A Jewish day school in Philadelphia decided to discontinue employing its teachers through a union contract, forcing the staff to give up collective bargaining and other union benefits.
The Perelman Jewish Day School informed its 55 teachers on Monday night that once their union contract expires this summer, it will not be renewed. The school’s board told teachers they would be offered a contract for the next school year which will be negotiated individually. The board described the move as a “transition the management of our faculty from a union model governed by a collective bargaining agreement to an independent model.”
The Perelman Day School, part of the Conservative movement’s Solomon Schechter network, teaches more than 300 children, from kindergarten to 5th grade in two campuses in the Philadelphia area.
The decision to cut union contracts caught both teachers and parents by surprise. In a Thursday night emergency meeting of the unionized teachers, who are organized through the American Federation of Teachers, a resolution was adopted rejecting the school’s move.
“We are disappointed and deeply saddened by the board’s actions,” said union president Lisa Richman in a press release. “We remain committed to an open dialogue with the board and administration, not as weak individuals, but as strong union educators.” The union’s resolution states that it “categorically rejects” the terms offered by the school board.
The school says it consulted with legal advisers and it is all legal. The union said they believe the move “violates National Labor Relations Act.”
In an email to parents and in a detailed document posted on the school website, Perelman’s board argued that “removing tenure and seniority,” will provide the school administrator with more flexibility in recruiting and retaining excellent teachers. The school board argued that the move is not a first step toward firing teachers and added that it is in compliance with Jewish values.
Some parents, communicating on Facebook about the decision, seemed dismayed with the move and with the lack of consultation before making the decision. Jesse Bacon, a father of a kindergarten student, told the Forward that as a Jewish school he would have expected the board to act according to Jewish values, as interpreted by the Conservative movement, that recognize the right of collective bargaining.
The school’s board president did not respond to the Forward’s request for comment.
Nathan Guttman, staff writer, is the Forward’s Washington bureau chief. He joined the staff in 2006 after serving for five years as Washington correspondent for the Israeli dailies Haaretz and The Jerusalem Post. In Israel, he was the features editor for Ha’aretz and chief editor of Channel 1 TV evening news. He was born in Canada and grew up in Israel. He is a graduate of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.