Hughes: Revoke SRC's power to break union contracts

State Sen. Vincent Hughes will introduce legislation today that would end the Philadelphia School Reform Commission’s power to terminate its collective bargaining agreements.

The move comes in response to the SRC’s promise to cancel contracts and impose terms on its five unions if they do not agree to $75 million in givebacks to help bridge the Philadelphia School District’s massive budget gap.

Hughes, in an interview, said that terminating union contracts sends the wrong message.

“It’s our basic belief that a contract is a contract; it’s an agreement that needs to be fulfilled,” Hughes said.  “The unilateral termination of that is really unacceptable and starts to march the school district and I think labor relations down the wrong track.”

Hughes said the SRC’s extraordinary powers to cancel union contracts fly in the face of “good solid labor relations that have existed her in Pennsylvania for decades.”

Hughes and Sen. Christine Tartaglione (D., Phila.) are the lead sponsors for the Senate version of the bill; in the House, Rep. James Roebuck (D., Phila.) is the lead sponsor.

Hughes said he belives the bill has a strong shot at success.

“We have a number of members who have already indicated support for the measure,” he said.

Late last month, the SRC passed a budget that banked on $75 million in savings from the district’s five labor unions.  The Philadelphia Federation of Teachers is the largest of those, and its president, Jerry Jordan, has said he will not negotiate with the district.  PFT members have been under a wage freeze and should not have to give more, Jordan said.

The SRC has set June 30 as the deadline for the savings.  It passed a resolution saying it will, if asked by Superintendent Arlene C. Ackerman, break the contracts on that date if the savings is not realized.

In a separate matter, the PFT is now in court over a battle to exempt 200 teachers at the district’s Promise Academies — overhauled district schools — from layoffs. 

Hughes said that those teachers should not be immune from layoffs unless the PFT agrees to it.