Catholic teachers union stages sick-out

Most of the 375 unionized lay teachers at 10 high schools run by the Archdiocese of New York called in sick Thursday amid a contract dispute.

Among the affected schools were Our Lady of Lourdes in Poughkeepsie and John S. Burke in Goshen. John A. Coleman Catholic High School in the town of Ulster was not affected because it operates independently of the archdiocese.

Eight of the 10 schools, serving about 5,000 students in New York City and its northern suburbs, sent their students home early after 347 teachers represented by the Lay Faculty Association failed to show up for work, the archdiocese said.

Archdiocese spokesman Joe Zwilling said all the one-day "sickout" would do is disrupt the day for the students and cost teachers a day's wages.

Union business manager Henry Kielkucki defended the action. "It's the best thing we've ever done," he said. "It's too bad that students lost education over it and that the teachers lost money. There's no reason that this couldn't be hammered out at the negotiating table."

The teachers have been without a contract since Aug. 31.

Zwilling said the two sides last met with a mediator in December. He said the union rejected its "last, best and final" offer, which called for salary increases of 17 to 19.5 percent over three years, based on years of experience, for a top salary of $58,000. Top-paid teachers now make $54,000. The offer also called for teachers to contribute to the cost of their health insurance.

Kielkucki said the union was asking for a top salary of $60,000 for teachers who hold master's degrees or doctorates, and added that any raises would be lost to health-care premiums.

In comparison, the top salary of a New York City public school teacher with a master's degree and 22 years on the job is $95,000 per year. The average salary is $68,000.

Zwilling said the number of teachers who stayed out ranged widely from school to school.

Seven out of 39 teachers stayed out at John F. Kennedy High School in Somers (in Westchester County), and 46 out of 52 called in sick at Our Lady of Lourdes in Poughkeepsie.

Only Kennedy and Moore Catholic High School on Staten Island kept students in class for the entire school day.

A total of 420 teachers, including the 375 union members, work at the 10 schools in Manhattan, the Bronx, Staten Island, Goshen, Poughkeepsie, Hartsdale, White Plains and Somers.

Kielkucki said the union would wait before planning any other action but would not do anything for at least the next seven days, when students will be taking their midterm exams.

The union went on strike in 2001 in a dispute over salaries and benefits.


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