Neshaminy teachers to strike til Jan. 20

The 654-member Neshaminy Federation of Teachers plan to stay out on strike until Jan. 20, or until the school district resumes “meaningful” negotiations, a union spokesman said Thursday morning.

“We will exercise our right to strike until the state Department of Education tells us to go back, or until the district engages us in solid, meaningful negotiations,” Bob Schiers said.  

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Striking teachers picket outside Oliver Heckman Elementary School in Langhorne on Tuesday. (Bill Reed/Staff)

The Education Department notified both sides Wednesday that teachers must return to work Jan. 20 to conform with Act 88, which guarantees 180 days of classes for the district’s 7,000 students.        

The teachers were not in their classrooms Thursday for the fourth straight day, but they do plan to show up for the 6 p.m. negotiating session that was scheduled last month. They may be alone outside Maple Point Middle School, though, because the school board has suspended the talks while the teachers remain on strike.

“If the teachers are back to work, we’ll be there,” board President Richie Webb said at Tuesday’s board meeting, which was packed by 775 supporters of both sides. “If not, we won’t be there.”

The board “won’t negotiate in a hostile environment like this,” Webb said on the first day of the strike. “They’re using our children as pawns – hostages, if you will – to hold a hammer over my head in negotiations.”

Because of the board’s position, state mediator John Cairns canceled the negotiating session late Wednesday afternoon, Webb said Thursday morning.

The NFT’s Schiers responded: “There’s no law that says they can’t meet with us. We’ll be there.”  

Union leaders have said they were not surprised by the board’s suspension of the talks in response to the strike. But their focus much of the week has been on getting board negotiators back to the table as the only way to end the 3 ½-year contract impasse.

“We are hopeful that the district heard the overwhelming voice of the Neshaminy community at [Tuesday] night’s board meeting urging both sides to negotiate, and for the sake of the students, they will swallow their pride, roll up their sleeves and get down to serious discussions with us [Thursday] evening,” NFT President Louise Boyd said Wednesday in a statement.

The audience at Tuesday’s meeting was split, with teachers and their supporters chanting “Negotiate” and opponents shouting “Teach our kids.” Many of those who spoke during the public comment portion of the meeting urged both sides to negotiate in good faith, but a few agreed with the board’s suspension of the talks.

The strike “is a reprehensible action,” said Stephen Pirritano of Feasterville. “You don’t negotiate with those who do us harm.”

Teacher Cara DeLorenzo scrapped her prepared remarks to tone down the rhetoric.

“Everyone is to blame,” DeLorenzo said. “Everyone is pointing fingers. Everyone should put up a white flag and talk until it’s done.”

Union members are scheduled to show up at the district offices at Maple Point at 5:30 p.m. as a show of solidarity. The negotiating sessions are closed to the public.

If there are no talks, union leaders will conduct a press conference, Schiers said.

The next session, scheduled for Jan. 26, could convene if teachers follow the state’s Jan. 20 deadline to return to work.