Pittsburgh Public Schools teachers’ union set to vote on strike option, would be first since 1975
The Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers is giving members two weeks to decide whether to authorize a strike over stalled contract negotiations, the union’s president said Saturday.
The federation packed ballots Saturday to mail to its 2,997 members, President Nina Esposito-Visgitis said. If a majority votes by a Feb. 12 deadline to authorize a strike, the union’s executive board gains the option to launch one but isn’t required to, Esposito-Visgitis said.
If the board decides to strike, it must give Pittsburgh Public Schools 48 hours notice.
In the meantime, negotiations continue.
“We have worked doggedly to come to an agreement, and we will continue to do so,” she said.
The union and district have not reached a new contract since a one-year interim agreement expired in June. The interim agreement was the second one-year extension following the expiration in 2015 of a five-year contract. That contract was based on a new performance-based salary schedule, according to a report from a third-party arbitrator that worked with the two sides in the fall.
The performance-based schedule was abandoned last year when the two sides agreed to return to a traditional salary schedule, according to the report. Base salaries at the district range from the mid-$40,000s to the mid-$90,000s, depending on education level, experience and other factors, according to salary schedules included in the report. The report reflects disagreement over how to create new salary schedules for teachers hired since the start of the five-year contract and how much in raises to give to other teachers.
The union sought raises of 2 percent for the 2017-18 and 2018-19 school years and 2.5 percent in 2019-20, according to the report. The district offered 1.5 percent raises, according to the report.
The union rejected a proposal from the arbitrator that Esposito-Visgitis said resembled the district’s proposal more closely than the one from the union. Esposito-Visgitis declined to discuss specifics of current negotiations.
The strike authorization is often used during the collective bargaining process. The federation’s last strike began in December 1975 and lasted 54 days, Esposito-Visgitis said.
The district has more than 50 schools and 26,000 students. The union’s 3,000 members includes classroom teachers, counselors, teaching assistants, nurses, auditors and other workers.
Superintendent Anthony Hamlet, a former teacher, said he highly regards teachers but is prioritizing students in the negotiations process.
“We continue to work diligently with (union) leadership toward a resolution that reflects our deep respect for our outstanding teachers, while also prioritizing our mission of providing the highest quality education possible for every student,” Pittsburgh Public Schools officials said Friday in a statement.