette tax, the sales tax, and the action taken today," said SRC chairman Bill Green.

The district says it is not cutting the wages of the 15,000 teachers, counselors, nurses and other union members.

"What we're trying to do is get resources back into schools. We're still trying to take the least onerous way to do that and it's why we took wage reductions off the table," said Superintendent William Hite.

Governor Tom Corbett released a statement, saying "Philadelphia is one of only two districts across the commonwealth that pays zero toward 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."

This move comes about one week after the city's new cigarette tax went into effect, adding $2 to the cost per pack. The money raised will go toward the Philadelphia School District and is expected to raise $83 million.

Via Portside Labor from Philly.com

SRC Cancels Philladelphia Teachers' Contract, by Kristen Graham and Martha Woodall, October 7, 2014. Philly.com

Philadelphia teachers and their union were surprised today when they learned that the School Reform Commission had decided to unilaterally cancel their contract. Students arrive for school last month in Philadelphia. The citys schools have been beset by financial problems and disappointing test scores.

Associated Press,

In a stunning move that could reshape the face of city schools, the Philadelphia School Reform Commission voted Monday to unilaterally cancel its teachers' contract. The vote was unanimous.

The Philadelphia Federation of Teachers was given no advance word of the action -- which happened at an early-morning SRC meeting called with minimal notice -- and which figures to result in a legal challenge to the takeover law the SRC believes gives it the power to bypass negotiations and impose terms.

Jerry Jordan, PFT president, called the move "cowardly" and vowed to fight it strongly.

"I am taking nothing off the table," a clearly angry Jordan said at an afternoon news conference [on Monday, October 6, 2014]. Job actions could be possible, once he determines what members want to do. "We are not indentured servants."

The district says it will not cut the wages of 15,000 teachers, counselors, nurses, secretaries and other PFT members. But it plans to dismantle the long-standing Philadelphia Federation of Teachers Health and Welfare Fund, which is controlled by the union, and take over administering benefits.

Going forward, most PFT members will have to pay either 10 percent or 13 percent of the cost of their medical plan, depending on their salaries. They now pay nothing. Officials said that workers would pay between $21 and $70 a month, beginning Dec. 15.

The changes will save the cash-strapped district $54 million this school year, officials said, and as much as $70 million in subsequent years.

That money, SRC Chairman Bill Green said, will be invested directly into classrooms, with principals empowered to use the cash as they see fit -- to hire a full-time counselor and nurse, perhaps, or to pay for more supplies or after-school programs.

Both Gov. Corbett and acting state Education Secretary Carolyn Dumaresq said the action means Philadelphia teachers will now join most teachers in the state in contributing to their health care.

"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," Corbett said in a statement.

Since being named by Corbett to lead the SRC, Green has signaled that he would be willing to impose a contract on the teachers' union if a negotiated settlement could not be reached. The two sides have been talking for 21 months and are not close to a deal. "Every single stakeholder has stepped up to help the district close its structural deficit -- the principals, our blue-collar workers. Families and children have too, through the loss of resources, increased class sizes, and lack of materials. It is time for the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers to share in the sacrifice," Green said in an interview before the vote.

Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. said it was a difficult decision to support the SRC's action, especially given all that teachers and others have done for children in the past several years of bare-bones budgets.

"But we still don't have sufficient resources in order to educate our children," Hite said before the vote. "This allows us to save millions of dollars that we can return to schools very quickly."

Both Hite and Green said the teachers' new benefit plan is still a so-called Cadillac program, comparable with what the district's principals, blue-collar workers and nonunion workers have.

The benefits change would also have a significant impact on retirees. The existing PFT Health and Welfare Fund, which has about $40 million built up in it, has opted to subsidize retired workers' prescription, dental and vision benefits. The district will not continue that practice, officials said.

The district will continue paying into the fund until Dec. 15, then let it run out, officials said. It will halt payments to the PFT legal services fund immediately.

While the district's budget is now balanced, it carried an $81 million deficit until very recently. It was not clear until a few weeks before the scheduled start of classes whether there was enough money to open schools on time.

Officials said the action was necessary now because the district could still face an $8 million deficit this year and a projected $70 million next year, even with the cancellation of the teachers' contract.

Whether the state takeover law, known as Act 46, actually gives the SRC the power to cancel union contracts remains to be seen.

The SRC has imposed some work rules on the teachers' union the past year, but has always bargained contracts since its creation in 2001.

"Unbelievable!" Ted Kirsch, president of the statewide AFT-PA and a former longtime president of the PFT, said Monday morning when he learned of the SRC's action.

"They have mismanaged this system and now they're following along with Corbett's plan -- it's the teachers' fault."

"This is exactly what I thought was going to happen when Green was appointed to the SRC," Kirsch said.

The district will immediately go to court to affirm the SRC's action, filing a motion for declaratory judgment with the Pennsylvania Department of Education as co-plaintiff.

The PFT is expected to strike back swiftly through the courts and will likely try to get an injunction to halt the SRC's actions. The PFT does not believe the district has the power to impose terms.

