Catholic teacher strike ends; classes resume Tuesday

Rita Schwartz, President of the Association of Catholic School Teacher, Local 1776 calls the room to order. ( ALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ / Staff Photographer )
Rita Schwartz, President of the Association of Catholic School Teacher, Local 1776 calls the room to order. ( ALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ / Staff Photographer )
Posted: September 19, 2011

The two-week strike by Catholic high school teachers has ended, and Codee Meredith, 16, is thrilled to be returning to her normal routine - even though it means getting up at 5 a.m. Tuesday to catch the bus to Archbishop Wood in Warminster.

"I'm very pleased we have the settlement," said the junior from Bensalem.

Meredith had been organizing student rallies outside all 17 high schools operated by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia to express frustration over the labor dispute. She is happy the protests are no longer needed. "This is what we wanted," she said.

Her comments came shortly after the Association of Catholic Teachers, Local 1776, approved a three-year contract Monday by a vote of 589-41, with one abstention.

"We have a ratified contact," union president Rita Schwartz announced jubilantly after the vote at Penn's Landing Caterers on Columbus Boulevard.

According to Schwartz, the three-year pact provides job security and ensures that part-time teachers will not replace full-time instructors.

Teachers will receive across-the-board increases in each of the three years, of $1,300, $1,400, and $1,600.

The 711 teachers represented by the union reported to their schools after the vote to prepare for the 16,000 students who will return to school Tuesday.

Students will have to make up five days of lost instruction throughout the academic year. The Office of Catholic Education said students and parents would be told about schedule changes.

Initially, students reported for staggered orientation and testing sessions under the supervision of administrators and members of religious orders beginning Sept. 7. But the schools were closed Wednesday, and the archdiocese said they would remain closed until the strike ended.

After a strike in 2003, students at archdiocesan high schools went to class on holy days and shortened holidays to make up six days.

Both the union and officials from the archdiocese's Office of Catholic Education lauded the terms of the agreement.

"It gives us a cutting-edge program for the students and parents that we serve," said Richard McCarron, secretary for Catholic education.

Theresa Ryan-Szott, the archdiocese's chief negotiator, said that teachers would be required to use an online course-management system and that schools would follow national educational technology standards.

"We regret that the strike caused a delay in the school year and inconveniences for you," McCarron and Superintendent Mary E. Rochford wrote in a letter to parents Monday.

"Please know that our only desire was to continue to offer the best academic programs possible for your children," the letter said. "The contract now in place is truly the watershed agreement we had hoped to obtain for the current and future benefit of students, parents, teachers, and administrators."

The strike, said union president Schwartz, "was never about the money. It was about respect."

The winning side of the tally exactly matched the number of teachers who rejected the archdiocese's earlier contract proposal.

"It was the same vote going out as it was going back," Schwartz said Monday. "We voted 589 to reject, and we voted 589 to accept."

The strike began Sept. 6 when only 60 teachers voted in favor of the contract the archdiocese had proposed.

At that time, the majority said they were concerned about job security, working conditions, and plans to use more part-timers.

The archdiocese has maintained that it needed the flexibility to hire part-timers for specialized courses such as Mandarin and Farsi.

Representatives from an ad hoc parents group - Catholic Parents Respond - said they were relieved they could cancel a protest planned for Monday evening outside the archdiocese's offices.

"Both the parents and students are grateful to both sides that they finally understood our sense of urgency to end this impasse and get our children back in school," said a statement from the group, which had urged parents to withhold tuition until students were back in school.

The organization, which had registered nearly 1,300 members on Facebook, said it believed it had "an influence" on the settlement. Ryan-Szott, the archdiocese's chief negotiator, said the parents' group had not been a factor.

Rochford added: "We are always interested in what the parents have to say."


Contact staff writer Martha Woodall at 215-854-2789

or mwoodall@phillynews.com.

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