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Phila. School District’s Court Petition And The Uncertain Future Of Collective Bargaining

In its petition filed last week with the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, the Philadelphia School District is asserting its right to make changes that could have the effect of casting aside nearly 50 years of collective bargaining history, during which its contract with the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers has grown to govern not just salaries and benefits but minute details of daily life in schools.

To the PFT, the contract codifies protections for its members and guarantees them everything from functional water fountains to the right of senior teachers to claim positions in preferred schools. The union has long argued that its working conditions are student learning conditions and that some provisions, like limiting class size and specifying when schools must have counselors and librarians, have acted as a bulwark against the steady erosion of services while also preserving jobs.

But 13 years after the state took over the District – and after negotiating two contracts with the PFT – the School Reform Commission is now trying to invoke special powers it received through the law that declared the District “fiscally distressed” and changed its governance. That law, Act 46, “remade the collective bargaining landscape” by stripping the union of its right to strike and “cut back sharply on the scope of the School District’s duty to bargain,” according to the petition.