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Philadelphia Teachers' Union Wins Temporary Injunction in Contract Dispute

The Philadelphia Federation of Teachers has succeeded in temporarily blocking the city's school district from mandating that union members pay toward their health-care premiums, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported.

The union won a temporary injunction on Monday in a ruling in the Common Pleas Court after four hours of testimony, the paper reported. But the broader question of whether the school district has the authority to unilaterally make contract changes is still unsettled.  

The teachers' union filed the request for an injunction last week, along with another seeking to transfer the dispute from the state Commonwealth Court to a Philadelphia court.

The dispute erupted on Oct. 6 when the School Reform Commission—an appointed body that runs the city's schools—unilaterally decided to require union members to pay toward their health benefits, making changes to the contract that were not agreed upon at the bargaining table.

The contract had expired in August 2013, and although the two sides met for multiple sessions, they had not reached a deal. The cash-strapped district was seeking ways to put money back into the classrooms, district officials said. 

The commission then rushed to state court, along with Pennsylvania's acting education secretary, to ask for declaratory judgment to uphold its decision. Commission members argued that the 2001 law that created the school district's governing body also gave it the authority to make those kind of contract changes.

Fernando Gallard, the district's spokesman, told the paper that the SRC will appeal the order to the state Commonwealth Court. 

"We expect this to be just one of many legal steps we will have to take. We are now moving on to the next," Gallard said.

In a later statement, the district said that the injunction places in jeopardy $44 million—the amount it estimated it would save through the change—that school officials had planned to use to buy textbooks and reading and writing supplies.

"The school district expects to ultimately prevail in the courts and will pursue this matter forcefully, for the cause is urgent and the children of Philadelphia cannot continue waiting," the district said.

"The changes temporarily placed on hold by today's injunction are estimated to save more than $200 million in the next four years. These are crucial resources for the children of Philadelphia."

The ruling on Monday from Judge Nina Wright Padilla prevents, for now, the commission from implementing the changes, which were to go into effect in December.

The Inquirer quotes Jerry Jordan, the union president, as saying that he was very "pleased" with the judge's order.

"We hope it will end here," Jordan said,  "but we're pretty sure it won't."

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