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August 16, 2016

Pa. Supreme Court rules SRC illegally canceled teacher's union contract

Philadelphia Federation of Teachers gets decisive victory in lengthy legal battle

Courts Education
School District of Philadelphia headquarters Thom Carroll/PhillyVoice

The School District of Philadelphia headquarters on North Broad Street.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled on Monday that Philadelphia's School Reform Commission acted illegally when it canceled its contract with the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers in 2014.

Chief Justice Thomas Saylor wrote in the court's unanimous decision that the lengthy battle and appeals process hinges on the statutory definition of contracts as they pertain to collective bargaining rights.

"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," Saylor wrote.

The SRC's action in October 2014 sparked outrage and protests after teacher's union health benefits were modified and thousands of educators were left in limbo under an expired contract that has frozen salaries ever since. At the time, the SRC said its decision was driven by the school district's dire financial circumstances.

In a statement obtained by Newsworks, the SRC said that the ruling does not have any immediate financial ramifications.

“We are disappointed with this ruling,” said district spokesman Kevin Geary. “When the lawsuit was filed in 2014, the school district was enjoined from moving ahead with changes so there is no financial impact to the district or to teachers, all proposed health care changes were also enjoined at that time. This ruling does not change our stated goal of achieving new and fair labor agreements with all of our unions in 2016.”

Jerry Jordan, president of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, said that he hopes Monday's decision will make room for progress in contract negotiations.

“My hope is that we will now finally get to the table with the school district who will be serious about negotiating a contract and moving forward."