By Steve Tawa

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — A Philadelphia Common Pleas Court judge today threw a wrench — perhaps only temporary — into the School Reform Commission’s plan to cancel the union contract of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers and impose new health care coverage rules.

The judge granted a preliminary injunction sought by the PFT. Two weeks ago, the SRC announced it was going to begin requiring Philadelphia public school teachers to pay a contribution to their health insurance.

Union lawyer Ralph Teti argued that the SRC’s unilateral move to bypass negotiations and impose terms would cause “irreparable harm”  by “undermining the whole idea of collective bargaining.”

Teti (center of photo below) told the court the SRC was essentially trying to “take a democracy and turn it into a dictatorship.”

(The legal team for the Pennsylvania Federation of Teachers leaves Philadelphia Common Pleas Court after getting an injunction against the SRC.  PFT head Jerry Jordan is in background.  Photo by Steve Tawa)

(The legal team for the Pennsylvania Federation of Teachers leaves Philadelphia Common Pleas Court after getting an injunction against the SRC. PFT head Jerry Jordan is in background. Photo by Steve Tawa)

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“If a public employer has a right to do whatever it wants to do, whenever it wants to do it, it essentially emasculates the whole idea of having collective bargaining,” Teti said after the proceeding.

SRC attorney Richard Feldman argued that the state legislation that created the SRC empowered it to cancel its teachers’ contract and make changes because of the financial distress of the school district.

Among the changes the SRC sought was having teachers contribute 10% to 13% of their pay to the health care plan, and cutting the per diem pay rate.

Feldman says the $44 million in savings this year alone would be funneled back to the school district for supplies and rehiring counselors and nurses.

The SRC will appeal the order to Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court.