The Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers, in a previous world just hours from going on strike for the first time in 40 years, have reached an agreement with the Pittsburgh Public Schools district to stay on the job uninterrupted for at least the next three years.
The April 18 ratification of the contract by the school board “represents a new era in our District’s long and storied history: one which I hope will result in effective, positive changes for our students,” said PPS board president Dr. Regina Holley.
A release from the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers read that its members voted “overwhelmingly” to ratify the three collective bargaining agreements with the District. “The professional unit contract was accepted by 90 percent of voting members, the paraprofessional unit contract was accepted by 77 percent of voting members, and the technical-clerical unit contract was accepted by 90 percent of voting members,” the release said.
“There is no question that the negotiations were, at times, contentious,” Dr. Holley said in an April 18 statement. “That is the nature of collective bargaining. But just as steel is forged through the intense heat of blast furnaces, our public schools will emerge stronger for the process. And we achieved a longstanding, structural framework that allows us to effect meaningful change that has eluded us for too long.”
Dr. Holley’s use of the word “contentious” may be an understatement. The Teachers Union had authorized a strike to occur as early as March 2, but a Pittsburgh Marathon-style negotiation took place on Feb. 27, with both sides hashing out the pros and cons, the gives and takes, and the do’s and dont’s for upwards of 14 hours before finally coming to some sort of agreement moments before the clock struck midnight.
By law, the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers (PFT) had to give 48 hours notice before they collectively walked out of the classroom. Wednesday, Feb. 28 would have been that day to officially start the clock, and the strike would have begun 48 hours later, Friday, March 2, if the two sides didn’t come to a preliminary agreement late Feb. 27.
“As with any negotiation, there was give and take on both sides. Teachers will get a wage package that makes our District more competitive for new hires and in retaining talent, as well as a formidable health insurance and benefits plan. The new contract also addresses teachers’ concerns with early childhood educators as much as possible given the limitations of this grant-funded program,” superintendent of schools Anthony Hamlet, EdD, said in a prepared statement.
“I am pleased that our members overwhelmingly approved the three proposed agreements,” added PFT president Nina Esposito-Visgitis in a separate statement. “Now we can focus more of our time and energy on projects such as expanding access to high-quality affordable early childhood education, promoting career and technical education, and improving professional development for all our educators.”
Highlights of the new deal include a new 12-step pay scale, with a raise of 2 percent. New teachers’ starting pay will be $46,000—for early education teachers, it is $42,000 (bachelor’s degree), and $44,000 (master’s degree). Also, the District’s principals will be able to have more control in teacher schedules in K-5 schools.
Esposito-Visgitis, unafraid to go head-to-head with District officials, thanked the parents and community members that “had our backs…we felt the community support at the bargaining table, we saw the window signs around town, and we know that the community would have walked the picket line with us if we needed them.”
“When we began this process so many months ago,” Dr. Hamlet said, “we had different ideas on several details, yet shared a common goal: to create a contract that is fair to all—taxpayers, teachers, the District, the community—but, above all, places the students at the very top of that list. It took some time to get there, but this agreement does just that.”
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