The Philadelphia School Reform Commission's nearly two-year battle to cancel the city teachers' union contract and impose new work rules to save money was soundly defeated again Monday.
The state Supreme Court upheld a lower court decision last January that blocked the five-member commission from forcing terms on the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers.
Union leaders called the ruling a rebuke of a power grab, and a spokesman for the commission and Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. said no further legal action would be taken.
"We hold, at least insofar as teachers are concerned, that collective bargaining agreements are 'teachers' contracts' which are excepted from a school reform commission's cancellation powers," five justices wrote in an opinion.
PFT president Jerry Jordan said the ruling was a long time in coming for his 11,500-member union, which includes teachers, counselors, nurses, secretaries, and others.
The ruling "certainly substantiates the arguments that we have made for the last two years," Jordan said. "This Supreme Court decision is a total and complete repudiation of the position taken by Dr. Hite and the reform commission."
Reached Monday, Kevin Geary, the district's chief of external relations, said the district was disappointed by the ruling.
"We will continue to work to end our impasse so we can offer teachers a fair contract, one that includes work rules changes, and also reflects the fiscal reality of the School District's projected future budget deficits," he said. Geary said the commission's legal fight over the contract was over.
The SRC voted unanimously to cancel the contract in October 2014 after 21 months of negotiations. The commission said it had wanted to save $54 million that year by requiring union members for the first time to pay part of the cost of their medical plans, among other changes.
But in October 2014 and January 2015, judges in Common Pleas Court and Commonwealth Court blocked the commission from acting, saying it overstepped its authority in imposing new work rules. Monday's decision amounted to strike three.
Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, said: "After two years and three court decisions ruling against them, we hope that the SRC has now learned that even Act 46 presumes what is required for good public schools is to work with your employees by bargaining in good faith negotiations, not brute and dictatorial actions."
Act 46 is the law state officials used in 2001 to create the commission after taking control of the financially and academically struggling School District.
"The costs to the taxpayers just in the sheer number of attorneys and law firms hired to advance this fruitless strategy is truly breathtaking," Jordan said.
"It is time now for the district to negotiate a new contract with the PFT. Our educators and schoolchildren can't wait any longer."
The PFT's contract expired Aug. 31, 2013. Its members have been working since then under the terms of that contract.
In leading the commission to vote to cancel the contract and impose new terms in 2014, then-SRC Chairman Bill Green said: "Every single stakeholder has stepped up to help the district close its structural deficit. . . . It is time for the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers to share in the sacrifice."
When asked Monday how he could justify his members' not paying anything for their health-care coverage, Jordan responded, "It's not a matter of justifying it, it's a matter of collective bargaining. You bargain at the table."