‘Stop playing games’ — DC mayor, teachers’ union remain at odds as contract talks reach arbitration

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser urged the Washington Teachers’ Union on Monday to accept “an outstanding (contract) offer that’s on the table” as the two sides work through arbitration.

Bowser’s comments came after the union representing about 4,000 city teachers delivered a petition to the mayor’s office Monday morning. The group said 1,600 members, parents and others signed the petition, which called on Bowser to reach an agreement on a new deal.

It’s the latest back-and-forth between the two sides, which comes after the mayor’s office and union were unable to reach an agreement in the mediation process. The union says it hasn’t had a new contract in three years. The two sides have operated under agreements made in the previous contract, but teachers haven’t received an increase in pay, WTU President Jacqueline Pogue-Lyons said.

“I want our teachers to get their raises,” Bowser said at a news conference Monday. “They’re long overdue. They should have had them in June. It’s time for the Washington Teachers’ Union to stop playing games and get teachers their money.”

Contract negotiations are underway in several school systems across the D.C. region. On Friday, the Montgomery County Education Association reached a deal on rules for its upcoming contract talks. And in Virginia, school boards are working to adopt collective bargaining resolutions, after the general assembly lifted a ban on public sector bargaining in 2020.

In Bowser’s remarks, which came at a kickoff event for Black Restaurant Week, she touted the city’s efforts in reaching new agreements with other workers. In September, for one, Bowser announced that the city reached a new deal with the Council of School Officers, which represents 840 D.C. Public School administrators and service providers. It was the group’s first agreement since the last contract expired in 2020.

Bowser also touted deals reached with a District union of professional and scientific workers with more than 10,000 workers, as well as firefighters. “We want teachers to know … we’ve put a great deal on the table that is fair,” Bowser said. “And it is needed.”

Teachers, Pogue-Lyons said, are seeking competitive pay, something she said should concern city leaders with vacancies in schools remaining across the country.

“We’ve gone through a pandemic,” Pogue-Lyons said. “We have high gas prices. We have high food prices, and we have inflation. And many of our teachers are between the ages of 25 and 39. They’re starting families, and many of them are finding that they can’t live in the same places where they teach.”

The two sides entered mediation about two weeks ago, Pogue-Lyons said, adding that she has “been at every negotiating, every mediation session. I’ve been at every arbitration session. And I can’t say that for the chancellor or for the mayor.”

Pogue-Lyons said teachers “want a great compensation package. (The mayor) said she put one forth, but we didn’t see that.”

Scott Gelman

Scott Gelman is a digital editor and writer for WTOP. A South Florida native, Scott graduated from the University of Maryland in 2019. During his time in College Park, he worked for The Diamondback, the school’s student newspaper.

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