Pittsburgh teachers announce strike starting Friday |
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Pittsburgh teachers announce strike starting Friday

Jamie Martines

The Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers intends to strike starting Friday, the union announced Monday morning.

President Nina Esposito-Visgitis served Pittsburgh Public Schools Superintendent Anthony Hamlet with a strike notification 96 hours before the strike is set to begin. The union is required to notify the district at least 48 hours in advance.

“We are hopeful that that extra time will allow the Federation and the District to work together to reach a fair agreement that both recognizes the professionalism and hard work of our members and serves the needs of our students and school system,” Esposito-Visgitis said in a statement.

The union represents about 3,000 teachers, paraprofessionals and technical-clerical employees.

One-year interim agreements for all three groups of employees expired June 30. They have been working without a contract since then.

Esposito-Visgitis said the union and district have signed several tentative agreements on contract terms during more than 18 months of negotiations, but none of the agreements dealt with salary, health care benefits, equity for early childhood teachers, transfers, athletic coaches or other items outlined in a fact-finder’s report released last October.

The district responded Monday by asking the union to immediately submit to final best-offer arbitration, an effort Solicitor Ira Weiss hopes would allow negotiations to be settled with the least amount of strike days possible, according to a statement from Pittsburgh Public Schools.

“Now that the union has called for a strike, they will be mandated to submit to final arbitration should they stay on strike for the maximum time permitted by law,” Weiss said in a statement. “We’re simply asking for the union to go through this process now, rather than later, to minimize disruption to children and families.”

Though the union cited several sticking points, the district said giving principals authority to assign teacher schedules is the only remaining unresolved issue that led the union to schedule a strike, according to the statement.

“It is particularly disappointing, in light of the many long hours of negotiations and concessions that have been made in the months that we’ve been at the bargaining table, that such a disruption could happen, especially since we have come so far,” Hamlet said in a statement. “There is only one issue on the bargaining table, and it is a simple one: this dispute is about getting the best teachers in front of the students who need them most — period.”

The district includes 54 schools and about 25,000 students. City teachers last went on strike from December 1975 to January 1976.

Teachers may strike only twice in a school year. If the union has been on strike long enough that the district cannot provide the required 180 days of instruction by June 30, the state Secretary of Education may seek an injunction through Allegheny County Common Pleas Court and call the teachers back to work.

Jamie Martines is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at [email protected], 724-850-2867 or on Twitter @Jamie_Martines.

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