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Oct
2014
22

Judge Halts Further Abuse of Philly Teachers Union Health Fund by School Commission

The SRC's move sparked protests in Philadelphia.

The SRC’s move sparked protests in Philadelphia.



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A Common Pleas judge in Philadelphia has issued a preliminary injunction to halt the School Reform Commission (SRC) from making drastic changes to the health insurance plans of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers (PFT). A recent unilateral move to effectively ignore a collectively bargained contract spurred the judiciary action. 

Judge Nina Wright Padilla issued the order after hearing four hours of testimony.  The move halts further misuse of the PFT’s Health and Welfare fund, which the SRC wanted to distribute throughout the school district without permission.  

Following the decision, PFT president Jerry Jordan told reporters: “The judge’s decision, we’re pleased with it.  We hope it will end here, but we’re pretty sure it won’t.”

District spokesman Fernando Gallard confirmed the news and said the SRC would appeal to Commonwealth Court.  Gallard labeled the SRC’s move as “one of many legal steps we will have to take.”  

In a statement, the school district said:

“The School District expects to ultimately prevail in the courts and will pursue this matter forcefully, for the cause is urgent and the children of Philadelphia cannot continue waiting.

The changes temporarily placed on hold by [Monday's] injunction are estimated to save more than $200 million in the next four years. These are crucial resources for the children of Philadelphia.”

So far $15 million of the PFT’s Health and Welfare Fund balance has been given to principals to make improvements at their schools.  The Common Pleas court decision halts the release of another $15 million in early 2015 and what would be the remaining $13.8 million in April.  During testimony, Assistant Superintendent Cheryl Logan testified that the 44 schools she oversees decided to use their share of the money to hire staff and order materials and supplies.

The terms the SRC imposed would force the PFT’s 11,500 members to pay out-of-pocket for health insurance to the tune of nearly 13 percent of each paycheck, which would range between $27 to $71 a week depending on salary.  Perhaps more importantly, the SRC’s undermining of a collectively bargained agreement presents a broader labor relations quandary. This is important as the PFT and school district attempt to negotiate a new contract.  The two sides recently reached an impasse after 21 months of bargaining, according to Philly.com:

Both sides said the last collective bargaining session was held July 1.

Jordan told the judge that SRC negotiators never told the union that a list of demands they had given the day before was a “last, final offer.” He said the SRC called off a session that had been scheduled for July 2.

“The district canceled that session, and we haven’t met since,” Jordan said.

The SRC has said it hopes to return to the bargaining table, but PFT lawyer Ralph Teti warned that the SRC’s decision to cancel the contract “undermines the very fabric of collective bargaining.”

He said it would be difficult for the PFT to reach a new agreement with the SRC knowing that it could be torn up.

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