More than 12,000 Catholic high school students in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia will be starting school on time this week.
Members of Local 1776 of the Association of Catholic Teachers (ACT) approved a contract Tuesday morning, only hours after union negotiators and the archdiocese reached the tentative agreement.
The vote capped a busy weekend of negotiations for the union that represents lay teachers at the 17 Catholic high schools in the archdiocese.
Teachers voted, 388-164, to approve the one-year pact. Two teachers abstained.
"We have a contract," Rita Schwartz, the veteran union president, told members moments after the votes were tallied. Teachers packed the auditorium for the well-attended general membership meeting at Penns Landing Caterers on Columbus Boulevard in South Philadelphia.
"The Office of Catholic Education is pleased that the general membership of ACT ratified the contract," the archdiocese said in a statement a short time later. "It stands as a testimonial to academic excellence as well as the partnership of teachers, administrators, parents, and students it seeks to represent. It is the agreement we had hoped to obtain for the current and future benefit of everyone."
Teachers will receive an across-the-board salary increase of $1,200. They already contribute to their health-care benefits, but will see no increase in that amount or face higher co-pays or deductibles, Schwartz said.
The average teacher, with a bachelor's degree and 20 years of experience, will earn approximately $54,000. The starting salary will increase from $39,500 to $39,800.
Kenneth A. Gavin, communications director for the archdiocese, said that since negotiations began in March, the Office of Catholic Education had focused on achieving a contract that "provides the best possible educational environment for the young people entrusted to our care while respecting the sacrifice and dedication of our educators."
He said the archdiocese had been able to "secure a number of key elements previously outlined as crucial for our schools." Among other things, he said that two after-school professional development days for teachers will be added in the 2017-18 school year. Next year, Gavin said, the length of the teacher workday will be extended by 15 minutes and two more professional development days will be added to the calendar for teachers before Labor Day.
This year was the first time since a two-week strike in 2011 that negotiations between the union and the archdiocese continued to Labor Day. Schwartz said talks took longer because the archdiocese wanted to review long-standing contract provisions instead of just focusing on salaries and benefits, as had occurred in the last several contracts.
Both sides had been working to make sure the academic year would begin on time this week. Schwartz said negotiations were held on Sunday. On Labor Day, talks started at 10 a.m. and lasted until 6:15 a.m. Tuesday, when the tentative agreement was reached.
"I'm glad it turned out the way it did," Schwartz said, "because nobody wants an issue at the beginning of the year, because we're there for the kids."
After the meeting, teachers scattered to their high schools across the archdiocese to attend scheduled faculty meetings and put the finishing touches on their classrooms to prepare for their students' arrival.
The first day of school for ninth graders is Wednesday, while 10th through 12th graders are scheduled to report Thursday. Friday will be the first full day for all students.
The archdiocesan high schools enrolled nearly 13,000 students in 2016-17. The union represents 640 lay instructors,