Momentive workers vote for agreement that ends their strike

After being on strike for 105 days, Momentive workers in Waterford, New York on February 14 voted to accept a new collective bargaining agreement.

Members of IUE-CWA Local 81539, which represents production workers at the chemical plant that makes silicon products, voted 317 to 211 to ratify the new agreement; members of its sister local 81380, which represents lab workers, voted 61 to 0 to ratify.

Dennis Trainor, vice president of District 1 of the Communication Workers of America who helped negotiate the agreement, said that the new contract was a “substantial  improvement” over the company’s take-it-or-leave-it original offer that caused the strike.

Nevertheless, workers at the union office for the contract vote were in a somber mood.

The new contract provides two raises–a 2 percent raise effective in June and another 2 percent raise effective a year later–, a $2000 signing bonus, reduced health care benefits, fewer vacation days, and it eliminates retiree health care insurance for workers who retire this year and onward.

The agreement that ended the strike leaves intact the firings of 27 union members for strike-related activities.

Members of locals 81359 and 81380 went on strike when Momentive, owned by one of the world’s largest private equity companies Apollo Global Management, offered the workers a new collective bargaining agreement with a laundry list of concessions, givebacks, and takeaways.

Since Apollo bought Momentive in 2006, workers have endured a series of pay cuts and benefit reductions.

When Apollo made its latest concession laden contract offer, it left workers with no choice but to vote to authorize and carry out a strike.

During the strike, Apollo brought in replacement workers to maintain some semblance of productive activity.

During the strike, Momentive was cited by New York’s environmental protection agency for health and safety violations that endangered the surrounding communities. The union attributed the health and safety problems to errors caused by the replacement workers.

The sight of these replacement workers undermining the workers’ fight to maintain their benefits and decent standard of living and the threats to the health safety of their neighbors, families, and friends caused by the inexperienced replacement workers did not sit well with strikers.

Some workers were justifiably enraged by the replacement workers’ actions.

When they expressed their anger at the company and at the replacement workers themselves, the company fired them.

When the workers return to work on Friday, those fired during the strike will still be out of a job.

The new agreement establishes an arbitration process that allows for a review of the terminations and possible reinstatement of those who were fired.

Fifteen of those fired, were accused of vandalism. They will have their firings reviewed by an independent arbitrator appointed by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who mediated the end of the strike.

Returning workers were also miffed by the fact that some replacement workers will remain on the job during a transition period and by the company’s requirement that striking workers attend a two-day training workshop on the company’s code of conduct and safety.

Many of the strikers are long-time Momentive employees with years of experience handling the plant’s dangerous chemicals and operating the plant’s equipment They are more than capable of leading the safety classes that they will be attending.

During the strike, some workers who voted for President Trump hoped that he would intervene to help end the strike.

But those hopes faded when they learned that one of Trump’s new economic advisers would be Steve Schwarzman, CEO of the Blackstone Group, another one of the world’s largest private equity companies that until last summer owned a stake in Momentive. Schwarzman is the new chairman of the President’s Strategic and Policy Forum.

American Airlines customer service agents ratify first contract

After a union organizing campaign that lasted 19 years, customer service agents at American Airlines ratified their first collective bargaining agreement with the US’ largest airline.

In a vote conducted by telephone and the internet, 73 percent voted yes for the new agreement, which covers 14,500 counter and gate agents at airports and phone center and home-based reservation agents.

The Dallas Morning News reports that the new collective bargaining agreement makes American’s agents the highest paid in the airline industry.

“For many employees, the ratification of this contract was far more meaningful than I could have ever imagined,” said Ken Grunwald, a bargaining committee member and reservations agent in Raleigh, North Carolina. “Many members called to tearfully explain that the wage increase alone would impact their lives in an overwhelmingly positive way. The day-to-day lives of employees will be improved dramatically.”

Grunwald said job security concerns have not been completely resolved by the agreement. This and other issues can be addressed, he said, “if we work together and continue to support and respect each other.”

The ratification vote came 14 months after American’s customer service agents voted to join the American Airlines Passenger Service Association, which is affiliated with the Communication Workers of America (CWA) and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT).