In fact, it's clear that district officials aren't sure themselves.

In 2012, the SRC lobbied lawmakers to attempt to get an amendment to the takeover law that would give it the absolute right to impose terms on its unions. The amendment died when the Philadelphia delegation caught wind of the SRC's maneuvers.

Since January 2013, the distinct and the SRC have had over 100 bargaining sessions to achieve a contract. The old PFT contract expired last summer.

Sources close to the talks described them as "cordial," with no screaming or fist pounding. But they have moved slowly, and eventually district officials became convinced that without using the nuclear option, they would never achieve the changes they say are necessary.

Jordan has publicly said the union has offered millions in concessions, but the district declined to take them up on the savings.

When Green or even Gov. Corbett, who has taken the union to task on multiple occasions, has suggested in the past that the PFT has not stepped up, Jordan has been clear: The teachers have sacrificed enough and he will not allow the district's budget to be balanced on their backs.

Matthew Stanski, the district's chief financial officer, said that the givebacks offered by the PFT would have netted the district just $2 million. The PFT has indicated that its totals amounted to much more.

Jordan strongly disputed the $2 million figure.

"Lies again," he said. He said the PFT has offered enough to wipe away the projected 2015 deficit.

Green said the benefit savings will help remake the district.

Between the benefits savings, the extension of the sales tax and the newly enacted $2 per pack cigarette tax, the district will have roughly $230 million in annual, predictable funds. For the first time in years, the SRC can plan for investments in education, not just figure out how to prevent disasters.

"The rest of this year, once we get over this, is making people believe we can transform the district," Green said.

Two SRC members who are former members of disrict unions said they believed the PFT contract cancellation was the only action to take.

"Everybody is paying into their benefits," said Commissioner Sylvia Simms, a former district bus aide. "We need to stop playing games on the backs of our children."

Marjorie Neff, a former PFT member and Masterman principal. said she found the decision personally painful.

"But schools cannot go through another year the way they went through last year financially," Neff said. "They're at the breaking point."

State law prevents the PFT from striking. It is the only union in Pennsylvania without that option. (Teachers technically could strike, but the law gives the state education department the right to pull their teaching licenses if they do so.)

At a glance

The School Reform Commission voted Monday morning to cancel the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers contract, a move that is likely to result in legal challenges. The district believes it has the power under the state takeover law to do so, but is also going to affirm its action. The state Department of Education will be a co-plaintiff in the legal proceedings in Commonwealth Court.

The SRC will not cut teachers' wages. Salaries will remain the same. But it is planning a major benefits overhaul for the 15,000 teachers, counselors, nurses, secretaries and other workers who belong to the PFT.

The district is phasing out the PFT's Health and Welfare Fund, which now has a balance of about $40 million. It will continue contributing to the fund through December 15, then cut off contributions. By the end of the year, all district employees will be covered under a district-managed health plan.

The district will discontinue the PFT's practice of subsidizing for retirees' vision, dental and prescription benefits.

The district says the move will save $54 million this school year and up to $70 million in subsequent years, money that will go directly into schools. Principals will be permitted to use the money as they see fit.

More:

-All employees represented by the PFT who opt for Philadelphia School District medical coverage will begin contributing to the cost of their health care benefits. Those who earn less than $25,000 a year will contribute 5 percent of their medical plan premiums; those who are paid between $25,000 and $50,000 per year will contribute 10 percent of the premiums; and those who earn over $55,000 will contribute 13 percent of the premiums. Officials said that would add up to a payroll deducation of between $20 and $71 per month.

-All district employees represented by the PFT will be offered a modified medical plan with an option to pay extra for their current plan.

-PFT members who enroll a spouse or domestic partner in a district medical plan when that person has a plan available to them will pay $70 per paycheck.

-PFT members will no longer receive "opt out" payments from the district if they decline coverage.

PFT President Jerry Jordan on Today's SRC Action Jerry Jordan responds to the SRC's latest sneak attack on Philadelphia's educators

Philladelphia Federation of Teachers

Statement from 10/6/2014

PHILADELPHIA--"The announcement by the School Reform Commission that they were cancelling the PFT contract and imposing terms is every bit as outrageous as the manner in which they scheduled and held their 'public' meeting.

"In August 2013, the PFT put contract proposals on the table that would have saved the district millions of dollars and averted the current budget deficit. Governor Corbett's SRC is clearly not interested in negotiating with the educators of Philadelphia. They have been spending vast amounts of time and money on union-busting strategy sessions with their lawyers, and not nearly enough time working with the PFT on how to restore programs and services to our schoolchildren.

"The SRC has been quick to point out what school district employees in nearby counties pay for health care. What they fail to mention is that Philadelphia's educators are paid far less than their suburban counterparts, and spend thousands of their own dollars for classroom supplies for their students.

"The SRC's tactics are shameful, and they know it. Why else would they promote the SRC meeting with a barely legible newspaper advertisement rather than their standard practice of putting it on the District's web site?

