4/14/08

Catholic teachers prep strike for Pope

It seems likely the Archdiocese of New York Lay Faculty Association will go on strike Tuesday morning if an agreement for a new contract isn't reached today. The Lay Faculty Association is a union representing lay teachers at 10 Roman Catholic high schools in the state, including Our Lady of Lourdes in Dutchess County. A spokesman for the archdiocese said Sunday it has no intention of changing its proposal.

"We have made an excellent offer to the union," spokesman Joseph Zwilling said. "I believe the Lay Faculty Association should accept the deal, and going on strike will not cause us to improve the offer that we've already made."

Lourdes, on Boardman Road in the Town of Poughkeepsie, had about 900 students as of 2007.

Harm to studies feared

Poughkeepsie resident Jim Noonan is a parent with a freshman and a senior attending Lourdes. He said a strike would be too big a disruption to students as they prepare for graduation and state examinations.

"I don't know all of the details, but I think there are some good points from both sides," Noonan said. "I just hope for a quick resolution so the kids can get back to school."

Henry Kielkucki, a spokes-man for the union, said his group submitted a new proposal to a mediator but declined to comment on its contents.

If an agreement isn't reached, the strike could coincide with Pope Benedict XVI's visit to the area. The pope is scheduled to visit Friday through Sunday. In honor of his visit, all Catholic schools in the archdiocese will be closed Thursday and Friday.

"The pope won't know we're on strike," Kielkucki said. "We chose it because so many people from the Catholic community are going to be there and we want them to know."

The union represents about 450 teachers at 10 schools from Poughkeepsie to Staten Island. Their contract expired Aug. 31.

Strife between the archdiocese and two teachers unions - the Lay Faculty Association and the larger Federation of Catholic Teachers - has grown in recent weeks. The archdiocese and faculty have argued over wages, health care and pensions.

Zwilling announced Friday a tentative four-year deal with the Federation of Catholic Teachers.

"We did not alter our offer for the first three years but agreed to add a fourth year to the deal," Zwilling said Sunday.

The union still must ratify the pact. The federation represents 3,000 teachers at 206 schools.

(poughkeepsiejournal.com)

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