Pittsburgh Teachers Plan To Strike Friday, Union Hopeful For An Agreement Before Then

Feb 26, 2018

The union representing 2,400 Pittsburgh Public Schools teachers announced Monday morning that it plans to go on strike Friday.

Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers leaders have been bargaining with the Pittsburgh Public Schools district for more than a year-and-a-half for three contracts for professionals, paraprofessionals and technical clerical workers.

A bargaining session ended last week without agreements. Earlier this month, 94 percent of members of the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers voted to authorize the strike. The union’s executive committee then gave President Nina Esposito-Visgitis sole authorization.

By Pennsylvania law, the union is required to give the district 48 hours' notice of intention to walk out.

“We provided the district with a 96-hour notice in order to provide extra time for our students’ parents to secure childcare for their children, our students, and to provide the parties’ with sufficient time to reach tentative agreement on new contracts for the three bargaining units prior to the commencement of the strike,” she said in a statement.

Esposito-Visgitis said she is hopeful that the extra time will mean the district and the PFT will reach a fair agreement, “that both recognizes the professionalism and hard work of our members and serves the needs of our students and school system.”

According to a statement from PPS released Monday morning, after the district recieved the letter from the PFT it, "immediately responded by requesting that the PFT agree to submit its final best-offer immediately."

Earlier this month, the district released a statement detailing what it said to be the last remaining sticking points in negotiations: teacher scheduling power and turnover issues.

Since then, both sides have remained quiet. Union leaders have declined going on the record with reporters. 

In a statement released Monday, Superintendent Anthony Hamlet said a strike would cause a significant disruption for families and students. 

"It is particularly disappointing, in light of the many long hours of negotiations and concessions that have been made in the months that we've been at the bargaining table, that such a disruption could happen, especially since we have come so far. There is only one issue on the bargaining table, and it is a simple one: this dispute is about getting the best teachers in front of the students who need them most -- period," he said. 

Issues

According to the district, the parties have resolved all issues but one. 

"The PFT refuses to allow principals to assign teachers to classes to maximize student achievement," according to the statement. 

A fact-finder released a report in October 2017 detailing points of contention including an issue of managerial rights.

Teachers now, according to the district, have the power to override scheduling and teaching assignment decisions. They're able to choose which subjects and grades they want to teach.

The district wants language in the contract that would give principals the final authority to assign teacher schedules within the district.

After the report was approved by the board in November, PPS Superintendent Anthony Hamlet said the move would hold principals accountable.

“They have to be more than just building managers. But to do that, they must have reasonable, practical management tools necessary to lead,” he said.

Union leaders said letting principals decide a teacher’s schedule would result in, “increasingly poor morale.”

“Teacher scheduling preference is one of the few remaining areas where our teachers have influence and input into their professional lives,” the PFT stated in its response to the report.

In Monday's statement announcing a strike date, Esposito-Visgitis said the PFT and District have, "reached a small number of signed tentative agreements on proposed terms.  None of these items includes salary, healthcare, equity for early childhood teachers, transfers, athletic coaches, or any of the other items outlined for members in the Fact-Finder’s report which was posted for public review in October, 2017.”

If They Strike

Pittsburgh education advocacy group A Plus Schools has been coordinating organizations that could care for children in the event of a teacher strike. They've distributed forms for caregivers and volunteers, asking what would be needed and who could help.

The district also announced Monday that it has partnered with Citipakrs to provide meals to PPS students during a strike. Throughout the strike students will be able to get breakfast, lunch or a snack at local recreation centers. Locations can be found here.

PPS serves 24,000 students. The Pennsylvania Department of Education would determine the length of the strike so that the district will meet the state's required 180 days of instruction. 

The union last went on strike 42 years ago, with the teachers' walkout lasting eight weeks.