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Philadelphia Teachers' Union Willing To Accept Pay Freeze, Pay Into Health Care

By Mike DeNardo

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) - KYW Newsradio has learned the Philadelphia teachers union is prepared to make some significant movement in contract talks with the school district.

Concerned that schools will open September 9th without adequate staffing, Philadelphia Federation of Teachers president Jerry Jordan is ready to budge at the bargaining table.

"I am prepared to make a recommendation to our members at our meeting on Monday evening that in order to restore the services to the schools for the children, that we will propose that we accept a pay freeze," Jordan says the union will also offer to begin making contributions to their health care premiums -- something the union has never done.

"We want to make sure that the reforms will lead to savings for the health care costs to the school district. Which may very well mean contributions as well by members."

The district was seeking teacher pay cuts of anywhere from 5 to 13 percent. How far does this gesture get the district to the $130 million dollars it says it needs in labor concessions? Jordan would only say it gets them closer to opening schools properly.

In response, the School District of Philadelphia released the following statement:

 "In order to provide essential services for students, the School District of Philadelphia needs additional resources.  In this time of crisis, the District has asked all of its employees to contribute, including by salary reductions and making reasonable contributions to their health insurance costs.  We have asked for $103 million in recurring savings from the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, and their announcement today, while lacking in specifics, appears to fall well short of that amount.  We clearly have a ways to go on both economics as well as on important educational reforms that will provide the type of learning environments our children deserve.  We look forward to continuing the collective bargaining process."

Mayor Michael A. Nutter also issued the following statement:

"I want to acknowledge that the teachers' union today publicly recognized that it must play a role in helping the Philadelphia School District and its thousands of students and parents to get through this huge fiscal crisis.

As I told leaders in Harrisburg in the many, many meetings during the spring and summer, Philadelphia needs a new funding formula for us and for districts across the state. It is a cause we'll be fighting for in Harrisburg again this fall.

But the issue before us right now is what's happening at the negotiating table between the School District and the teachers' union. And what was announced today lacks any detail. More to the point, it appears to be very far from the work rule changes and $103 million in savings that the District needs.

I'm disappointed that teachers' union leaders, who profess concern for the city's school children, were silent on the critical changes in staffing flexibility and related work rules that are vital if District schools are to become more competitive with other schools by being more welcoming, safe and academically effective.

Let's remember, these negotiations began in January and the teachers' union let months pass without any proposals to deal with this fiscal crisis. I am hopeful that today's sudden and unusually timed announcement is the first step toward a contract that fulfills the District's need for new work rules and $103 million, which in turn will enable our schools this fall to provide close to the level of staffing that schools had in June when our students were last in their classrooms."

The PFT contract expires Sunday.

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