Pittsburgh public schools avoid strike
Pittsburghers from Southside to East Liberty were held in suspense this week by the potential of a district-wide teacher’s strike, set to begin March 2, this past Friday. However, in a move that has been advantageous to all parties, the strike has been avoided and schools will remain open and functioning for the time being.
As of earlier last week, the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers, a teacher’s union, and the Pittsburgh School District were unable to reach a new contractual agreement, and a strike appeared to be imminent. But, after extensive debate, a tentative agreement has been reached.
If a strike were to have occurred, 25,000 students across 54 district schools wouldn’t have been able to go to class. Around 3,000 total teachers, paraprofessionals, police officers, and other school faculty are union members, so a strike would have left the entire district without proper schooling.
Nina Esposito-Visgitis, the president of the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers, told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review that negotiations to prevent this took “14 hours straight” but that she is “happy that we were able to [reach an agreement] for our educators and our parents and our students.”
Esposito-Visgitis, the rest of the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers executive board, and the board of the Pittsburgh School District may have spent countless hours reaching this accord, but the overall strife has been going on for far longer than just this past week’s debate. Discussions related to this conflict began in Aug. 2016, when the union and district barely reached an agreement to extend their contracts, citing disagreements on Pennsylvania’s education budget.
Later, on Oct. 19, 2017, grievances over teacher’s scheduling, overfilled classes, and pay for early childhood teachers, were formally presented to district representatives. Discussions continued, with even a district-bourne contract being presented to the union, which was promptly vetoed by the teachers almost unanimously.
The agreement reached this past week clearly comes after long-standing disputes, but shows how important it was to both sides to prevent a strike. Esposito-Visgitis told WTAE Pittsburgh Action News, prior to the strike’s cancellation, that “our teachers want to stay in the classroom with their students, where they belong.”
Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto urged both sides to reach a consensus earlier in the week, stressing the gravity of the situation in saying, “When you’re in a situation like this, it affects the people, the students, their parents, and it’s going to have a devastating effect upon the city.”
The last time teachers held a strike in Pittsburgh was the infamous Dec. 1975 to Jan. 1976 strike, in which schools closed for two months while intense negotiations over pay raise, class size, student discipline, scheduling, and job security were carried out.
This story made national news at the time and prevented 62,300 students at 105 schools from going to school. Had the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers indeed held a strike this year, there’s no telling whether the situations would have been similar or not. Luckily, both the union and the district wanted the best for the community and were able to keep schools in operation.
While strikes are necessary tools of collective bargaining rights, the entire community, teachers and students alike, are likely grateful that the situation did not have to occur. Pittsburgh schools are to remain open, and while neither the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers or the Pittsburgh School District offered any details relating to their final contract, one can assume some degree of mutual benefit, and hope for its longevity.