Treat Perelman Teachers with Kavod and Tzedek

— Ted Kirsch, president of AFT Pennsylvania

Last week, Perelman Jewish Day School notified its teachers that their 38-year union tradition would no longer be honored by the school’s administration and board.

The board’s unilateral action — taken without consulting parents or teachers — demonstrated a lack of respect for parents who entrust their children to the school and teachers, who have educated generations of students and instilled in them pride in their Jewish heritage.

The teachers have offered an olive branch, urging the board to rescind its decision and open a dialogue with teachers and their chosen representatives. The board has turned a deaf ear.

Now, without any dialogue, parents must accept an action that will likely result in the unjust dismissal of their children’s teachers.

More after the jump.
The teachers, who have been threatened with loss of their jobs, must agree to relinquish their rights and accept a lopsided employment agreement for that allows PJDS to “unilaterally change, revise, or discontinue its rules and policies,” to fire “any employee with or without notice and with or without cause” and “to make changes in employee benefits without prior notice.” If fired, Perelman teachers will not be eligible for unemployment benefits.

This is a terrible way for any organization to treat its employees. It is egregious for a Jewish school, dedicated to teaching Jewish values to young children.

The Perelman Jewish Day School teachers chose union representation because they believe, as I do, that we are stronger as individuals and as a community when employees are treated as full partners in the institution’s success.

Even in close-knit school communities, it is often difficult for teachers to advocate for the resources and services their students need without fear of reprisals. With flimsy employment agreements that guarantee nothing, it is unlikely that teachers will feel they can speak out on behalf of the best interests of students, families or the school.

The Jewish people have a long history of seeking justice for all workers. In Deuteronomy, God instructs us: “You shall not oppress the hired laborer who is poor and needy, whether he is one of your people or one of the sojourners in your land.”

Rabbinic law guiding employer-employee relations establishes the concept that both parties are kinsmen, not adversaries. Leviticus commands, “Thou shalt not rule over him with rigor.”

As a fellow Jew, a teacher and a labor leader, I urge the board to rescind its decision immediately and open a dialogue with teachers to resolve the issues that separate them.

Cooperation, rather than conflict, will strengthen Perelman Jewish Day School and the Philadelphia Jewish Community and demonstrate kavod (respect), chokhmah (wisdom) and tzedek (justice), traits we seek to instill in our children.

Ted Kirsch is a history teacher and president of AFT Pennsylvania, which represents 35,000 active and retired teachers and school employees in public, private and charter schools; community college and university faculty, graduate student employees and support staff and professional employees in state government. AFTPA is an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers and AFL-CIO.


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