Nearly 5,000 Teachers Strike In New Orleans; First Walkout Since ’78
NEW ORLEANS (AP) _ Nearly 5,000 public school teachers went on strike today over $400,000 worth of health benefits - the first walkout in New Orleans schools since 1978.
Union president Nat Lacour said the Orleans Parish School Board’s refusal to bend on health benefits that demand triggered the strike. He reinstated earlier demands that had been dropped during bargaining, for a $45 million package that includes pay raises for the system’s teachers plus 1,100 teachers’ aides and school secretaries.
The school board insisted that classes would continue almost as usual for more than 84,000 pupils, with substitute teachers and administrators replacing teachers who refused to cross picket lines.
Parents of some emotionally disturbed or educationally handicapped children were told that classes for their children would be canceled.
Pickets were out before dawn, their signs bearing messages such as: ″No raise, No work.″ School buses rolled past the chanting pickets half empty. Parents walked with their children to the schools, then stood about in small knots, talking quietly.
″We’re not striking just for money. ... We’re looking for professional respect,″ said Katy Hall, a sixth-grade teacher at Lafayette Elementary School, where the picket line went up more than two hours before classes were to open.
Lacour, president of the United Teachers of New Orleans, gave strike orders Sunday in a blistering speech that laid the blame on what he called the school board’s poor spending habits and inflexibility.
″It’s a strike over economic justice,″ Lacour said.
The teachers scaled back over the weekend to demanding $1 million in additional health benefits. The school board turned them down and stuck to the $600,000 it had on the table.
″We cannot give what we do not have,″ said Frank Fudesco, the board’s chief negotiator. He appealed to teachers ″to weigh loyalty to union against loyalty to students.″
The teachers, who receive pay from both the school system and the state, have already received a 7 percent wage increase from the state this year. Salaries range from $19,455 for a starting teacher to $35,111 for someone with a doctorate and 25 years of experience.
About 650 teachers’ aides, who make about $10,000 a year, would get raises of 4 percent to 5 percent under union demands, as would 450 clerical workers, who make about $17,000.
In his speech, Lacour complained that school administrators drive new cars while schools go without soap and toilet paper. He also criticized Superintendent Everett Williams’ $102,700 a year salary, which Lacour said is comparable to the pay in larger cities.
Administrators have dismissed the union’s complaints and say their spending has been appropriate.
With the board’s refusal to agree to the union demands, teachers said they will circulate recall petitions against all school board members. In addition, after the strike broke out, the union reverted to its original demands for 10 percent raises each year of a three-year contract.
The board has raised teachers’ salaries twice since 1983, but Lacour said the increases have been eroded by rising health insurance and retirement costs.
The union also is seeking collective bargaining rights for about 100 psychologists and other employees who evaluate students for special education services.