Teacher Union Attorney Ralph Teti Comments on Moving Court Location in Dispute with School Reform Commission
October 19, 2014
Teachers Union Goes to Court to Block School Reform Commission Action (philly.com)
By Regina Medina, Daily News
The Philadelphia Federation of Teachers filed several legal motions Thursday in response to the School Reform Commission's decision last week to cancel its contract.
After that Oct. 6 announcement, the district and its co-plaintiff, the Department of Education, sought to affirm the SRC's right to cancel the contract by filing a request for declaratory judgment in Commonwealth Court.
But the PFT, through its lawyers with the Center City law firm of Willig, Williams & Davidson, have asked the court to change the venue from Commonwealth Court to Common Pleas Court, where they contend the case rightfully belongs.
In addition, the PFT's lawyers are seeking a preliminary injunction to stay all changes to members' health-care plans until the matter is resolved and also have asked that the matter be resolved in 60 days.
Meanwhile, the union also filed a grievance with the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board challenging the SRC's unilateral changes and bad faith bargaining. In response to the filings, district spokesman Fernando Gallard said, "We are in agreement that our differences should be resolved through negotiations. We have said so many times publicly while waiting the three-and-a-half months since July 1 for a meaningful counter proposal from the PFT."
District officials have said the changes in benefits resulting from the nixed contract will save about $44 million this year and $200 million over the next four years. They say the savings will be redirected to schools for key resources, such as counselors and nurses.
In court documents, the union claims the Pennsylvania Department of Education should not be a party in the dispute with the district and, therefore, the Commonwealth Court is not the venue to hear the case.
"Common Pleas Court is the court where the School District of Philadelphia is located," said PFT lawyer Ralph Teti, with Willig, Williams & Davidson.
"We see this as a flagrant effort to 'forum shop,' bringing it to a court they have no business being in," he said. "We're sort of puzzled. The Department of Education is not a party to our collective bargaining agreement. [They] don't sign off on decisions."
The teachers union, which represents 16,000 members, contends that either Common Pleas Court, the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board or a labor arbitrator should hear the case - and in a timely fashion.
"We don't want this to drag on," Teti said. "What the SRC did has absolutely no [legal] support. Zip."