Washington DC teachers, school system facing impasse three years after contract expired

The Washington Teachers Union (WTU) and the District of Columbia Public Schools System (DCPS) were unable to reach an agreement on the terms of a new contract, leaving teachers to continue working without contracts after expiry of the previous contract. three years ago.

About 4,000 teachers in the Washington D.C. public school system have been without a contract since 2019. The contract sets terms for in-service teacher training, base pay, overtime pay, and class size limits for each class. Teachers stopped receiving base salary increases after the contract expired, although they continued to receive increases based on seniority.

According to an article published on July 8 in the Washington Post“[t]The two parties have had ongoing meetings every week for the past three years to negotiate the contract,” but could not reach an agreement.

The article reflects the attitudes of businesses and the political establishment in Washington D.C. who worry about the economic consequences if teachers, who face stagnant and declining living conditions amid record inflation, were to assert aggressively their social interests.

Last month, teachers rallied in the John A. Wilson Building, the DC Legislature, demanding pay raises to meet the steadily rising cost of living, brought on by inflation and the cut in class size. This wasn’t the first time DC teachers protested for better pay; in January, substitute teachers gathered outside the building due to the meager pay of “long-term, non-retired substitute teachers,” according to the WJLA. This essentially works out to $15 an hour, which is 60% less than that of retired teachers.

The Job the article states, “The school system is currently negotiating contracts with three different labor groups, with all salary increases and changes coming from the same pool of money.” In addition to teachers, the school system has previously settled negotiations with the principals’ union, the Council of School Officers.

Although DCPS Chancellor Lewis D. Ferebee cited pay as a sticking point with teachers, he remained silent on the specifics of the negotiations. “I don’t think we’re that far apart and I’m still hoping we get there,” he told the Job.

WTU President Jacqueline Pogue Lyons, for her part, played down wages as a sticking point in the negotiations. Lyons claimed that “the remaining disagreements are not about money, but rather about the time teachers have to plan lessons and mark assignments each week,” said the Job.

Currently, teachers have 225 minutes per week to plan their lessons. Some of that planning time has been swallowed up by pandemic conditions, in which teachers have to “catch up on what’s been lost during the pandemic,” Lyons said.

The minimization of compensation by Lyons is significant. The median salary for a public school teacher, according to salary.com, is $61,215, and as inflation and high gas and food prices continue to wreak havoc on workers’ incomes , purchasing power declines rapidly.

According to the career guidance website zippia, “The cost of living in Washington is 51% higher than the national average. The national average salary is $56,310, so a good salary in Washington is over $85,028 by this measure.

What DCPS and WTU agree on, however, is the need to suppress class struggle, however it may manifest in the District of Columbia.

Clear evidence of this is the collaboration of WTU and DCPS to reopen schools in person in 2021. Although COVID-19 continues to spread and escalate, WTU and DCPS have developed a plan to reopen schools public in the spring.

The decision was unscientific, based on the now entirely discredited notion that COVID-19 does not spread in schools. This deal was strongly opposed by DC teachers, who insisted on the remote learning option.

The Job is obligated to take note of the WTU’s decision to trade off the health and safety of its members. He writes that “deliberations on the employment contract overlapped with months of publicly contentious negotiations in 2020 and 2021 over how to safely reopen school buildings during the pandemic, on which the two groups ultimately reached agreements. agreements”.

Unease in the political establishment over the prospect of a teacher walkout boiled over in February 2021. Then DC Democratic Mayor Muriel Bowser filed an emergency motion barring the union from participating in any strikes. and effectively blocking attempts by teachers to further halt reopening plans. .

This plan was put in place in an effort to avoid a potential walkout by DC teachers in solidarity with their fellow teachers in Philadelphia and Chicago. As the World Socialist Website wrote at the time: “The WTU, like the [Chicago Teachers’ Union] in Chicago, is trying to exhaust teachers’ massive opposition to reopening schools and will isolate any strike that breaks out.

In May, the Job reported that “4,698 DC public school students have been identified as close contact with someone who tested positive in the past 10 days.” Although COVID numbers in DC and the Mid-Atlantic region have declined from their peaks in late May, the pandemic continues to be a serious threat and as long as teachers, students and staff are forced to return to a “normal” routine, their lives continue to be threatened.

Nationally, it was reported in late April that three-quarters of all children, along with 50% of adults, had tested positive for COVID-19, cruelly disproving the lie that it does not spread. in the classrooms. At the same time, the WSWS noted a significant delay in the district’s reporting of COVID-19 numbers, which lasted two weeks and has yet to be explained.

Many teachers, overworked and underpaid, especially in the midst of the pandemic, quit their jobs in response to the drive of the ruling class and its accomplices in the union bureaucracy to bring children together in schools in order to force workers back to work. As more intense pressures are brought to bear on these teachers, as noted in a WSWS article from late May this year, burnout and stress become bigger issues.

Teachers and school staff need to learn from these developments. The WTU will not help them in the wake of runaway inflation. Teachers must form rank-and-file committees and take the fight into their own hands.

These committees must partner with other sections of workers who are coming into struggle in the region, first and foremost with Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority workers who are facing cuts to services and jobs due to attempts authorities to resolve a fiscal crisis.

The COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically intensified the attacks on the living conditions of the working class. However, stopping the pandemic is not primarily a medical issue but requires a political struggle by the working class against the capitalist system, which subordinates health like all other social issues to the pursuit of private profit.

Workers must mobilize across the country and around the world to fight for the elimination and ultimate eradication of COVID-19. This is only possible on the basis of a mass movement of the global working class, fighting for a socialist society based on the good of all, and not on the profits of a few elites.

Jeremy S. McLain