SEIU abruptly calls off strike by 2,000 Philadelphia school workers in abject capitulation to school officials and the Democratic Party

Screenshot of the SEIU live stream after the strike vote, August 20, 2022 [Photo by SEIU 32BJ via Facebook]

On August 26, 2022, Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 32BJ called off a strike it had announced the previous week. More than 2,000 drivers and attendants, mechanics, workers and building cleaners in the Philadelphia School District (SDP) had authorized a strike to demand higher wages, adequate training programs and safer conditions when the two-year contract expired on August 31, 2022.

School bus drivers and janitors in Philadelphia earn an average of $15-16 per hour. For a bus driver, that equates to just over $12,000 in a typical school year.

Ahead of the eventual strike, SEIU Deputy District Manager John Bynum made demagogic statements playing on workers’ demands. “The Philadelphia School District should respect us, protect us, and pay us decent wages. Bus drivers, cleaners and those who have kept our schools open during the pandemic have been called essential, now is the time to reflect that in a fair contract for workers in the Philadelphia School District.

But as determined as the workers were to strike for these demands, the union leadership was equally determined to prevent a strike. He signed a tentative agreement no more than a week later with the school district and the city’s Democratic mayor, Jim Kenney, behind the back of the base.

Without giving members a chance to see the offer and decide if it was worth considering, local leaders immediately dropped their threats and postures.

On Aug. 26, Local 32BJ Vice President Gabe Morgan said the TA “honors the enormous contributions and sacrifices the workers at 32BJ School have made, including risking their lives throughout of the pandemic”.

After the strike was called off, Morgan and Local 32BJ turned the sold-out contract into a victory, never revealing any details other than boilerplate phrases. The union’s website says the TA is providing “historic wage increases” and awarding “millions of dollars in funding for additional standardized training programs.” It “maintains excellent employer-paid retirement and health benefits” and “protects paid sick leave and paid vacation.”

Any reference to COVID-19, monkeypox, or specific safety protocols to protect school staff and students from infection is completely omitted from this adjectival-laden rhetoric.

SDP talent director Larisa Shambaugh said in the press release that school officials were more than happy with the TA, saying it showed the “deep respect” the system has for the 2,000 employees. “We see the incredible work they do every day to transport our students safely to and from school and provide them with clean and healthy learning environments that support their academic success.”

The SDP official also said, “We all look forward to the start of the new school year with confidence that we will do so without disrupting in-person learning for students and families.” It was a revealing admission of the real reason for the local’s haste in reaching an agreement with the school district, as classes began on Monday, August 29.

The exact date of the Philadelphia School District workers’ ratification vote has not been made public, except to say it will take place in September, a few weeks after the start of the regular school year.

The reason for calling off the planned strike was also revealed in an article by the Axios. The publication warns that “a work stoppage…could have significantly disrupted the first week of in-person classes for the district…”

As the school year begins, schools in Philadelphia face an acute crisis. For years, the Philadelphia school district, representing 124,000 students, has been beset by horrific conditions.

On Monday, the SDP announced that 118 schools “which do not have sufficient cooling systems…will close three hours earlier than their normal closing times on Tuesday and Wednesday August 30 and 31, 2022”, due to a heat warning extreme.

This follows a PennPIRG Education Fund and PennEnvironment Research & Policy Center report which determined that 98% of all schools had at least one open faucet where lead was detected above an acceptable level.

The Philadelphia metropolitan area is estimated to be the ninth-largest metropolitan economy in the nation and home to five Fortune 1000 companies. Yet, according to Pew Research, nearly 400,000 Philadelphians, or about 26% of the city’s population, lived below the inadequate “official” poverty line in 2017.

Soaring inflation for basic food and gasoline, triggered by both the government’s failure to eradicate COVID-19 and the proxy war in Ukraine, has further deepened poverty in the region. town.

At the height of the Omicron wave, when bus drivers, cleaners and teachers were categorized as essential and risking their lives, former SDP superintendent William Hite, backed by Jerry Jordan of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers (PFT), reopened schools, despite massive public opposition to reopening plans.

The return to class has resulted in many COVID-19 infections, long COVID and deaths among workers, students and parents.

Local 32BJ followed the lead of Jordan and the PFT, refusing to stand up for the safety of its own members, while hypocritically bemoaning a policy the local had enforced.

The collusion between SEIU leadership, the school district and Democratic politicians against rank and file workers knows no bounds.

In a press release ahead of the strike deadline, Local 32BJ said “workers have agreed to pay mandatory weekly pay cuts and contributions to help fund the school district budget, babysitting in school and saving thousands of people from unemployment due to school closures.”

For decades, the local has used the threat of layoffs, while exploiting its own members’ sincere dedication to children’s education, to help push through the cuts to city schools, cuts that were presided over by the Democratic Party under many conditions.

The well-paid bureaucrats who lead today’s nationalist and pro-capitalist unions routinely end strikes and ban any discussion of tentative agreements before workers have a chance to consider the details. The historic “no contract, no job” principle has long been dismissed by unions, including the SEIU.

The SEIU has a sordid record of betrayal. At the same time as the strike in Philadelphia was called off, SEIU Local 500 ended a five-day strike by approximately 550 staff at American University in Washington, D.C., employing the same tactic of calling off a strike before the workers had a chance to ratify an agreement.

The SEIU stepped in to end the strike at the request of campus management to minimize disruption to the university. He had previously refused to extend the strike by American university staff by calling out adjunct teachers and graduate students. The SEIU justified this scab behavior by referring to the “no-strike” clauses it had imposed on these other school employees.

Earlier, SEIU Local 32BJ broke off a three-day strike by 700 New York-area airport workers at Newark Liberty and John F. Kennedy International Airport and LaGuardia in July 2017. The workers left labor and voted to strike in response to unjust action. and Prime Flight’s illegal labor practices, which blocked negotiations.

SEIU 32BJ called off the strike after the company entered “negotiations” at the request of the Democratic Party. Additionally, a separate strike by 32BJ at Philadelphia International Airport was also called off after American Airlines agreed to last-minute talks with the same company, Prime Flight.

Morgan, executive vice president and state director of Local 32BJ of Pennsylvania and Delaware, pockets a total compensation of $155,850 in 2019, according to the union’s webpage. This stands in stark contrast to the miserable wages his organization “negotiated” for workers in his district.

The SEIU is not the only education union implicated in scabs. Recently, the Columbus Education Association (CEA), an affiliate of the National Education Association, issued a 10-day strike notice to 4,500 teachers and staff at Columbus City School in Columbus, Ohio. After only three days, the CEA orchestrated an end to the strike, announcing a “conceptual agreement” which outraged educators. During a ratification meeting, the CEA even refused to distribute a copy of the contract to the teachers.

The agreement imposed on Columbus teachers does nothing to protect them from COVID and monkeypox. Nor does it address runaway inflation and dangerous conditions in schools due to the terrible deterioration of school buildings under the impact of decades of cuts.

It’s time to act. Philadelphia school workers should begin organizing opposition to the sabotage of their fight by the SEIU by forming a rank-and-file committee to decide and fight for the demands workers want, in opposition to Morgan and the union apparatus. , who colluded with the SDP and Democratic politicians to make working people pay for the massive education cuts.

In this fight, the school workers have powerful allies. SPD workers should reach out to other sections of the working class and the Pennsylvania Base Security Committee to develop a coordinated counteroffensive against the capitalist system as well as the two major corporate political parties and their lackeys in union bureaucracy.

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