This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
The front-page story of the Philadelphia School District’s bitter fight with its teachers’ union has played out in raucous rallies, caustic signs, and sideswiping comments at public meetings.
But there is another fight, a legal battle, between the two sides that shows just how bitter and expensive the clash between the District and the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers has become.
As the contract stalemate between the District and its teachers’ union drags into year four, the sides find themselves locked in a host of courtroom clashes.
The number of cases and the ferocity with which they are being fought surpass anything in recent memory. And these clashes come with a cost. In cases involving the union, the District has spent $1.2 million on outside attorneys, according to numbers released through a right-to-know request.
The tab could climb significantly higher if the District is forced to issue back pay in a number of pending cases.
The most prominent of these disputes — over whether the District could unilaterally cancel the union’s contract — ended in August when the state Supreme Court ruled against the District. Eight other class-action union grievances are still pending, all in some stage of arbitration or working their way through state courts.
That number is unusually high, say union officials and labor experts.