Ten months after demanding a 42.4 percent pay increase, Prince George's County teachers have approved a contract that gives them only 9 per cent more this year, and a 7.7 percent raise next year.
But last week, even members of the Prince George's Educators Association who vigorously opposed the new contract said the union has emerged in a stronger position than it ever has held before.
And the president of the union, which represents almost 90 percent of the county's teachers, said he wants to get the union in a still stronger position by the time the next contract expires in two years.
This spring the union joined a new area association of teachers unions, which union president John Sisson said will give his organization suport in future disputes with the school board and the state. Sisson said he also plans to put pressure on the state legislature in Annapolis to change bargaining laws.
"There have been long-term gains," said Paul Pinsky, a member of the union's executive board who opposed the new contract. "This September, as opposed to two years ago, we're in a much better position."
"We have gone through a lot of internal struggle over this," Sisson said, "but we are emerging from this a much stronger organization."
Sisson said the lower settlement was not a defeat for the teachers. "Their (the school board's) first offer was 3 percent and we ended up with 9. We've done considerably better than we might have done."
Nevertheless, "a lot of problems were identified" during the negotiations, he said. "It became very clear how unfair the bargaining laws are. They are all in favor of the management."
The school board currently has the power to impose its own terms on the teachers once the contract deadline has passed. This makes it important for teachers to agree with the school board's offer by that date, Sisson said, however unsatisfied they are with its terms.
He said he also is concerned that what he sees as an "anti-public education" attitude of the Reagan adminstration will increase the need for teachers to be politically strong and vocal. "We're going to increase our political effort," he said. "It's very clear to us that the decisions that effect teachers are political decisions."
In an effort to build a better bargaining position, he said, "I think we have to look to Annapolis. You can't blame the school board. They've been given the power and it's only natural for them to use it."
Getting what they want from Annapolis may not be easy. Like most Maryland state employes, the teachers want a bargaining agreement equal to that enjoyed by workers in the private sector. But the union's executive director, Frederick C. Rummage, himself a state delegate, said it may be a very long time before the teachers get this concession.
"In order to get that kind of major legislation through, it has to have the blessing of the governor," he said. "And to date, I don't believe that Gov. Hughes has indicated that he would even sign a bill if it got through.
"What it is going to take is a coalition of all your public employes," he said. "I think there are a number of public employe unions working in this direction, but I don't have a feeling that they have their so-called act together, and that's a must."
The pressures on the teachers to conform with the school board's requests were only too apparent to Sisson on Thursday night as he waited for the votes to be counted. He had recommended approval of the contract and he said he believed the membership would support him. At the same time, he was forced to contemplate the possibility of rejection.
If the contract offer was rejected, he said at the time, "it will mean serious consequences. A strike would mean that our organization could be decertified for a period of two years, which means teachers would be unrepresented.
"Once the teachers walked out, the Board of Education could attempt to get an injunction, and that's serious. The teachers could be held in contempt of court. It would mean that I'd have to go to jail, probably."
This was not a good position for a union to be in, Sisson said. And with future budget cuts expected, he said, his union will need all the strength it can muster.
Because of this, he said, teachers' associations in the Washington area this spring formed the Metropolitan Council of Urban Educators Associations.
"We are working on a plan for mutual assistance in case of work action," Sisson said. "Some of the things we are considering are that each organization would make up a substantial emergency fund, how to survive things like decertification, and boycotts."