PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -Lay teachers at Catholic high schools across the Archdiocese of Philadelphia voted this afternoon to go on strike as of the first day of scheduled classes, tomorrow morning.

Contract talks between the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and the union representing lay teachers at its high schools broke down early Tuesday morning.  The Archdiocese says its negotiating team was willing to talk up until the last minute but the Association of Catholic Teachers (“ACT”) broke off negotiations.

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Union president Rita Schwartz characterizes it differently.  She says the archdiocese put a take-it-or-leave it offer on the table.

“We could not accept that ultimatum,” she told KYW Newsradio this morning.  “We gave them proposals on what they gave us. They absolutely refused to even consider them, because it was an ultimatum. So impasse was declared (by the archdiocese) and we left the Archdiocesan building about 3 o’clock this morning with no option.”

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(A member of the Association of Catholic Teachers wears a button expressing his strike sentiment at a union meeting this morning. Credit: Mike DeNardo)

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Schwartz says the negotiating team for the 700-member union recommended rejection of the final offer and the rank-and-file voted during a meeting at the Sheet Metal Workers Hall in South Philadelphia to hit the picket lines.

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Schwartz says a major sticking point has been the desire of the Archdiocese not to guarantee the jobs of teachers at high schools that close because of declining enrollment.

“I think the biggest issue right now is job security and what the diocese wants to do to longtime teachers and to young teachers.  No one’s job is safe the way they want to do things,” Schwartz says.

The union wants the Archdiocese to agree to mediation — something the Archdiocese rejected last week.

Schwartz says her union has always been a no-contract, no-work union.  The last time the union struck was in 2003, for six days.

The archdiocese says teachers or not, its 17 high schools will open tomorrow.

Union leaders said the union would not try to disrupt the install of Charles Chaput as Archbishop of Philadelphia, scheduled for later this week.

Reported by Mike DeNardo, KYW Newsradio 1060

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