The route to that final vote was long, circuitous, and encumbered by detours.

Passenger agents at American approached CWA in the mid-1990s and asked for help in forming a union. Low pay and general disrespect by their employer motivated them to do so.

The resulting organizing drive led to a union representation vote in 1998. The union supporters lost. Only 44 percent of the workers voted to join CWA.

At the time, the election was held under a special labor law established for the railway and airline industries. The law known as the Railway Labor Act required at that time that in order for a union to be recognized, a majority of workers–not a majority of voting workers, the common way that democracy works–had to vote in favor of the union.

Despite the loss, a core of the American workers continued to stay active and formed a membership union–a union not recognized as a bargaining representative by an employer–that affiliated with CWA.

The union helped workers file and pursue grievances; it advocated for workers’ rights at American wherever and whenever possible, and most of all, it continued to organize.

The union received some encouragement when fellow customer service agents at US Airways voted to join CWA in 1999, and the union members at American were confident that they could win another union election.

But on September 11, 2001, terrorists murdered 3000 people at New York City’s World Trade Center by crashing airplanes into the building.

The event set the airline industry back on its heels. Ridership declined precipitously, revenue dried up, layoffs ensued, the workers who remained feared for their jobs, and sentiment for a union ebbed.

But gradually the airline industry recovered, and after years of financial decline and bankruptcies, the industry began to make a comeback, made possible in part by sacrifices that the airlines’ workers made, including those at American.

As ridership revived and revenue increased, laid off workers were brought back on the job.

American like other airlines began to prosper again, but there was a sense among workers that the company was unwilling to share its prosperity with its workers.

That led to another union organizing drive. In 2011, CWA petitioned the National Mediation Board, a US government agency that manages labor relations in the railroad and airline industries, for a union election.

American tried to stall the election and had some success.

In 2012, American shocked its employees by filing for bankruptcy. At the time, it appeared that American, which had $4 billion in cash on hand, was using the bankruptcy courts to get out of its collective bargaining agreements with it unionized pilots, mechanics, and ground workers.

Despite the bankruptcy proceedings, the union moved ahead with its organizing campaign, overcame American’s stalling tactics, and secured another union representation election.

This times, the election rules had changed. The National Mediation Board ruled that only a majority of voters–not a majority of workers–needed to vote for the union for it to be recognized.

In January 2013, the results of election were announced. Union supporters lost again. This time by only 151 votes.

After the defeat, the union of passenger service agents at American remained intact and continued to organize.

Later in the year, US Airways announced that it would buy American, which was still in bankruptcy proceedings.

The deal if allowed to go through would create the largest airline in the US. To make the deal happen, the US Justice Department needed to approve the merger.

Management at US Airways needed the support of its unions and those at American to make the deal happen.

Among other thing, US Airways promised that management wouldn’t interfere in any union elections that took place after the merger.

Customers representative agents at US Airways were already unionized. Among them were agents who previously worked for Air West, who joined the Teamsters in 2004. When US Airways and Air West merged in 2005, CWA and the Teamsters merged their unions into the Association of Passenger Service Agents.

After the 2013 merger between US Airways and American was announced, a union representation election for all customer service employees including those who worked for US Airways was held in 2014. The new American management, which had formerly been US Airways management, kept the promise of neutrality and didn’t interfere in the election.

This time, 86 percent voted to join the Passenger Service Association CWA/IBT.

A year later, the two sides negotiated the first collective bargaining agreement and the workers ratified it a few months later.

Now the challenge will be to build on the initial success and develop the union’s capacity to enforce the agreement and make progress on the issues that weren’t resolved in the agreement.

A post on the CWA website said that the union’s ability to do these things will depend on building “a strong steward network” of local leaders and activists.

San Antonio Hyatt workers ratify first collective bargaining agreement

Workers at two Hyatt hotels on San Antonio’s Riverwalk on November 18 ratified their first collective bargaining agreement.

The new agreement is the culmination of a six-year organizing campaign conducted by UNITE HERE, the hospitality industry’s largest union.

