Negotiations are continuing between four Catholic high schools and nearly 170 lay teachers represented by the Catholic Teachers Union. As the Catholic Star Herald went to press Wednesday evening, no agreement had been reached, but talks were in progress.
The three year contract between four high schools in the diocese (Paul VI High School, Haddon Township, Camden Catholic, Cherry Hill, Holy Spirit, Absecon and Sacred Heart, Vineland) expired on August 31, 2009, but has been extended to October 15. Together, the schools serve about 3,100 students.
The teachers have voted twice to reject the schools’ offer and on October 4 voted to authorize a strike on October 15 if agreement is not reached at that time.
In a letter to school families this week, diocesan Superintendent of Schools Mary Boyle wrote, “We hope, of course, that teachers will decide not to strike, since a strike will only hurt the teachers themselves, whose lost days of wages and benefits will not be made up.”
School officials, however, are making preparations for the high schools to be open and classes to be in session even if a strike occurs.
“Unfortunately, union officials have attempted to use students as a negotiation tool, to draw them into this process, and to interrupt the school year,” said Boyle. “This is irresponsible and counterproductive. Our goal, on the other hand, is to deliver the education and services you have paid for and to minimize any disruption to students.”
Last month, Bill Blumenstein, president of the CTU, said in a letter to school families that the issues being negotiated are “strictly financial.”
Base salary range structure increases for the average U.S worker are projected to rise from 1.25 percent in 2009 to 1.58 percent in 2010, according to compensation surveys.
The schools are offering teachers salary increases of 5.25 percent over a two year contract. The schools also are proposing that the salary increases be distributed in an equitable manner through a pay scale that will serve all teachers, from new hires to long-term employees. The average teacher salary is $43,500 on a 36-week school year.
The CTU wants an increase of 4.25 percent in year one and 6 percent in year two, for a total of 10.25 percent. It also wants to allocate the increase in the salary pool at its own discretion.
“Unfortunately, this is a practice that rewards certain teachers but shortchanges others,” said Boyle. “While it has been the tradition for union leadership to distribute the total dollar increase as they determine, the schools’ proposal is an equal dollar amount of the distribution so that all teachers, including those at the lowest end of the experience levels will see the same increase,” she said.
Schools also are proposing that health benefits will be fully paid for virtually all teachers, with no payroll deductions for health benefits during the life of the contract, even though healthcare costs are projected to rise sharply—12 percent or more per year, or 24 percent over the two-year contract.
“Most employers today in the face of dramatically rising health benefit costs now ask employees to share the bear the burden of the cost, while our proposal is offering full, high quality benefits at no premium cost for all employees hired before September 1, 2009,” said Boyle. The value of the benefit to a teacher and family is about $20,000, according to the diocese. Meanwhile, the schools are proposing that teachers hired on or after September 1, 2009—only two of the 167 teachers—share in the cost of the coverage premium at 5%.
In a letter to school parents dated October 5, Blumenstein said the union prefers to spread out health care costs among all teachers, saying that “newly hired teachers [would never have] the opportunity to receive the benefits received by teachers in the system before September 1, 2009.”
Diocesan spokesperson Andrew Walton said economic realities are a factor in the negotiations. He said schools are balancing the need to provide teachers with fair wages and benefits with the impact rising costs have on the tuition rates paid by parents.
“The economic downturn is affecting every sector of society. Job loss, salary freezes, and furloughs aren’t just statistics on a chart, but are a reality in so many households,” said Walton. “For the union in such precarious economic times to overreach on salary and benefits—seeking increases far greater than the average U.S. wage earner can expect—is ill-advised and tone-deaf to today’s economic circumstances. Families experiencing economic uncertainty know this. I think teachers know this, too. We’re hoping union officials will align their expectations on both salary and benefits for the sake of teachers and students alike,” he said.