Hell to Pay

St. Louis' Catholic schoolteachers are ready to rap some knuckles

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Instead of rapping Archbishop Raymond Burke on the knuckles, Catholic elementary school teachers are socking him in the wallet. The union that represents the Archdiocese of St. Louis' 125 parish elementary school teachers is asking area labor unions to withhold donations of money and volunteers to the church until Burke agrees to negotiate with the Association of Catholic Elementary Educators (ACEE), Local 1312.

Three unions -- representing carpenters, operating engineers, and building and construction-trade workers -- have done just that. "We'll broaden pressure on the archbishop if he doesn't reconsider the stance he's taken," vows ACEE president Mary Chubb. "The financial impact will start to show as appeals are made to different unions for contributions and [the unions] withhold them."

After teachers at ten parish schools voted to organize last May, Archbishop Burke wrote a letter that said "neither the Archdiocese nor individual parishes will recognize or bargain collectively with any organization as a representative of teachers."

Bishop Robert Hermann, vicar for education, says, "The church has a high respect for labor unions to the extent they bring about justice for the worker." But, Hermann adds, the archdiocese is opting for a "new creative model of collaboration between labor and management." This new model, the Parish Teacher Compensation Committee, is composed of ten elected teachers and ten parishioners who make decisions about teachers' salaries and benefits.

"Since this committee was formed, salaries have increased 38 percent," Hermann asserts.

Even so, Chubb argues, starting salaries for Catholic elementary teachers are $10,000 less than those of public school teachers. Wages for parish teachers top out at $46,000 annually, compared to nearly $60,000 in public schools.

"A lot of teachers come to our system but have to move on to public school systems to afford the additional education needed to keep their certification," Chubb says. "We are becoming a training ground, and that can dilute the quality of education."

As parish schools close in St. Louis city and north St. Louis county, nearly 400 Catholic elementary teachers have lost their jobs in the past five years. Nine more schools will not open their doors this year, and more closings are expected next year as a greater number of Catholic families move to the suburbs and send their children to public schools.

In a letter to Burke, Chubb maintained that church doctrine states that workers should be allowed to "organize and collectively bargain through whatever organization they freely choose."

The church's Parish Teacher Compensation Committee "is not our organization," Chubb says, as it has no bargaining power and only evaluates salary and benefit information provided to it by the archdiocese.

In addition to salary issues, many teachers want union representation on matters such as school reassignments, evaluations and grievances, Chubb explains.

"Aside from the fact that we're women and we're asking them to be equals with us," she says, "we are also asking them to be accountable -- and they do believe they are above accountability."

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