The new five-year agreement covers 500 workers at San Antonio’s Grand Hyatt and Hyatt Regency, both of which are located on the Riverwalk, where hotels, restaurants, bars, and other entertainment destinations line both banks of the San Antonio River as it meanders through the city’s downtown.

The new agreement includes pay increases in each year of the agreement, the reinstatement of about 100 jobs that had been outsourced, and protections for immigrant employees.

The agreement also includes language that ensures that tipped workers at the hotels get to keep a fair share of the tips left by patrons.

In December 2014, the workers took advantage of a neutrality agreement that the union and Hyatt negotiated in 2013 and voted to join UNITE HERE Local 23.

“These are the first hotels on the San Antonio Riverwalk to have the union, and to have union contracts,” said Danna Schneider, Local 23 organizer, to WOAI radio.

Management also seemed pleased that the two sides had reached an agreement.

“We are pleased to reach an agreement with UNITE HERE and to move forward with our associates to provide the authentic hospitality our guests have come to expect,” said Ed Bucholtz, general manager of Grand Hyatt San Antonio. “We remain committed to providing a caring work environment for our associates, which includes a positive workplace environment and competitive wages and benefits.”

But the relationship between Hyatt and UNITE HERE has not always been so amicable.

The two sides in 2009 were involved in bitter contract disputes in Chicago, San Francisco, and Los Angeles.

In Chicago, the collective bargaining agreement between Hyatt and the union expired without a new agreement in place.

The union was seeking protections against outsourcing, improved safety requirements, and relief from dangerous workloads.

The union also wanted to include in the agreement provisions that would make it easier for workers at non-union Hyatt hotels to join the union and that would allow union workers to demonstrate their solidarity with non-union hotel workers who wanted to join a union.

At the same time that UNITE HERE was bargaining with Hyatt in Chicago, it was bargaining with other unionized hotels in the Chicago area.

It managed to secure agreements with the other hotels, but Hyatt refused to sign off.

UNITE HERE ran into the same problems in San Francisco and Los Angeles. In 2010, the union and Hyatt couldn’t reach an agreement in Honolulu.

Even though there was no agreement, workers continued to work without a contract.

In 2010, UNITE HERE organized a national day of action in 15 cities to demand that Hyatt agree to a fair contract for its employees.

In 2011, the relationships between Hyatt and its union workers reached its nadir when on a July day when temperatures reached 100 degrees Fahrenheit, management at Park Hyatt Chicago turned on heat lamps near sidewalks where UNITE HERE members were picketing the hotel during a one-day strike.

In September, UNITE HERE members conducted a one-week strike against Hyatt hotels in the four cities where contracts had expired.

The union also called for a boycott against the 17 Hyatt hotels where contracts had expired.

The union in 2012 called for a worldwide boycott of Hyatt.

Things came to a head in 2013 when Penny Pritzker, a billionaire who owns the largest stake in Hyatt, was nominated for US Secretary of Commerce, a cabinet position in the Obama administration.

UNITE HERE in May 2013 called on Senators to reject the nomination.

Pritzker was confirmed in June, but in July, Hyatt and the union ended the four-year dispute by signing an agreement that established a framework for new collective bargaining agreements in Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Honolulu. The agreement included a process that would allow Hyatt workers in non-union hotels to join a union without company interference.

A year and half later, San Antonio Hyatt workers reaped the benefits of that agreement when they join Local 23.

Eleven months later, the workers had their first contract.

“This is a great moment for San Antonio,” said Schneider to the San Antonio Express News,  “I’m so proud that this agreement, and this partnership with Hyatt, sets the bar for what dignified hotel work should look like in this city.”

Ratification of pact between GM and UAW remains on hold

The ratification of a new collective bargaining agreement between the United Autoworkers (UAW) and GM has been put on hold.

The union and the company on November 1 reached a tentative agreement on a new four-year collective bargaining agreement, The union membership voted in favor of the agreement by a 55.4 percent to 44.6 percent margin.

But 59.2 percent of the skilled trades workers–electricians, tool and die makers, millwrights, etc.–voted against it.

When a majority of skilled trades workers vote no on a contract, the UAW constitution requires that union leaders meet with the skill trades workers to learn their reason for voting no.

