This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
[Updated 11:30 pm] The Philadelphia Federation of Teachers approved a contract extension at a Thursday night membership meeting, an agreement that preserves a 3 percent raise slated for January and keeps medical benefits intact.
The District will delay payments into the union’s Health and Welfare Fund, saving $58 million — most of the $75 million in concessions it says it needed from its five unions in order to close a yawning budget gap.
"The extension allows for the District and the union to have stability for an additional year as we continue in these difficult economic times," PFT president Jerry Jordan said in an interview after the meeting. "There is a need for stability, healing, and calming for the entire District at all levels."
He hopes that under the agreement that more PFT members who were laid off might be called back.
Of about 1,500 teachers who were laid off, 788 were called back and another 300 or so declined the opportunity to return. That leaves potentially some 400 still without jobs. A number of non-instructional members are also still laid off.
Jordan said the voice vote was overwhelmingly in favor and that only one person spoke against the extension at the meeting, held at the Liacouras Center on Temple’s campus. Those attending also filled out ballots, which the American Arbitration Association will tally.
Jordan had adamantly and publicly refused to negotiate any possible concessions with former superintendent Arlene Ackerman, but said that he accepted an overture from Acting Superintendent Leroy Nunery to reopen communications.
The two first ran into each other at an event, Jordan said. "He calmly expressed an interest in working together," Jordan said.
Jordan said he didn’t immediately say yes, and asked for the right for PFT accountants to go through the District’s books to certify that it was in as bad financial straits as officials said. Their conclusion: "The District is in desperate need of money."
Unlike Ackerman, Nunery has "a level of respect, candor, and transparency that really did not exist" with the former superintendent. "There’s a different relationship" with Nunery, Jordan said. "He’s much more willing to talk to people … and hear their opinions."
Jordan said that the District has agreed to eventually repay $28 million of the $58 million to the Health and Welfare Fund, which provides prescription, vision, and dental coverage. Withholding the payments will temporarily reduce the reserves, but not affect the benefits themselves. There is an agreement for the District to resume payments if the reserves dip too low, Jordan said.
In September, the District announced layoffs in response to rejections of negotiated givebacks by District 1201 of SEIU Local 32BJ and by the administrators’ union. On a second vote, the union of administrators, CASA, accepted a contract revision that included givebacks.
The PFT membership ratified its current three-year contract in January 2010. The contract calls for a 3 percent raise in January 2012.
Jordan said that the extension also gives the members, many of whom have run into difficult circumstances in this economy such as a spouse losing a job, some sense of stability. "The extension means not having to worry next year," about a new contract, he said.
In a written statement, Nunery thanked the union and its president, saying, "This agreeement with the PFT represents a significant step toward achieving needed savings for this fiscal year." Nunery said the School Reform Commission will vote on ratifying the contract extension on October 26.