Teachers strike at 3 NJ Catholic high schools

CAMDEN, N.J. - October 19, 2009

Teachers at Camden Catholic in Cherry Hill, Holy Spirit in Absecon and Paul the Sixth in Haddonfield walked off the job Monday morning.

About 2,700 students at three of the seven Camden Diocesan high schools are affected by this job action. It is the first strike by the Catholic teachers Union against the Diocese since 1997.

About 160 teachers - members of the Catholic Teachers Union - are on strike. The sticking points are wages and health benefits for new teachers. According to Union President Bill Blumenstein the teachers want two-year contracts with raises of 4-percent per year.

Blumenstein explains, "If you break it down on a per-student basis, it's less than $30 per child this year and less than $61 per child next year."

Diocesan spokesperson Andy Walton says the schools are offering a two-year contract with raises of about two and a half percent per year.

"We think our offer is not only just and fair, but in this climate generous."

On health benefits, the Dioceses wants newly hired teachers to pay five percent for premiums. The Teachers Union opposes that.

The three affected schools are open on modified schedules. Students must attend if they want to take part in after school activities.

Walton says, "We have school administrators. We have substitute teachers and temporary teachers that have been brought in because of the strike."

However, Blumenstein says, "They claim they are keeping the schools open and that there are academic programs being run. That's a farce."

The starting teacher's salary here is $31,000 a year and the average salary is $43,500 per year. The union president says they tend to lose a lot of school teachers. After about five years they move onto more lucrative contracts in public school districts.

Right now, no new negotiating sessions are scheduled.

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