Teachers union balks at two-day furlough

250 jobs are threatened

labor seeks concessions

January 23, 2003|By Liz Bowie | Liz Bowie,SUN STAFF

The Baltimore Teachers Union, representing nearly 10,000 school employees, says its membership won't agree to take a two-day furlough this year unless school officials make some concessions.

School board members voted for furloughs as part of a cost-cutting package last week to reduce an estimated $31 million deficit this year. The board said it would lay off 250 employees if the unions do not agree to the furloughs.

At an emotional closed-door union meeting Tuesday night at Polytechnic Institute, union members expressed concerns that they were bearing the brunt of the budget slashing, according to Carla Tyler, a spokeswoman for the union representing teachers and teachers aides. The school system would save $6.8 million by furloughing all of its more than 12,000 employees.

Tyler said about 300 to 500 members at the meeting voted down the furlough option, telling union leaders they wanted them to go back to school officials and bargain for a better deal.

Chief Executive Officer Carmen V. Russo said she will respect the position of the union membership and is willing to discuss options that might be available. Alternatives could include employee layoffs, she said.

"If they have other ideas, we are always willing to listen to the union," Russo said.

The teachers also rejected another option: to accept a two-day furlough this year but have the opportunity to recoup the lost wages in 18 months.

"Basically it was a vote of no-confidence in the leadership of the system and a lack of trust," said Brian Dale, vice president of the BTU. "The overwhelming sentiment was that we didn't cause this and so don't take it out on us."

One concession on the teachers' wish list is the elimination of a teacher job-performance evaluation criticized by administrators and teachers.

The school board has said it must reach an agreement with the unions representing the work force by March or the district will lay off employees.

Union leaders are expected to try to meet with school officials Feb. 3, when the board will discuss further cuts in spending for the next fiscal year, beginning July 1. Among items under consideration are increasing class size and laying off academic coaches. School officials have said employees can't expect the same kind of salary increases and health benefits package they have received the past several years.

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