About 1,500 District of Columbia school teachers voted last night to give their union leaders the authority to call a strike if current negotiations with the school board are not successful.
William Simons, president of the Washington Teachers Union, which represents 5,000 of the city's 6,000 teachers, spoke from the pulpit of the Greater New Hope Baptist Church before the vote, urging teachers to suppot preparations for a strike. The voice vote last night appeared to be unanimous.
Simons was cheered as he demanded the resignation of D.C. school board members, calling them "stupid" and "incompetent to function." Simons, frequently wagging his finger at teachers as he loked over the crowded church pews, was cheered again when he spoke in opposition to broad proposals to have administrators, not teachers, responsible for students' grades and to lengthen the teachers' school day and year without increasing their salaries.
"We are asking you to qpprove the recommendation of the executive board (to give union officials the authority to call a strike)," Simons said before the vote, "and enable the (union) negotiators to take added strength to the bargaining table tomorrow... we want the school board to know that it isn't just the people at the table talking to them but the teachers right behind (the negotiators) telling them to hang tough, don't take any foolishness, get a decent contract."
Simons told the teachers that he wants them to "hang loose so when the call comes all you have to do is get your sign and get on the line."
Then, following a standing ovation, he called for discussion and questions. There was none, and Simons called for the voice vote. The church resounded with the teachers' "ayes."
"Anyone opposed?" Simons asked. There was silence.
Simons told a reporter after the vote that the union does not have nay immediate demands that could lead him to call for a strike if they are not met.
Simons said contract talks between negotiatiors for the school board and the union have made no recent progress and 16 major issues remain unsettled. The last session of negotiations ended at 5 a.m. yesterday, Simons said, with no progress except for an agreement to resuem the talks today.
Simons told the teachers that the board left him no choice but to get strike authorization after board members told superintendent Vincent E. REED ON Thursday to end payroll deduction of union dues for teachers. Simons said that action was a breach of an agreement that he had reached with the board's negotiators which said that all provisions of the expired teachers' contract -- including automatic union dues deductions -- would be left in place while negotiations continued.
Earlier in his talk to the teachers Simons called on the school board to resign.
"(The board's) behavior leads me to believe that they are incapable of functioning," Simons said, "and I call upon them to resign... we need to select people for the board who have an understanding of what labor negotiations are all about."