Teachers prepare to strike
By SHERI GASSAWAY
The St. Louis Archdiocese is attempting to destroy its teachers’ union by trying to force its own so-called “contract” on educators and threatening their jobs if they don’t sign them – an effort that is totally in conflict with the church’s position in support of unions.
In response, the St. Louis Labor Council has passed a resolution demanding the Archdiocese go back to the bargaining table and negotiate with the teachers’ bargaining agent, the St. Louis Archdiocesan Teachers Association (SLATA) which represents teachers in five local Catholic high schools.
The resolution, passed at the Council’s March 11 executive board meeting, also asks the Archdiocese to cease individualized teacher contracts until a master Labor agreement is reached recognizing SLATA as the teachers’ continued bargaining representative.
Carrying handmade signs and rosaries, teachers joined parents and students for a prayer rally and mass Sunday, March 27, at the Cathedral Basilica on Lindell Boulevard, calling on the Archdiocese to stop its union-busting and reconvene negotiations.
‘STONEWALLED BY THE ARCHDIOCESE’
“We all believe that people should be able to unionize and collectively bargain with whatever the entity is,” said Labor Council President Pat White. “The teachers are basically being stonewalled by the Archdiocese. It is trying to take away some of the teachers’ rights, and it’s pretty unbelievable.”
SLATA represents educators at Cardinal Ritter College Preparatory, Bishop DuBourg, Rosati-Kain, St. Mary’s and St. Pius X high schools.
“The words of the Archdiocese say they’re willing to negotiate with us about the issues at hand, but their actions seem to say otherwise and don’t seem to be in good faith,” SLATA President Kathryn Williams-Heese said at Sunday’s rally.
Williams-Heese warned parents and students about the need to “call out sick,” and that came to pass Monday as classes were canceled at Bishop DuBourg, Rosati-Kain and St. Mary’s high schools
“The teachers want to be with our students; we want to teach in our schools,” she said. “But one of the primary lessons we teach students is treating everyone with dignity and respect. Due to the actions by their employer, the Archdiocese and ultimately Archbishop Rozanski, your teachers have not been afforded this dignity and respect.”
On Monday, Williams-Hesse said the Archdiocese had agreed to meet with the union on March 30 – the day before the teachers’ contracts for the next school year are due. SLATA requested a later deadline, she said, but the Archdiocese had not responded.
Rebecca Nagel, a SLATA spokesperson who attended the March 11 executive board meeting to explain the teachers’ predicament and ask the council for its support said SLATA has had a collaborative relationship with the Archdiocese over the last 50 years, but contract negotiations were very different this year.
She said 90 percent of the teachers rejected the last contract proposal.
“Immediately, the Archdiocese issued contracts for next year, and they do not have valid Labor-Management agreements attached,” Nagal said. “They’re trying to just pretend we don’t exist. Of course, this is objectionable, and it’s hurtful because we have been the ones that help them do their missions with young people.”
The individualized contracts, which were different from the “last and final” contract rejected by teachers, instituted a new Archdiocese organization to replace SLATA, completely ignoring the existence of the organization. The new contracts were hand-delivered to teachers earlier this month with the warning that teachers were expected to sign and return them by March 31 or their position is considered “open.”
Specifically, the last contract proposal rejected by the teachers:
- Did not include a procedure for placing educators in the event of a school closure or consolidation.
- Eliminated seniority within the system.
- Eliminated a functional grievance process.
- Cut off early retirement incentives.
- Proposed pay scale changes with limited impact to certain teachers.
YOUR HELP IS NEEDED
SLATA is encouraging supporters to write emails to Archbishop Rozanski (email@example.com) and Dr. Todd Sweda (ToddSweda@archstl.org), the superintendent of Catholic Schools urging them to return to the bargaining table and continue negotiating with the teachers until they reach a fair contract.
SIGN UP FOR UPDATES
SLATA is also encouraging supporters to share information about the contract dispute with others in their churches, schools and neighborhood communities by inviting them to sign up for updates at bit.ly/SLATA.