After the consultations, the UAW executive board must decide whether to affirm ratification or return to the bargaining table.

UAW President Dennis Williams on November 12 announced the union’s executive board’s decision.

“Based on this feedback from the skilled trades membership, I have determined that further discussion with the company was needed,” said Williams. “Such discussions are currently taking place.”

The union and the company agreed to extend the current collective bargaining agreement until November 20, the new deadline for the union to announce ratification of the agreement.

During the meetings, skilled trades workers told union officials that they were disappointed that the $60,000 retirement incentive given to eligible production workers wasn’t extended to skilled trades workers.

They also said that the new agreement doesn’t do enough to keep GM from outsourcing their work, it doesn’t provide for enough badly needed new apprentices, and it allows GM to continue its restructuring of skilled trade work.

One of the management trends in the auto industry is to reduce labor costs by restructuring skilled trades work.

In some cases, this means cross training skilled trade workers in other crafts.

For many, such restructuring is an insult to their professionalism and their craftsmanship.

As one worker put it, GM would like its skilled trades workers to be general handymen rather than master craftsmen.

“They’re watering down the skills we have,” said Darryl Sutton, who voted against the contract, to The Detroit News.

Another way to put it is that GM like other auto companies is in the process of deskilling the skilled trades.

Deskilling has a number of consequences for those affected. It puts them in a position of having to perform work for which they have not been properly trained, which could lead to heightened safety risks and less than optimal job performances.

As deskilling causes their crafts to be merged, the workers seniority rights and shift preferences could be affected as well.

Skilled trade workers also are concerned that the new agreement doesn’t go far enough to protect their jobs from outsourcing.

GM already outsources building repair and maintenance work, and as GM implements new technology, it is outsourcing some of the maintenance and repair work associated with the new technology.

The new contract establishes a working group of management and skilled trades representatives to review the introduction of new technology and to determine whether repair and maintenance associated with it should be conducted by union workers or outsourcing contractors.

For many skilled trades workers, this measure doesn’t go far enough to protect union jobs.

One skilled trade worker in a Facebook post said that the main reason he voted no was because the agreement,”allows GM to outsource all traditional trades work.”

Another concern raised by skilled trades workers is that the new contract promises too few new apprenticeship positions.

According to the union’s summary of the new contract, GM will create 1300 new skilled trade positions of which at least 400 will be new apprenticeships.

There are 8500 skilled trades workers at GM, about 16 percent of the workforce. More than half of these workers are old enough and have enough service time to retire.

It’s only a matter of not-too-much time before these workers retire. Skilled workers are concerned that the new skilled positions and apprentices designated in the contract won’t be enough to keep up with this kind of attrition.

Furthermore, GM in the past reduced the number of skilled trade positions.

The dearth of skilled trade positions both in the present and in the future will make it easier for the company to outsource more work.

During the meetings taking place now between the UAW and GM, these non-economic issues will be on the table.

But what won’t be on the table are economic issues. No matter how the talks turn out, there won’t be any change to the pay, bonuses, and other economic issues such as the $60,000 retirement incentive for eligible production employees negotiated in new collective bargaining agreement.

Before the UAW announced that it would restart talks with GM, skilled trade workers who voted against the agreement were hoping that GM and the union leadership take their concerns seriously.

“The skilled trades side of the agreement is a concessionary agreement,” said Dennis Ybarra, a GM millwright who voted no, to The Detroit News. “I would hope that (the union leadership) would go back to General Motors. There are some serious issues on the skilled trades side.”

UAW members ratify Chrysler contract; tentative deal reached with GM

UAW members have ratified a new collective bargaining agreement with Chrysler. In contrast to an earlier vote in which Chrysler UAW members soundly rejected a tentative agreement, 77 percent voted yes this time around.

Shortly after Chrysler workers ratified the agreement, the union announced that it had reached a tentative agreement with GM.

The new Chrysler collective bargaining agreement addresses some of the criticisms that members raised about the rejected tentative agreement. .

Most significantly, the new collective bargaining agreement creates a path that will gradually eliminates the wide wage differential between workers hired after 2007 and those hired before.

