The archdiocesan high schools and the Association of Catholic Teachers (ACT) reached an agreement for a one-year contract for the 2015-2016 school year, it was announced June 25 in a joint news release issued by the two parties.

In their announcement the Office for Catholic Education and the Teachers Association said they agreed to focus on “key financial issues in an effort to streamline negotiations and settle the contract well before the beginning of the school year. The negotiating teams met often throughout the spring and early summer in a joint effort to achieve a contract settlement.”

Under the terms of the agreement the 625 lay teachers at the 17 high schools will receive a $1,350 pay increase but will also see an increase in the employee deduction in their medical plan.

One obvious benefit of the settlement is the avoidance of a strike this fall at just about the time of the visit of Pope Francis.

“Both the Association and the School System are pleased that these successful negotiations will assure students and their parents that the 17 archdiocesan high schools will open on time in September, poised for another year of success,” the joint statement said.

In further comments, Christopher Mominey, the COO/Secretary for Catholic Education for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, said, “On behalf of the Office of Catholic Education, I am pleased that we were able to provide our students and school families the clear assurance that we are continuing our bold vision of growth and innovation this fall. I am grateful for the work that was done jointly in a spirit of collaboration in order to achieve this outcome.

“Our intention in every round of contract negotiations is to bargain in good faith with our valued educators to provide a fair and equitable contract that works to serve our students and school families. As I’ve expressed directly to our teachers at the 17 high schools in the past, I have a deep admiration for the work that they do each day as we Catholic school educators in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia equip saints for life in this world and the next.”

According to Rita Schwartz, president of ACT and also of the National Association of Catholic School Teachers, what was done by mutual agreement is known as an “early bird contract” — a contract that only considers key issues, in this case only wages and benefits, with no other issues on the table.

The initial plan was a settlement by June 1, and if not done by then there would be a switch to full negotiations on all issues, which would mean a much more protracted process.

Neither side wanted a repeat of 2011 when an agreement was not reached, resulting in a two-week strike.

A first proposed contract was presented by the archdiocese in May, which was rejected by the union membership at a May 27 meeting. The sticking point according to Schwartz was that the increase in employee health care contributions would eat up the offered pay raise.

Complicating the issue was the fact that the archdiocese had recently changed its health care program from a contract with Independence Blue Cross with defined annual premiums to a self-insurance program that would still be administered by Blue Cross who would bill the archdiocese for actual outlay.

The rest of the archdiocesan employees were already covered by the new system and it seemed to be working well, according to Schwartz, but the teachers were only added last November, and without a full year in the plan they were uncertain what effect it would have on future payments, including the share paid by the employees.

After union members rejected the proposal in May, the archdiocese suggested both parties scrap the stipulated agreement to go into full negotiations and continue with the early bird method instead, which they did.

After further negotiation a new plan was presented by the archdiocese which both increased the pay raise and lowered the employee health care contribution. The two sides agreed upon it June 12, the last day of school, but it was not until June 24 that a meeting of the union membership could be arranged, at which time it was unanimously ratified.

For her part, Schwartz has nothing but good things to say about this year’s negotiation process with the archdiocese.

“Unfortunately it is only for one year,” she said. “But with the Affordable Care Act no one can predict where health care insurance is going.”