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District reaches deal with aides and cafeteria workers

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

The School District has reached a deal with the union that represents more than 1,600 noontime aides and cafeteria workers, who have traded some seniority prerogatives and District payments into a benefit fund for higher wages.

The members of UNITE HERE! Local 634 on Saturday ratified a contract that runs through September 2017 and will gradually bring all members up to the 21st Century Living Wage set by the city, estimated to be $12.67 an hour by 2017. Most employees, who are part-time, now earn $10.88 an hour and have average annual salaries of $8,000.

To finance the raises, the cash-strapped District will not pay into the union’s health and welfare fund, a total of about $3.3 million, for the duration of the contract. The District will realize a "modest net savings," according to a statement.

There will be three raises, but none will be retroactive. The four-year contract starts on Oct. 1, 2013.

“The willingness of a labor partner whose members include our lowest-compensated staff to make a shared sacrifice on behalf of our students and schools sends a powerful message,” said Superintendent William Hite in a District statement. “I am immensely grateful to the members of Local 634 for this demonstration of their support and dedication to our students and schools.”

Also in a statement, Nicole Hunt from UNITE HERE! said that the union was "pleased to come to an agreement that will allow the District to save, while bringing our members to the City’s 21st Century Living Wage."

The agreement leaves two bargaining units without contracts: the District’s largest union, the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, and school police. The District has previously reached agreements with blue-collar workers of SEIU 32BJ and the Commonwealth Association of School Administrators (CASA), which represents principals, among other administrators.

The noontime aides, who primarily work the lunchrooms, have been renamed student climate staff.

In addition to the benefit savings, the pact allows principals to make staffing decisions based not entirely on seniority, which District officials say is key to flexibility and "meaningful educational improvements" in schools.

"Seniority will no longer be the sole factor in decisions related to reductions in force and recalls from layoff, and the assignment and transfer of Student Climate Staff will be by mutual consent," according to the District statement.

The District has been seeking changes in seniority rules for teachers as well, which is one of the points of contention in those stalled negotiations. District efforts to impose some work-rule changes on PFT members have so far been shot down in the courts, even though the School Reform Commission was given special powers by the state when it was established.

“With this third agreement in hand, we remain focused on achieving results from our other labor negotiations that will similarly benefit our students and schools, and on pressing our local and state funders to commit to equitable and sustainable funding for public education,” Hite said.

The SRC plans to vote on the agreement at its meeting on Thursday, May 21.

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