In 2007, when the US auto industry was struggling financially, the UAW agreed to allow GM, Ford, and Chrysler to pay new hires a substantially lower wage than that of workers already on the job, thus creating a two-tiered wage system.

Before bargaining with US auto companies began this year, many UAW members including tier 1 workers told the leadership that equal pay for equal work should be a bargaining priority for the union.

The rejected tentative agreement closed the gap between tier 1 and tier 2 workers, but didn’t eliminate it.

Under the new contract, tier 2 workers with at least four years on the job will be making tier 1 pay by the end of the contract, which expires in 2019.

All other tier 2 workers will reach tier 1 status within eight years.

A small number of workers will remain in tier 2 status. Those hired at Chrysler’s parts division, MOPAR, after the new collective bargaining agreement goes into effect will be paid a tier 2 wage.

Temporary workers will also be paid a tier 2 wage, but the contract contains language that limits the use of temporary workers.

Another difference between the agreement that was rejected and the one that was ratified is that the ratified agreement maintains the workers’ current health care plan, one in which the company pays the full premium and workers’ out of pocket costs for services are much lower than the national average.

The rejected collective bargaining agreement established a health care cooperative that was supposed to replace the current plan, but members were wary that the new cooperative would result in lower benefits and higher costs.

The ratified agreement does require tier 2 workers to pay a $100 deductible for emergency room visits that don’t result in hospital admissions and a $50 deductible for urgent care visits. Tier 1 workers began paying these deductibles in 2011.

The bargaining team told members that it expects health care costs to increase substantially during the four-year period of the contract and that the union and the company would continue to discuss ways to contain costs.

The implementation of the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) excise tax could also affect health care costs in the future.

Because of the ACA, health care plans that pay exceptional benefits like the one at Chrysler will be subject to an excise tax in 2018.

Such a tax could cause workers in these plans to pay more for health care.

The collective bargaining agreement limits the increased cost that workers may have to pay to a maximum deductible of $400 for individuals and $800 for families.

Another concern that caused the original tentative agreement to be rejected was its vague language about how Chrysler would invest the $3.5 billion that the company plans to invest in its US operations.

Not knowing where the money would be invested made workers uneasy about the future stability of their jobs.

The new contract specifies where the new investments will be made.

It identifies four plants where staffing will increase by an estimated total of 2900 workers; 12 plants where the current workforce will be retained, and two plants where the workforce could potentially be reduced by 2856 (Indiana Transmission Plant ll, 450, and Warren Truck Assembly, 2406).

The ratified contract also contains language that strengthens job security protections for skilled trade members and places more restrictions on outsourcing skilled trade work.

Skilled trade workers at Chrysler, electricians, tool and dye makers, millwrights, etc., have been critical of Chrysler’s moves to reduce their work by deskilling and outsourcing it.

The ratified contract reduces the time that outsourcing contractors have to complete a job from 35 to 30 days and gives union representatives more opportunities to review the company’s proposals for outsourcing work.

The company also agrees to add 150 new apprenticeship positions in 2016.

After UAW’s members ratified the revised Chrysler contract, the union turned its attention to GM.

A little before midnight on October 24, the union reached a tentative agreement with GM.

The details of the agreement have not been released.

UAW’s GM negotiating team will present details of the agreement to UAW’s National GM Council in Detroit on Wednesday, October 28.

If the national council, which is composed of local leaders at GM plants, votes to recommend ratification, the union will publish the tentative agreement on its website for members to read and review.

After that, members will have an opportunity to ratify or reject the tentative agreement.

Chrysler workers reject tentative agreement

Chrysler workers rejected a tentative agreement on a new collective bargaining agreement by a wide margin.

Voting began a few days after the UAW and Fiat Chrysler Automobile announced on September 15 that the two sides had reached an agreement on a new contract.

The Detroit Free Press reported on September 19 that UAW President Dennis Williams told a meeting of Chrysler union leaders that he thought that the agreement was “balanced and thoughtful” and that members would ratify it.

But when the results were announced on October 1, 65 percent of the workers had voted no.

