Philly Union Contract Underscores Need for Transparency

On Monday evening, members of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers (PFT) voted to approve a new labor contract with the School District of Philadelphia. Scant details have emerged on the substance of the agreement, leaving Pennsylvania residents largely in the dark about what it means for Philadelphia’s struggling schools.

Kristen Graham of the Philadelphia Daily News unearthed a few unofficial details about the agreement, which may be expensive enough to necessitate teacher layoffs:

The pact will cost the Philadelphia School District $395 million — $245 million more than it has budgeted for — with no clear path to pay for it. A source close to the talks said it could eventually force district layoffs without additional revenues.

The deal between the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers and school system would give almost 12,000 teachers, counselors, nurses, secretaries, aides, and other school workers salary increases over the life of the three-year contract, which would also restore “steps,” or pay for years of experience, and compensation for advanced degrees.

The closed-door negotiations between the union and the school district—ongoing for more than four years—are emblematic of a need for greater contract transparency. Sen. Pat Stefano’s SB 168, which awaits action from the full state Senate, would have demanded more transparency from union leaders and Philadelphia district officials.

The bill requires that proposed labor contracts for all levels of government be made available online, and that a tentative agreement be posted online two weeks prior and thirty days following the signing of a contract. SB 503, sponsored by Sen. Ryan Aument, and SB 504, sponsored by Sen. Scott Martin, would subject contract negotiations to Pennsylvania’s Sunshine Act, as well as the state’s Right to Know law, respectively.

Without these important reforms, taxpayers aren’t privy to a contract’s terms before it’s approved—even though taxpayers are the ones footing the bill.


The closed-door negotiations between the union and the school district—ongoing for more than four years—are emblematic of a need for greater contract transparency.


Here are a few more rumored details on Philadelphia teacher salaries under the new contract, from the Daily News:

Pay for teachers at the top of the pay scale: Teachers already at the top of the pay scale would receive a lump-sum payment for 3 percent of their base salary within 30 days of contract ratification. They would get a 4 percent one-time payment in September, a 4 percent payment in 2018, and both a 2 percent increase and 2 percent lump-sum payment in 2019.

Pay for all other teachers: Teachers still on the district’s step system compensating years of experience who were hired before Sept. 1, 2016, would immediately advance a step and be paid a lump sum for the difference in pay for the term of one school year. They would advance another step in September, then another one in 2018. In 2019, they would jump one step and get a 2 percent across-the-board pay raise. Those who were hired prior to Sept. 1, 2014, would move another step. In 2020, those hired before Sept. 1, 2015, would advance another step.

The agreement also stipulates that teachers begin contributing 1.25 percent of salary toward health coverage—more than the 0 percent they used to contribute, but far less than the average contribution of typical employees who receive insurance through their employer.

Per Graham, the PFT successfully fought against a longer school day. Even more interesting: union president Jerry Jordan successfully blocked bonuses for teachers in certain schools and of certain subject matters: 

Not in the deal are bonuses for teachers who work in hard-to-staff schools and subject areas such as science, foreign language, and special education. The district had campaigned for those, but Jordan held firm. He said that with limited fiscal resources, the money was better spent spread among all members.

It is unknown whether release time language remains in the new labor contract. This is the provision authorizing ghost teaching—whereby union leaders take teachers out of the classroom to work full-time for the union, while the former teacher remains on district payroll, accrues seniority, and earns pension credit.

In fact, PFT president Jerry Jordan has been a ghost teacher for more than 30 years. Notably, the newest member of the School Reform Commission, Estelle Richman, is on record being opposed to ghost teaching.

Because state law mandates that teacher seniority is the determining factor in the event of layoffs and recalls, Philadelphia ghost teachers—former teachers who are not currently in the classroom—are protected in favor of higher-performing teachers with less seniority.

Despite shouldering the costs of union contracts, taxpayers across the commonwealth remain shut out of the negotiation process. No longer can we allow multi-million dollar contracts to be hammered out behind closed doors. Shedding more light on collective bargaining—with reforms like SB 168, SB 503, and SB 504—would ensure that contracts are fair to public employees and taxpayers alike.