Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Brinkmanship In Pennsylvania: Teachers' Jobs On The Line

A labor dispute in Pennsylvania's Crestwood School District has become so acrimonious that a union chief has threatened a possible mass resignation if there is no contractual settlement by next fall:
Teachers in a northeastern Pennsylvania school district could find themselves looking for jobs after their union chief said that they would be "unwilling to work" the next school year without a new contract.

The Crestwood School Board took the statement by union president Joseph Chmiola Jr. as a call for mass resignation. The district is threatening to let the entire teaching staff go - a move that labor officials say would be unprecedented in Pennsylvania.

The union contends that Chmiola does not have legal authority to resign anyone but himself and was merely trying to get both sides back to the negotiating table. But school board president William Jones said the meaning of the letter was clear.

The board and the 177-member teachers union have been at each other's throats since 2002, when the last contract expired. But the level of rhetoric ratcheted up considerably last week when Chmiola handed a brief letter to the district's superintendent stating that unless the two sides reached an agreement by fall, "we will be unwilling to work the 2005-2006 school year."

The letter was not a resignation, said union negotiator John Holland. He accused the board of trying to intimidate teachers into accepting an inferior contract by threatening their jobs. If the board does let go of the staff, "they do so at their own peril and they place the district in significant financial jeopardy," Holland said.
According to MSNBC, there are 180 teachers in the district. They confirm that the district is indeed interpreting Chmiola's letter as a mass resignation. The Board will meet on June 28th. On the agenda is a motion to accept or reject the resignations. Teachers desiring to rescind their resignations must do so before the meeting. Meanwhile, the district is planning to advertise for "replacement teachers."

The Times-Leader has the text of a letter from Pennsylvania State Education Association Northeastern Representative John Holland to Crestwood School Board Solicitor Jack Dean. In the letter, Holland insists that there is no resignation:
"I want to make it perfectly clear that no member of the Crestwood Education Association has resigned from their position, nor has, nor could the Crestwood Education Association resign any individual from their position within the Crestwood School District."
The teachers actually did go out on strike last fall, but a judge ordered them back to work after one day. There is to be one last attempt to negotiate a settlement before the "showdown" on June 28.
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