The margin of rejection was even higher in some locals. At Chrysler’s Jeep plant in Toledo, Ohio, 87 percent of the production workers and 80 percent of the skilled trades workers voted no.

For many, the new agreement didn’t go far enough toward eliminating the two-tier wage system, which allows Chrysler to pay new production  workers about $10 less an hour than those on the job in 2007.

The union agreed to the two-tier system when Chrysler was on the verge of bankruptcy.

But Chrysler reported a $4.1 billion profit in 2014, and members thought that it was time to start dismantling the two-tier system.

In the spring, Williams said that he wanted new contracts with Ford, GM, and Chrysler to build a bridge toward the elimination of the two-tier system.

But according to its opponents, the tentative agreement was a bridge to nowhere.

“It should be equal pay for equal work,” said Jennifer Daubenmeyer, a tier-two Chrysler worker to the Detroit News. “We’d like to see an opportunity at some point to get to the point to what (the tier-one workers) are making. We’re not asking for it now.”

Daubenmeyer may have had in mind an agreement that Unifor, the Canadian autoworkers’ union, reached with auto companies in Canada that creates a ten-year ladder of pay raises that eventually brings the pay of tier-two workers up to that of tier-one workers.

Instead, the Chrysler pact raised wages of tier-two workers in increments over a four year period, but the raises maxed out $5 an hour less than tier-one workers.

Most tier-two workers would have continued to make substantially less than the tier-two maximum and many would have to wait seven years before they reached the tier-two maximum.

The agreement also created two new tiers for production workers: the tier-two maximum for workers at Chrysler’s Mopar auto parts plant and the company’s axle factory was $3.35 an hour and $3 an hour respectively less than the maximum for other tier-two workers.

In an open letter to Chrysler Chief Executive Officer Sergio Marchionne, Denny Walker Crum, a tier-two worker in Toledo, called the tentative agreement “disrespectful.”

“(Wouldn’t you consider it disrespectful) if your employer told you that after working for seven years, you will still make five dollars an hour less than the person working next to you doing the same job?” asked Crum.  “Is it not disrespectful for the company to tell you that your time is worth less than the person next to you? Is it not disrespectful that one would have to work for three quarters of a decade and STILL isn’t worth the same as their coworkers?”

Other two-tiered workers thought that the new contract would raise many of them to tier-one status and were disappointed when they learned that it did not.

They thought so because a union summary of the 2011 contract said that by 2015, there would be a cap in place that would reduce the percentage of tier-two workers to 25 percent.

Currently, 43 percent of Chrysler’s production workforce are tier-two workers. Many thought that when the cap went into effect, they would be bumped up to tier-one pay.

Despite what the union said in the summary, there was no language in the old contract about setting a cap and the new agreement did not address the issue.

Disappointment with the agreement was not limited to tier-two workers. The nearly two to one rejection margin suggests that many tier-one and skilled trades workers were unhappy with it.

Tier-one workers had gone without a pay raise for a decade, and many were looking for a raise that would recover some of the lost buying power that the wage freeze had cost them.

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, it costs $122 today to buy what $100 bought ten years ago.

But the agreement only called for two 3 percent raises over the four-year span on the agreement and two lump sum payments. Workers also could earn a bit more through production bonuses if they met goals set by the company.

The agreement also did not restore cost of living raises that workers gave up to keep Chrysler solvent.

The agreement established a new health care cooperative to replace workers’ health care benefit, and there was concern among members that the new cooperative would soon start charging workers more for health care.

Finally, the agreement said that Chrysler would invest $3.5 billion in its US facilities, but there was no specific language that identified how the money would be spent.

Workers were concerned that the vague language would allow Chrysler to move work to other locations, which would cost some workers their jobs. Workers are also expecting Chrysler to shift some work now being done in the US to Mexico.

Skilled trade workers such as tool and die makers, millwrights, electricians, etc., were wary of Chrysler’s past practices of taking away their work by deskilling jobs and outsourcing work. The agreement did little to address these concerns.

On the Monday after the union announced the rejection, Chrysler and the UAW resumed negotiations.

In his open letter, Crum urged Williams to come back with a better offer.

“Please do what a union is supposed to do,” wrote Crum. “Get us equal pay for equal work.”

