School contract talks progressing slowly, union says

At Saturday's book giveaway, AFT-Pennsylvania president Ted Kirsch (left) and PFT president Jerry Jordan talk with fifth grader Mikalya McDonnell.
At Saturday's book giveaway, AFT-Pennsylvania president Ted Kirsch (left) and PFT president Jerry Jordan talk with fifth grader Mikalya McDonnell. (RON TARVER / Staff Photographer)
Posted: September 30, 2013

PHILADELPHIA Nearly a month after the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers' contract expired, union president Jerry Jordan said Saturday that negotiations with the School District were progressing - but slowly.

"It is a very, very difficult process because of the multitude of issues that need to be discussed," he said in an interview during a massive book give-away in the Northeast for the cash-strapped schools.

With issues including wages, seniority, and health-care contributions on the table, he declined to say how close the sides are.

"I try not to characterize that, because I know from the past that until it's over, you really can't just say you're pretty close or far apart," he said. "Something can occur that will have the effect of a bowling ball and knock down 10 pins because things are interconnected."

Jordan, who heads the 15,000-member union, said his team met with district negotiators daily last week. "The rule of thumb is to block out every day for negotiations, unless something comes up."

The district, which has a $220 million deficit, is seeking $103 million in savings from the PFT. The district also wants concessions that meet the state's conditions for reform to obtain a $45 million grant.

When the district has the money, Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. has said, he will recall counselors and many other staffers who were laid off in June and provide more resources for schools.

On Saturday, Jordan and other union officials joined teams from the district's 212 schools inside the cavernous union hall of Steamfitters Local 420 for the book giveaway. Teachers selected free children's books, novels, and other reading materials for their schools.

They scooped up 43,000 volumes valued at $400,000 made available through a partnership between the American Federation of Teachers and First Book, a national nonprofit that gets books into the hands of needy children.

AFT president Randi Weingarten, who spoke, said the union obtained the books through First Book for $13,000.

Jordan told the audience: "This year is unlike any other . . . . Our children need the basic tools in the classroom every day. We don't have paper. We don't have supplies. We don't have books. Thanks to First Book, our children will have some books Monday morning."

For Laura Elliott, an autistic-support teacher at Locke Elementary School in West Philadelphia, the day was a godsend.

She lost all of her classroom materials when several rooms at Locke were flooded two weeks ago.

"When I lost everything, it was dreadful," Elliott said. "Now I can get all these new books!"

The event, scheduled to run from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., was such a success that everything was gone by 12:30 p.m.

"People were still coming, but there was not a book left," said Ted Kirsch, president of AFT Pennsylvania. "We're going to try to do it again."



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