Catholic school teachers vote to strike

April 1, 2008 8:49:46 PM PDT
Catholic school teachers voted Tuesday to go on strike during the pope's visit later this month.The vote came in at 132-20 in favor of striking.

The teachers have been working without a contract since August.

Eyewitness News reporter Marcus Solis has details.

"This is not an idle threat," said Henry Kielkucki, of the Lay Faculty Association.

It is tough talk in what's been a tough contract negotiation. The union representing Catholic school teachers has been without a deal for eight months and says its members will walk out the week Pope Benedict XVI visits New York.

"It's not directed against the Holy Father," Kielkucki said. "It's directed to tell people that we have a problem here in New York."

Members of the Lay Faculty Association have held informational pickets and also staged a sickout in January. The union represents 450 teachers in 10 high schools.

"It's really very sad if that's what they choose to do," said Joe Zwilling, with the Archdiocese of New York. "We have made an outstanding offer."

The archdiocese says it has offered raises of up to 19 percent for its top tier of teachers. But the union says it falls short of the $60,000 a year members are seeking. The archdiocese also disputes the union's claim that the church can use some of the $165 million from a recent fund-raising campaign.

"When we raise money for a parish purpose, and for money that will go to support parishes in need, that's what that money is for," Zwilling said.

Despite the potential disruption, parents side with the teachers.

"I think that they deserve more money," parent Denise Waldron said. "It's a tough job, they're dealing with a lot of stress."

"It's a good school," parent Leo Lagazon said. "Kids get good educations. I think they deserve it."

The union says simply reopening contract talks will not do, that a new deal must be in place to avert the strike.