Negotiations between District of Columbia school officials and the striking Washington Teachers' Union broke off early this morning with little progress reported in their effort to end the teachers' walkout.
At the end of a nearly four-hour bargaining session at Payne Elementary School, John A. Wagner, a federal mediator taking part in the negotiations, said that the talks were adjourned at 1:15 a.m. because there was "not sufficient" progress to warrant continuing them. "We may meet (later Friday), but I'm not sure," Wagner said.
Union President William Simons said he was "disappointed" at the result of the latest round of negotiations and asserted that the school board's negotiators had taken "a backward move" in the talks. Nevertheless, Simons said it was "still possible" that teachers could return to the schools by Monday if an agreement can be reached later today.
Kenneth W. Nickoles, the school board's chief negotiator, said that he had made a proposal to the union that would eliminate the board's controversial plan to lengthen the teachers' school day and school year without additional compensation and would have permitted reinstatement of the dues checkoff, the automatic collection of union members dues. "It was rejected by the union," Nickoles said. He declined to make any further comment on the negotiations.
Simons, saying he had rejected a new school board proposal, added, "It just makes no sense in any shape or form." The proposal, Simons said, would have required instituting a series of school board recommendations that the union has repeatedly opposed as part of an interim agreement. The interim accord would remain in effect while negotiations continued on a long-term contract.
Simons said that shortly before the talks ended, he had offered a new union proposal designed to allow teachers to return to work. The proposal would require reinstatement of all parts of the union's former contract and would bar any disciplinary action against teachers who had partipated in the strike, Simons said.
In addition, Simons said, the proposal would require arbitration of some provisions of the contract to which the board has objected, and would entail fact-finding by a specially Cially appointed three-member panel of disputes that cannot be resolved in five more mediating sessions.
Simons conceded that his proposal was relatively similar to those made by the union at the outset of the strike.
Earlier yesterday, both sides had expressed cautious optimism about an early end to the walkout.
Following a nine-hour negotiating session that ended early yesterday morning, Simons said that the talks were "moving in the direction of getting a settlement that would permit the union to recommend that the teachers return to the schools."
Speaking somewhat more guardedly, Board of Education President Minnie S. Woodson said later that significant disagreements remained, but she indicated there was room for compromise. Asked whether it would be accurate to say that the board and the union were both moving toward a middle ground, Woodson replied, "You would not be far wrong."
The school system continued to hobble along yesterday with sharply reduced attendance by students and teachers. School officials again reported that 53 percent, or almost 60,000, of the city's 113,000 public school students attended school yesterday, the same number as the previous two days.
School officials said that, for the third consecutive day, 47 percent of the school system's more than 6,000 teachers were at work yesterday. The union again disputed this figure, saying, that 86 percent of the teachers remained off their jobs yesterday.
Simons has attributed a slight fall off in his estimates of strike participation -- from 89 percent earlier in the strike to 82 percent on Wednesday -- to Superior Court Judge Gladys Kessler's order Monday. The judge found the union in contempt of court and levied stiff fines against the union and 10 of its leaders. By yesterday, fines totaling $46,050 had accumulated against the union and its leaders, although they have not yet been required to pay them.
Yesterday, the fines became linked with another issue in the strike -- the school board's termination of the automatic payroll deduction of union dues -- as Simons suggested a trade-off as a step toward ending the strike and resuming negotiations on a new union contract. Simons said he would not demand immediate reinstatement of the dues checkoff, provided that the school board show its good faith by asking Judge Kessler to lift the fines.
Paychecks are scheduled to be distributed to teachers today for the two-week period that ended Feb. 28, six days before the strike began. These will be the first checks from which biweekly dues of $7.85 will not be deducted from each teacher's pay. The union said it will ask teachers to mail in their dues. Dues form the main source of union funds, amounting to about $35,000 in each biweekly pay period, according to the school system's finance office.
The resumption of negotiations between union and school officials Wednesday was prompted by a conciliatory offer by the school board under which some provisions of the union's former contract would be reininstated. The proposal appeared designed to provide protection for teachers against possible reprisals for their participation in the strike in exchange for their agreement to return to work.
The union appears to be holding out for reinstatement of many other sections of the former contract, while Woodson said the board objects to reinstituting at least some of the old provisions. The two sides are apparently moving toward a middle ground that would provide for reinstatement of some parts of the contract, which was terminated last month by the school board after three previous extensions.
The teachers' strike continued to draw support yesterday from other unions, including District Council 20 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employes. AFSCME officials said they had instructed teachers' aides to stop teaching classes at two elementary schools -- a practice they described as violating AFSCME's school contracts. A school official said he could not immediately confirm the incidents.
The Greater Washington Central Labor Council, an AFL-CIO umbrella group, also announced it had donated $10,000 to a "teachers support fund."