By SHERI GASSAWAY
The St. Louis Archdiocesan Teachers Association (SLATA) overwhelmingly approved a new contract agreement last week with the St. Louis Archdiocese that includes fair raises for all teachers and the reinstatement of their grievance process and seniority system.
This, after more than eight months of often contentious negotiations with the Archdiocese, which led to the rejection of its March 10 proposed contract by over 90 percent of the teachers. Finally, after consistent community pressure, the Archdiocese agreed to come back to the table to negotiate and a second contract was proposed.
The new three-year Labor-management agreement was approved April 12. The contract:
- Reinstates the teachers’ grievance process with a neutral arbitrator as a final step.
- Reinstates the seniority system across all schools.
- Maintains the improved pay scale with adjustments made for previously adversely affected teachers.
AFFIRMATION OF OUR DIGNITY
“If the teachers have learned anything through this process, it is that the administrators of the Archdiocese are initially willing to make decrees contrary to the needs expressed by the communities they are affecting,” said SLATA President Kathryn Williams-Heese.
“However, we have also learned that by standing together, whether that be with signs in our hands, letter writing or through sending email after email to the people in power, we can effect change that meets our community’s needs,” she said. “Your affirmation of our dignity was, and will continue to be, a needed voice in the challenges that lie ahead.”
OUTPOURING OF COMMUNITY SUPPORT
Last month, the Archdiocese tried to force its own so-called “contracts” on educators and threatened their jobs if they didn’t sign them – an effort that is totally in conflict with the church’s position in support of unions.
In response, SLATA received an outpouring of community support including a St. Louis Labor Council resolution demanding the Archdiocese go back to the bargaining table, a March 27 prayer rally and mass and a March 28 “sick out” at three of the high schools, which prompted students to hold their own rally in front of the Cathedral Basilica.
‘BEHIND THEM 100 PERCENT’
“We are pleased that the teachers have come to agreement, and we have been behind them 100 percent the whole time,” said Labor Council President Pat White. “After talking to the leadership of their union and realizing how much the Archdiocese was trying to take away, we decided to get involved.”
AN ETHICAL, MORAL, SPIRITUAL ISSUE
Byron Clemens, spokesperson for AFT St. Louis, Local 420, which represents St. Louis Public Schools teachers, posted a message to the SLATA teachers congratulating them on their win:
“Our heartfelt congratulations on successful negotiations. We recognize union educators (and other unions) and the struggles we all share in common. We truly believe that ‘an injury to one is an injury to all.’ Please keep in touch And we can pick up the conversation at any time.
“P.S. What a great lesson in Social Justice for your students and our community. When they learn about other workers’ struggles at Starbucks, McDonald’s, Amazon, Coal Miners pensions, it may resonate as an ethical, moral, even spiritual issue.”
SLATA represents about 120 educators at Cardinal Ritter College Preparatory, Bishop DuBourg, Rosati-Kain, St. Mary’s and St. Pius X high schools. Negotiations on a new three-year contract began in October. The teacher’s current contract expired March 4.
About 90 percent of teachers rejected the Archdiocese’s last contract offer and asked the Archdiocese for continued negotiations. Specifically, the contract:
- Did not include a procedure for placing educators in the event of a school closure or consolidation. The Archdiocese is planning a major reorganization of Catholic schools based on declining enrollment.
- Proposed meager raises to less experienced teachers and pay cuts to the most experienced teachers with master’s degrees by as much as $7,320 a year.
- Eliminated seniority within the system.
- Eliminated a functional grievance process.
- Cut off early retirement incentives.
After teachers rejected the contract, the Archdiocese hand-delivered individualized contracts, which were different from the last contract they voted on. The new contracts instituted a new Archdiocese organization to replace SLATA, completely ignoring the existence of the organization.
The teachers rejected the contract, took their message parents and the Labor community, and proved there is strength in solidarity, and strength in a union.