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Judge temporarily blocks school strike

(Published January 24, 2000)

By EMORY JULIAN MILLS and KATHRYN SINZINGER

Staff Writers

A court order has at least temporarily averted a strike that threatened to close the city’s public schools on Jan. 24. Teamsters Locals 639 and 730 have agreed to comply with a temporary restraining order prohibiting them from striking against D.C. Public Schools until at least Jan. 31.

Rick Dade, president of Local 730, vowed that while his union would comply with D.C. Superior Court Judge Tim Murphy’s restraining order, which was issued Jan.21, the Teamsters would contest the motion for a permanent injunction against striking. He said that absent the judge’s order, a strike would be legal.

"We didn’t waive our right to strike," Dade said. "Why is it that everyone else in the city can get raises but yet they neglect the blue collar workers for being DCPS?"

The two unions, which represent about 1,700 non-teaching public school workers, negotiate a joint contract with DCPS but have been working without a contract since 1993, according to Barry Tolliver, business agent for Local 730.

Tolliver expressed frustration that "every time DCPS gets someone in place to negotiate (a new contract), that person leaves."

Union leaders recently asked the school system to pay their members the same $1,700 bonus that Mayor Anthony A. Williams gave some other unionized city employees last month, as well as a $100 bonus and 3.7 percent and 3.8 percent wage increases those same workers received in recent years. The union leaders originally gave the school system until Jan. 14 to meet their demands.

School Superintendent Arlene Ackerman and the city filed motions for the temporary restraining order as well as a preliminary injunction against the Teamsters on Jan. 21. A hearing on the injunction is scheduled for Jan. 27 before D.C. Superior Court Judge Joan Zeldon.

"Our goal has always been to work toward a reasonable compromise, which does not deprive our children of valuable instructional time," Ackerman said. "We are committed to working through the proper governance channels toward obtaining funding for the $1,700 bonus and will address the wage increases through our professional negotiations process scheduled to begin as soon as the date is confirmed by the Teamsters."

School officials said those negotiations were tentatively set to begin at 2 p.m. Jan. 24.

Philip Feaster, president of Local 639, said, the unions were "always willing to negotiate" the contract for 1999-2002 but were unwilling to negotiate whether or not the unions would receive back wages.

Mayor Williams, speaking Jan. 20 on WTOP’s "Ask the Mayor" program, said he believes the Teamsters’ demands for bonuses and wage increases need to properly be addressed as part of contract negotiations rather than outside that process.

Mayoral spokeswoman Peggy Armstrong said the nearly 6,000 city workers who received the $1,700 bonuses in December belong to eight unions that "had the foresight to write a provision into their last contract, negotiated under the Barry administration, that required the city to pay the bonuses if there was a surplus" in the city’s budget. The bonus was intended to make up for years of furloughs and other financial sacrifices by city workers while the city was in the throes of its financial crisis. Armstrong said no public school employees received the bonuses.

School officials sought the temporary restraining order Jan. 21 when it appeared certain Teamsters members would vote to strike at a Jan. 22 meeting. Officials expect that members of the Washington Teachers Union and School Officers Local 4, which represents building principals, would observe union tradition by refusing to cross Teamsters’ picket lines if the unions go on strike.

Superintendent Ackerman issued a memo to all school employees Jan. 21 informing them that they would be fired if they refused to report for work Jan. 24 as part of a union action. Ackerman also sent a letter to students’ parents to inform them of the union dispute.

Copyright 2000, The Common Denominator