St. Louis Catholic high school students rally to support teachers | Education

ST. LOUIS — The lesson Monday was in solidarity, as 100 students from three Catholic high schools rallied to support their teachers, who are locked in a union contract dispute with the Archdiocese of St. Louis.

Classes were canceled Monday at Bishop DuBourg, Rosati-Kain and St. Mary’s after teachers staged a sickout, prompting students to gather on the steps of the Cathedral Basilica in St. Louis before the midday Mass.

“They’re more than our teachers, they’re caregivers,” said Lisha Luster, 17, a junior at Rosati-Kain. “They never let us down.”

The St. Louis Archdiocesan Teachers Association also represents members at Cardinal Ritter College Prep in St. Louis and St. Pius X in Festus, which held classes Monday.

The union’s three-year contract with the archdiocese expired earlier this month. Nearly all of the 120 teachers from the five schools rejected the archdiocese’s final contract offer, which allowed for some pay raises but struck grievance and seniority protections.

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No additional negotiation sessions have been scheduled and teachers were given individual at-will contracts to sign by Friday. Union leaders have indicated a willingness to strike if a collective agreement is not reached.

Public school teachers in Missouri are restricted from striking, but teachers at private schools are not covered by that law.

“The teachers want to be with our students; we want to teach in our schools. But one of the primary lessons we teach students is treating everyone with dignity and respect,” reads a message sent Monday from the union to parents and students. “Due to the actions by their employer, the Archdiocese and ultimately Archbishop (Mitchell) Rozanski, your teachers have not been afforded this dignity and respect. We are extremely concerned about the position of the Archdiocese which is so contrary to Church teaching on social justice and workers’ rights.”

The archdiocese did not respond Monday to a request for comment.

In a letter to teachers March 9, Todd Sweda, superintendent for secondary education, expressed disappointment after they rejected the final contract offer. 

Under that offer, starting teacher salaries in the union would move to $33,000 a year from $30,387. Teachers with a master’s degree and the equivalent of 10 years of experience would get $41,599 a year, up from $36,646. However, more experienced teachers at the top of the scale with a master’s degree would see a pay cut to $56,750 from $64,070.

The proposed pay scale is the “most forward-thinking and aggressive approach to compensation in the past two decades,” reads the letter from the superintendent.

At the rally Monday, drivers including a few teachers honked their horns and shouted support to the students as they chanted “Break communion, not the union” and “Practice what you preach.”

Jordyn Valentine, 16, of Rosati-Kain cried as her Spanish teacher Rebecca Nagel drove by to cheer for the students. Jordyn said she is worried about the future of the school if teachers decide to leave.

“I want to walk up these steps in our white gowns at graduation with our teachers,” she said. “A lot of my teachers are like my best friends.”

Catholic high school teachers began negotiating with Archdiocese of St. Louis in October, and they’re now poised to strike after their contract expired on March 4.