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Issue Date:  April 18, 2008

N.Y. teachers vote to strike during pope's visit

NEW YORK -- Teachers from 10 New York Catholic high schools have voted to strike while Pope Benedict XVI visits New York.

The Lay Faculty Association, a union representing about 420 teachers in schools from Poughkeepsie to Staten Island, wants the New York archdiocese to agree to a new three-year contract with improved pay, pension plan and health benefits.

The teachers have been working without a contract since Aug. 31. Negotiations between the union and the archdiocese reached a stalemate in December.

The teachers do not hold Benedict responsible for the dispute, but striking during his visit will draw wider attention to the problem and pressure the archdiocese to make a deal, said Henry Kielkucki, union business manager.

“This is not against him,” he said. “It’s so people know what’s going on. It will continue even after he leaves if we still don’t have a settlement.”

Archdiocese officials said the most recent contract presented to the teachers is “very generous,” and strongly criticized the decision to strike.

“If the teacher’s union does seek to use the occasion of the visit of Pope Benedict XVI ... as an occasion of protest and as an occasion of division, I think that’s an insult to Pope Benedict and an insult to the Catholic faithful of the archdiocese of New York,” said Joseph Zwilling, spokesman for the archdiocese.

Benedict is to visit New York April 18-20, after spending three days in Washington. The strike will begin at some point during the week of April 14, Kielkucki said.

Another New York Catholic school teacher union, the Federation of Catholic Teachers, staged a sickout April 3 at 10 schools and accused the archdiocese of unfair labor practices.

The Federation of Catholic Teachers represents about 3,300 Catholic elementary school teachers. Its members have been without a contract since September. They are asking for salary increases and better health coverage.

Zwilling has told media outlets in New York that the archdiocese has offered to raise teachers’ salaries between 17 and 19.5 percent over three years but that the union rejected the offer.

-- Religion News Service, Catholic News Service

National Catholic Reporter, April 18, 2008

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