Philadelphia teachers and supporters protest governor’s attack on public schools

Thousands of Philadelphia teachers, students, and parents on October 16 marched to a meeting of the School Reform Commission (SRC) to demand that the commission reverse its decision to unilaterally nullify its collective bargaining agreement with the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers (PFT).

The SRC is a state commission that has been administering Philadelphia’s public schools for 13 years. A majority of its members have been appointed by Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett.

The SRC and PFT had been negotiating a new collective bargaining agreement for nearly two years. To help ease a budget shortfall resulting from cutbacks in state funding to Philadelphia schools, PFT offered to make concessions worth $100 million over two years, but that was not enough for the SRC.

“The PFT put proposals on the table and the (SRC) instead of considering those proposals in good faith went around the teachers’ union because they want to undermine the PFT,” said Tamala Montgomery, an elementary school teacher.

The latest attack on the PFT is a another in a series of measures undertaken by Gov. Corbett to weaken the teachers’ union and underfund public education in Philadelphia.

Gov. Corbett was elected in 2010 and since 2011, he has presided over a downsizing of public school funding. In 2011, he reduced state funding for public schools by $1 billion. Since then, only a small fraction of those cuts have been restored.

Philadelphia and other low-income school districts have been hit hardest by the budget cuts.

In a report issued in April, the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center (PCBPC) says that “the scale of recent funding cuts in Philadelphia and other low-income districts has been unprecedented. Since 2011 Philadelphia has experienced a $294 million drop in state school funding.”

The report goes on to say that Philadelphia has 12 percent of the state’s public school students, but absorbed 35 percent of Gov. Corbett’s public education budget cuts.

While Gov. Corbett has been underfunding public schools, he has been more generous to his corporate allies. The PBPC reports that during his tenure, the governor succeeded in reducing corporate taxes by $3 billion, almost one-third of the pre-K to 12 state budget.

He also funneled more state money to charter schools and private schools that receive state vouchers.

Because PFT and the SRC were unable to reach agreement on a new contract, Gov. Corbett withheld $45 million in state funding for the 2014-2015 school year.

As a result, 400 positions for teachers, librarians, assistant principals, counselors, and nurses were eliminated.

The result has been crowded classrooms and fewer support services for students.

The governor’s decision proved deadly for Laporcha Massey, a sixth grade student at Bryant Elementary.

Laporcha died of an asthma attack. She started feeling ill at school but because of the withheld $45 million and previous budget cuts, there was no nurse on duty at her school to treat her.

A group of civil rights leaders wrote a letter urging the governor to reverse himself and release the withheld $45 million.

“Depriving students of access to teachers, nurses, librarians, and guidance counselors should never be used as a bargaining chip in school-funding negotiations,” said Wade Henderson, president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.

Gov. Corbett on October 17 finally agreed to release the $45 million, and Philadelphia school leaders said that the 400 positions would be filled as soon as possible.

During the collective bargaining negotiations, Gov. Corbett and the SRC sought work rule changes that the teachers union said would affect the quality of education that students receive. For example, under the contract in effect prior to SRC’s power play, there were limits on class sizes. SRC wanted to eliminate these limits and expand the size of classes.

SRC also wanted to reduce the number of professionals providing services to students such as guidance counselors, librarians, and nurses.

The concessions demanded by SRC affect the quality of education in other ways.

“These health care givebacks are not even coming close to providing what we actually need to actually provide a quality education,” said Charlie McGeehan, a high school teacher.

The health care givebacks that McGeehan refers to include higher health care premiums deducted from paychecks and higher deductibles, co-pays, and co-insurance for medical treatment.

After SRC announced that it would be imposing these and other concessions, PFT attorneys filed motions in court to stop SRC’s unilateral action.

On October 20, Judge Nina Wright Padilla ruled in favor of PFT on one of its motions by granting a temporary injunction that for the time being prevents SRC from implementing the health care changes.

“Today’s decision, for the moment, means PFT members can keep their current health care coverage without having to participate in the district’s open enrollment process,” said Jerry Jordan, PFT president, in a statement about Judge Padilla’s ruling.