Tuesday, January 25, 2000

CPS teachers may walk

Negotiators can call strike if needed Teachers give strike OK to negotiators

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Cincinnati Public Schools teachers on Monday gave union leaders the go-ahead to call a strike if negotiations continue too slowly.

        In a rowdy meeting at Music Hall, about 2,800 teachers listened to speeches by Cincinnati Federation of Teachers leaders and supporters. By a voice vote, they authorized the union's executive council to call a strike, which provides more leverage for union negotiators in coming days.

        “These teachers are not even thinking about striking about money,” CFT President Tom Mooney said. Teachers will strike, he said, only “if they feel it's right for the kids.”

        Mr. Mooney said he hopes the strike authorization vote sends a message to the school board about “how serious” the teachers and clerical staff consider the impasse.

        Attorney Mark Stepaniak, who represents the district in negotiations, called the strike vote a “pressure tactic.”

        He questioned its timing, saying the district has agreed to extend the teachers' contract through April 1 — after the March primary in which the district will seek two levies and after proficiency testing.

        “I can't see that even the threat of a strike is good for kids,” Mr. Stepaniak said.

        Union leaders and administrators disagree on everything from salary and workday hours to class size and charter schools.

        But administrators' proposals to weaken seniority and job security have drawn the loudest complaints from the 45,600-student district's 3,200 teachers.

        Specifically, administrators want to allow schools to hire teachers wherever they find qualified applicants, rather than first hiring from a “surplus pool” of CPS teachers who have been displaced because of reorganization, transfers and other reasons. After a year, those teachers still not placed would not be renewed.

        Such provisions treat teachers as a casual labor pool instead of professionals and will scare off teacher applicants when schools locally and nationwide are facing growing teacher shortages, Mr. Mooney said.

        “It's going to drive many bright, young people out of the profession, and that is going to harm this community more than anything else,” said Nat LaCour, executive vice president of the American Federation of Teachers, who came to show support.

        Although bargaining teams from both sides have been negotiating since December, it was clear Monday how far they hadn't come.

        Teachers carried signs with such slogans as “Listen to Parents and Teachers!” and "We Expect Respect!” They gave standing ovations to the union's bargaining team and Mr. LaCour.

        The teachers especially were hostile to Superintendent Steven Adamowski, whom many called a union-buster.

        “This is the attack we've been waiting for,” Mr. Mooney said. “The superintendent was brought here by the CBC (Cincinnati Business Committee) to break the union and privatize the school district. Is there really any doubt that we need to stand up to that attack and say: "No, it's not going down that way?'”

        Those comments drew thunderous applause and whistles.

        Mr. Adamowski said he was “disappointed but not surprised” that union leaders singled him out for criticism, saying union leaders were “reluctant to give up authority and trust teachers.”

        The meeting came three days af ter an independent, state-appointed fact-finder released his recommendations on 27 issues the union and administration cannot resolve.

        That report sided with the union on most issues and recommended a compromise on salary. If that report is not rejected by Friday by a three-fifths vote of either union members or the school board, it becomes binding.

        Union leaders recommended that members support it. Teachers will vote by secret ballot in schools Wednesday and Thursday. The school board will meet Friday at the district's Corryville headquarters to vote; it's expected to reject the report.

        Bill Weathers contributed to this report.


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