"This is not an effort by the SRC to address the fiscal crisis. This is the Corbett Administration's attempt to vilify the PFT in order distract from his horrible record on education funding and boost his chances of re-election. Today's action is a last-ditch effort by the Corbett Administration to weaken the standing of our educators with Philadelphia's parents and community members.

"The PFT is closely examining the district's legal pleadings and will be fighting the SRC's latest attack on the teachers and school staff of Philadelphia."

WILLIAM HITE ANOTHER BROAD SUPERINTENDENTS ACADEMY PRODUCT

Philadelphia Schools Supt. William Hite is, like Chicago's Barbara Byrd Bennett, a product of the Broad Superintendents Academy, one of the many anti-union activities financed by billionaire Eli Broad. According to the notice on the Broad Academy website, Hite has been moving up with the help of the corporate school reform community for years:

"Pre-Academy Role: Area Assistant Superintendent, Cobb County School District, Atlanta, Ga.

Post-Academy Role: Deputy Superintendent, Prince Georges County Public Schools, Md.

"School leaders must provide the support and resources to enable all students to excel academically. Quality education is the key to future opportunities for students of all backgrounds. Urban superintendents must have the capacity to encourage change and hold teachers and administrators responsible for closing ethnic and income achievement gaps," Hite says.

"In July 2012, William R. Hite, Jr. was appointed superintendent of The School District of Philadelphia, the eigth largest district in the nation serving more than 146,000 students in over 250 schools.

"He was previously superintendent of Prince George's County Public Schools in Maryland, where he had also served as interim superintendent and as chief of staff for the district.

"Before that, Hite served as area assistant superintendent for the Cobb County School District in Atlanta. In this role, Hite supervised 15 high school, middle school and elementary school principals and was responsible for the instructional program for more than 18,000 students.

"Hite previously was director of middle school instruction for the Henrico County Public School System in Richmond, Virginia. He also has served as an urban middle and high school principal and was named Henrico County Instructional Leader of the Year in 1996."

- See more at: http://www.broadcenter.org/academy/network/profile/william-hite#sthash.ORfbVI1A.dpuf

APPEAL ON BEHALF OF PHILADELPHIA FROM PENNSYLVANIA WORKING FAMILIES

The following came in to Substance early on October 7, 2014:

BREAKING: Philadelphia's School Reform Commission cancelled its teachers' contract with the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, with no warning, in a unanimous vote cast early this morning.

Philadelphians have no voice in their own schools. The School Reform Commission has complete control over how Philly's local schools are run, with most of its members appointed by Gov. Corbett. The vote smacks of Gov. Walker's attack on Wisconsin's collective bargaining rights -- rushed votes, no public notice, and cutting budgets on the backs of our teachers.

Philly's schools need better funding and local control, not benefit slashing for its teachers. Can you sign our emergency petition standing in solidarity with Philly's teachers? Click here.

The Philadelphia Federation of Teachers has been patiently negotiately with the School Reform Commission ever since their old contract expired. The union has offered concessions that would save millions, but this morning, the SRC suddenly decided to unilaterally take matters into its own hands.

Parents and teachers have all sacrificed, while the corporations like Comcast receive millions each year in tax breaks. The Comcast Center in Philadelphia benefited from state tax breaks to the tune of nearly $43 million.1 In 2012, Comcast paid only 4% in taxes on $10 billion in profits. One year, they did not pay ANY state income taxes.2

That money should be going to Philly's students. Instead, our teachers are being attacked -- and our schools are still broken. As parents and community members, we cannot allow this to happen.

Support parents, teachers and students protesting right now and sign in solidarity with the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers.

Thanks for your support.

Kati Sipp

State Director

Pennsylvania Working Families

Sources:

[1] http://www.citypaper.net/Political-Power-and-Consumer-Pain-in-Comcastrsquos-Philadelphia/

[2] http://ctj.org/90reasons/91ReasonsFull.pdf

NOTICE BY DIANE RAVITCH ON HER BLOG....

Philadelphia has been under state control since 1998, imposed in the midst of a financial crisis. A School Reform Commission was created to govern the schools. The city schools have been in financial crisis ever since, with the state providing little financial support. Under the current administration of Governor Tom Corbett, the Philadelphia public schools have been stripped to the bone, lacking essential resources. Corbett has slashed the state budget for education while lowering corporate taxes and refusing to tax the corporations that are hydrofracking across the state.

At one point, the state-appointed superintendent was Paul Vallas, who launched an experiment in privatization. The district's public schools outperformed the privately run schools. Currently, the business and civic leaders of the city have advocated for more charters, even though several of the city's charters have been investigated for financial misdeeds. They seem sure that privatization is the cure, despite the absence of evidence for their belief.

The School Reform Commission, trying to close the deficit created by Governor Corbett, canceled the teachers' contract unilaterally. This follows on thousands of layoffs. The SRC will increase teachers' payments to their health care and phase out benefits for retirees. Salaries will not be cut. State and city officials defended the action, saying it would save money and help balance the budget. It is not clear whether the SRC has the legal authority to cancel the contract unilaterally.



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