Gains for Pittsburgh Teachers

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The teachers and other professionals at Pittsburgh Public Schools, who we reported on in issue 36 of Socialist Appeal, have attained a number of concrete gains in a new three-year contract with the school district. The agreement comes after a year of hard-fought struggles by Pittsburgh’s teachers.

PFT LogoThe Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers (PFT) first announced that a tentative agreement had been reached with the district on the evening of January 16 in a letter from the union’s president, John Tarka. Tarka’s letter is available on the the PFT website ( In the letter, he notified union members that the bargaining unit had reached an agreement which would then be sent to the PFT Executive Board, which would decide whether or not to recommend ratification to the membership. The Executive Board subsequently voted unanimously in favor of ratification.

The following day, an informational packet including a secret ballot was mailed to each member represented by the bargaining unit. On the evening of January 25 it was announced that 79 percent of those union members represented by the bargaining unit had voted “yes,” thus ratifying the contract.

An important aspect of the new agreement is the length of the contract. The union refused to bend to the district, which wanted a two-year contract, and in the end won a three-year binding agreement. Equally important, however, are the economic gains the teachers have made.

PFT TeachersAccording to the PFT, a major stumbling block in negotiations was the district’s insistence upon adding two new steps in the pay scale, thus delaying pay increases. Equally troubling was the district’s refusal to enact retroactive pay increases. However, the union won on both these and other issues regarding the pay scale in the negotiations process.

Now, Early Intervention (EI) teachers will move to the same pay scale as school-age teachers. Time spent working in EI will also now count toward the pay scale position status of those teachers moving to school-age positions. EI teachers, speech language specialists, and all early childhood educators are also now eligible for tenure.

Some of the most impressive gains of the union in the dispute were over the issue of health care. According to the new contract, post-retirement health benefits have been retained for current and future professionals in the union, as well as for current retirees. Qualifying domestic partners will also receive the same health benefits as spouses.

The PFT has shown that with a militant attitude and a strong sense of class solidarity, working people can win important gains. The union always left open the option of a strike and shook off attacks by organizations representing the bosses’ interests

Unfortunately, the district has still not settled with the union in their negotiations with the bargaining unit representing paraprofessionals and clerical workers.  If the union had formed one bargaining unit and united the workforce it represents, the technical workers in the district might already have a new contract as well. The possibility of the entire workforce at Pittsburgh Public Schools in a united strike would have been too much for the district.

In the end, a new contract is only a temporary measure if the state decides to cut the budget for schools. Until working people in Pennsylvania control the state government in their own interests, it will always be an uphill battle by workers against the interests of capitalist budget crunching and down-sizing.

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