Union asks Pa. Supreme Court to halt SRC plans

Posted: April 05, 2014

The Philadelphia teachers union on Thursday asked the state Supreme Court to toss out the School Reform Commission's request for unilateral authority to change work rules for teachers.

In its filing, the 11,000-member Philadelphia Federation of Teachers challenged the commission's assertion. The PFT said nearly every change the SRC wants to make on its own - including disregarding seniority for new teacher assignments - has been subject to collective bargaining for years.

"This action by the SRC and its new chairman, Bill Green, is just the latest attempt by the commission - an unelected and unaccountable body - to strip teachers and other school employees of their rights, but even more important, the SRC's actions do nothing to improve the learning conditions for our city's children," PFT president Jerry Jordan said in a statement.

The district declined to comment.

The PFT filed its response eight days after Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. announced that the district would impose work rules allowing principals to fill teacher vacancies in the fall without regard to seniority. On the same day, the SRC also filed a petition asking the state's top court to declare that the law that led to the state takeover of city schools in 2001 gave the commission the power to impose work rules.

Hite said the district's new staffing guidelines would go into effect for the 2014-15 academic year, and were designed to provide flexibility and ensure that teachers are the best fit for their schools.

Under the changes, he said seniority would no longer be a major factor in new assignments, transfers, layoffs and recalls.

The work rule changes would not provide any savings, however, to the financially strapped district, which Hite said needs more than $120 million in savings and concessions from its unions.

In its challenge, the PFT said the changes the SRC wants to impose were part of four legal contracts the commission and the union had negotiated over the last 13 years - after the state takeover.

In addition, the union said the issues, including disregarding seniority and controlling how teachers use prep time, were being discussed in talks to replace the PFT contract, which expired in August.

Jordan called the commission's move "a blatant attempt to circumvent labor negotiations. . . ."

Twenty-two Philadelphia-area Democratic members of the state House and Senate filed a statement with the court supporting the PFT's position.

In their filing, the legislators said the SRC's petition should be thrown out because there were no constitutional issues for the court to decide.

The legislators said the SRC was trying to bring the matter before the court "solely for the purpose of improving the SRC's bargaining position so that it can extract concessions from the federation."

Contract talks began more than 14 months ago. The next bargaining session is scheduled for next Friday.


martha.woodall@phillynews.com215-854-2789

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