Teacher’s union may not strike — for now

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, July 26, 2000

Louisiana Federation of Teachers board members’ decision to support a constitutional change that would help fund teacher raises will avert a strike by union members – at least for now.

If approved by voters Nov. 7, a constitutional amendment proposed by Rep. Vic Stelly, R-Lake Charles, would abolish a sales tax on food and utilities, raise income taxes and use the extra for education, including teacher raises.

The union had previously rejected the bill but, following the demise of alternative bills earlier this year, now sees it as teachers’ best hope for a salary increase, LFT President Fred Skelton said Tuesday. Rumors of a pay strike by teachers this fall have been circulating since spring.

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But while admitting the Stelly bill &uot;wasn’t our first choice or our second choice,&uot; Skelton said the union will now focus its efforts on educating its members and voters at large on the importance of passing the amendment – not on a strike. &uot;This certainly will avert a strike,&uot; Skelton said. &uot;We’ll let voters make their choice, and if they vote against it we’ll consider our options again, including urging the (governor) to call a special session or going on strike.&uot;

Meanwhile, Stelly is scheduled to speak to teachers in Concordia Parish Aug. 10 to boost their support of the bill, Superintendent Lester &uot;Pete&uot; Peterman confirmed Tuesday.

The Louisiana Association of Educators’ board will meet Sunday to decide, among other things, whether to support the Stelly proposal, said state President Carol Davis. In April, the board authorized the organization’s staff to prepare for a strike if necessary. Davis said Tuesday a strike by the LAE is unlikely but added the organization would poll its members to see what type of &uot;work actions&uot; they would be willing to take to gain a raise.

&uot;Teachers are unhappy,&uot;&160;Davis said. &uot;They’ve been promised a lot, and they’re disappointed.&uot;

Locally, Peterman was pleased to hear of the LFT’s decision Tuesday. &uot;Hopefully, we’ll be able to start school Aug. 21 as scheduled,&uot; he said.

Parish teachers Annette Smith and Janet Vaught, who don’t belong to either union, said they were disappointed but not surprised by the LFT’s decision.

&uot;I went to meetings in Baton Rouge where they said we would not accept a plan like this, and here we are,&uot;&160;said Smith, a former LFT member. Smith said she would still strike if necessary and knows other teachers who would, too.

A raise &uot;has been put off every year. We’re not a priority with the state, and a strike would be the only way we would become a priority,&uot;&160;Smith added.

&uot;I&160;don’t really want to strike because, with two children in college, I really can’t afford it,&uot;&160;Vaught said. &uot;And the only way I&160;would (strike) is if the majority of teachers statewide went on strike. Otherwise, just a few teachers striking is not going to make that much of a difference.&uot;

Neither Wilma McKeever, president of the Concordia Federation of Teachers, nor Penny Rushing, president of the Concordia Association of Educators, would comment.