HARRISBURG, June 20, 2011 – Democratic lawmakers today introduced legislation that would blunt the Philadelphia School Reform Commission’s (SRC) attempt to violate seniority provisions in the existing teacher labor contract and then potentially cancel other labor agreements on June 30.
Senate Democratic Appropriations chair Sen. Vincent J. Hughes, Sen. Christine Tartaglione, Democratic chair of the Senate Labor and Industry Committee, House Democratic Education chair Rep. James R. Roebuck, Jr., and House Democratic Children and Youth chair Louise Bishop, all from Philadelphia, are sponsoring legislation, Senate Bill 1168 and House Bill 1699, aimed at preempting the SRC from overriding collective bargaining agreements relating to employee layoffs. The measures would also prevent the cancelling of labor agreements before the contract expires.
In dismissing teachers without regard to seniority and threatening to cancel valid contracts, the lawmakers argue that the SRC is exceeding its authority.
“Philadelphia teachers have been an active partner in trying to deal reasonably with the tough economic situation the school district faces,” Hughes said. “The teachers have made concessions and have worked within the collective bargaining framework.
“The teacher’s union has not been blind to the enormous fiscal challenges that the school district faces, but the SRC’s actions go way too far.”
The distressed schools law contains provisions that enable school districts to by-pass provisions in the state school code in certain situations. However, Hughes said that he does not believe that those provisions override a valid labor agreement negotiated in good faith.
Tartaglione, a leader on labor issues in the Senate, said that “contract provisions should not be subject to alteration after a labor agreement is reached, unless both sides agree to changes,” Tartaglione said. “The SRC agreed to the seniority provisions and they should honor their word and abide by the contract with the teachers union.”
Both Hughes and Tartaglione maintained that the law that allows the SRC to void contract provisions was not intended to be open-ended; and that the district and its teachers have had multiple collective bargaining agreements since 2001.
Roebuck said “the SRC should follow the process it negotiated and agreed to not only when it comes to laying off teachers but for all other provisions. There is a great need for the teachers and the district to work together in both solving the fiscal crisis and providing quality education to Philadelphia’s school students.
“There is no legislative mandate or desire to restructure negotiated labor agreements.”
Philadelphia Federation of Teachers President Jerry Jordan echoed the lawmakers’ call for legislation clarifying the powers of the SRC.
“We are in dire need of legislative clarity that defines the powers of the SRC relative to voiding contract provisions that were bargained for and agreed-to in good faith,” Jordan said. “The teachers in Philadelphia shouldn’t be held to different standards based on murky provisions in law.”
The lawmakers said that their legislation would reassert the intent of the original law and emphasize that the SRC’s power to alter labor contracts is limited. The measures have the strong support of Philadelphia delegations in both the Senate and House.
The Philadelphia School District is dealing with a funding shortfall of $629 million as a result of the loss of federal funds and state budget cuts proposed by Gov. Tom Corbett.