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Labor Disputes Threaten Start of New School Year | Education News

Teachers in Columbus, Ohio, are picketing at dozens of sites across the city on Monday after voting to go on strike for the first time since 1975 as they failed to reach an agreement with the city’s board of education over the terms of their labor contract.

Citing long standing concerns over pay, classroom size, the condition of school facilities and full-time art, music and physical education teachers, among other things, 94% of Columbus Education Association members voted to back the strike on Sunday evening, making it likely that the city’s 47,000 students will be learning virtually from substitute teachers on Wednesday, the first day of the new academic year.

“CEA is committed to bargaining for the safe and welcoming, properly maintained, and fully-resourced public schools Columbus students deserve,” union leaders said in a statement Sunday night after the vote. “The bargaining team has negotiated for months in an attempt to reach an agreement, but Columbus City Schools continues to ignore the voices within our community and invest in our schools in a way that will improve learning conditions for our students.”

The decision to strike comes after union officials and board members held 22 negotiating sessions over five months.

“The decision to strike by the CEA is incredibly disappointing,” Jennifer Adair, board of education president, said during a press conference on Monday morning. “We are very saddened by this unfortunate situation our families, our communities and our children now face. We believe we offered a generous compensation package for our teachers and provisions that would positively impact their classroom and our students.”

The board of education is holding a closed-door special session Monday evening to discuss next steps, Adair said. Union officials plan to hold a rally outside.

“School does start on Wednesday, which means our children will be online learning,” she said. “We know this is absolutely not ideal but we do have an obligation as the school district to continue educating and supporting our students despite this current circumstance.”

Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther urged the union and board to continue negotiating, noting the harm remote learning caused during the coronavirus pandemic.

“More than anything, the pandemic has made clear the importance of having kids in the classroom,” he said. “The CEA and school district must return to the table and get our kids back in the classroom. A responsible solution is within reach, but only if negotiations restart now.”

Meanwhile, a labor dispute also threatens the start of the school year in Philadelphia, where 32BJ SEIU, a union representing roughly 2,000 employees of the Philadelphia School District, voted to authorize a strike over higher wages and better training programs.

The new academic year begins Aug. 29 for the city’s 200,000 students. The strike is set for Aug. 31, the date the current contract expires.

Officials from the union, which represents custodial workers, bus drivers, mechanics, building engineers and other trade workers, lamented over what they said were pay cuts that hadn’t been restored and weekly contributions from their wages to help keep the district afloat as it faced disruptions stemming from the coronavirus pandemic.

District officials said in a statement that they’re hopeful that they will reach a fair contract before their contracts are set to expire and negotiations are set to resume on Tuesday.

“We continue to actively participate in conversations and negotiations to secure a new contract as soon as possible, without disruption to in-person learning to begin the 2022-2023 school year,” said Larisa Shambaugh, chief talent officer for the district.

In a statement supporting the strike, Philadelphia Federation of Teachers President Jerry Jordan underscored how important the union’s work is to the daily operations of the city’s K-12 schools.

“From custodial staff to bus drivers, the members of 32BJ SEIU work tirelessly each day to keep our schools running, and they are an essential part of school communities,” he said. “They should be recognized with a contract that reflects the critical work they do each day. This includes increased pay, and it includes meeting the working conditions outlined in their proposals.”

“Quite simply,” he said, “schools cannot, and will not, operate without the hard-working members of 32BJ SEIU.”

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