Teachers in Allentown, Pa. Overwhelmingly voted to reject a union-backed concession contract on September 9, after being forced to work without a contract for more than a year. They voted 499-92 against the deal, in another example of working class opposition to pro-austerity deals backed by unions.
On Monday, in nearby Scranton, Pa., Teachers protested at Scranton High School after being forced to work nearly five years without a contract. “Right now, I have a schedule of seven classes a day, and they’re running,” Elementary art teacher Jennifer Felter told local ABC News outlet. “I’m supposed to be on the third level, and I’m supposed to be in two places at once.”
The Allentown Education Association (AEA) has maintained 1,200 educators and support staff at work since the last contract expired in August 2020. The previous contract, which was narrowly ratified in 2019, included “incentives” to retirement to hunt experienced people, older teachers, larger classrooms and a meager $ 107 increase in starting salary for new teachers. Compared to school districts in the surrounding Lehigh Valley area, teachers in Allentown rank among the lowest in terms of starting salaries.
After failing to strike a deal they thought they could sell to teachers, district and AEA officials decided to bring in a supposedly neutral mediator. A school board official let the cat out of the bag by pointing out that the district was facing “significant financial problems,” and he wanted to balance “the needs of union members for a raise with the district’s financial need to save money. and save under the circumstances. ”Members of the Allentown School District Board of Directors voted 7 to 1 to approve the mediator’s proposal.
The deal reportedly slashed teachers’ real income, trapping them in a high-deductible health plan from January without any pay hikes. The AEA thought it might trick teachers into giving them a one-time bonus of $ 2,855 instead of a base salary increase.
AEA President Mark Leibold has tried to save face with the grassroots, offering his own take on the rebuke of educators. “There is already a high level of frustration [working during the pandemic] and then, in order to have an offer without any money being entered on the salary scale, they rejected it … many members would have suffered a net loss. Leibold could not explain why the AEA would bring back such an offer.
The Allentown School District has more than 16,000 students and is the fourth largest school district in the state of Pennsylvania. On September 7, the Allentown School District opened for full-time in-person instruction with a supposed virtual option. Families might request such an option, which is clearly safer for teachers, students and the community, but officials know that many working parents will not be able to use it.
The seven-day moving average of COVID-19 cases in Pennsylvania stands at more than 4,500 cases per day, a 27% increase from a week ago. In the past month, cases have jumped 127%.
Highlighting the risk of opening dangerous schools, an eighth-grade social studies teacher and football coach at a school adjacent to Lehigh Valley died from COVID-19 earlier this month. Schools in Pennsylvania have fully reopened for face-to-face learning, with support from the National Education Association (NEA), the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and their state and local affiliates, and politicians from both. parties supported by companies.
After several weeks of in-person learning statewide, Democratic Governor Tom Wolf enacted an unenforceable mask mandate without ordering any other basic safety protocols, including social distancing, contact tracing and quarantines. Even if these mitigation measures were put in place, schools would still be hotbeds for the highly contagious and deadly Delta variant.
On a social media post, an angry parent condemned the reopening: “Another student in an Allentown school district reported with covid19. That’s already 3 in less than two weeks and school has just started. Now how am I as a parent supposed to be confident in sending my kids to school? “
Reopening schools has nothing to do with children’s educational or mental health needs. It is motivated solely by the economic prerogative of companies to put parents back to work to produce profit, whatever the human cost.
In response to this threat, educators and other sections of workers, including Mack Volvo Group workers in the Allentown area, are building new organizations to defend both lives and livelihoods. The Pennsylvania Educators Safety Committee, which is independent of corporate unions and big business parties, is fighting for the immediate closure of all non-essential schools and businesses, as well as comprehensive income protection for workers and homeowners. of small businesses, until the pandemic can be eliminated. Schools must move to all virtual education, with billions of dollars allocated to online education. Allentown teachers looking to eradicate COVID-19, save lives and fight these sold-out contracts should contact the Pennsylvania Educator Safety Committee.