MIDDLETON TOWNSHIP, Pa. – Everyone has their breaking point.
After years of watching bullying and abuse of his colleagues, Neshaminy High School teacher David Ferrara decided to do something about the “gang” of thugs who have been terrorizing his school. So he wrote a simple letter of concern and emailed it throughout the school district.
Who are the thugs he refers to? The leaders of his local teachers union, who allegedly use fear and intimidation to deal with members who have dared to question union tactics during an ongoing contract dispute with school administrators.
“In the past four years the members of the (Neshaminy Federation of Teachers) have been subjected to an endless barrage of tactics from our elected union officials,” Ferrara wrote in his letter. “These officials have been surrounded by a small number of individuals who continually tell them what they want to hear. This has led to the implementation of ‘terror and fear’ tactics in our workforce.
“Individuals have had damage done to their personal property, they have received written threats, and incidents of bullying during the school day. There is a significant amount of shunning led by none other than the elected president of the NFT. Those who surround the leadership want to instigate confrontations or shun individuals who question the decisions made by five individuals.
“Most would agree that these terror and fear tactics have no place in an organization that prides itself with professionalism,” he wrote.
The day after he sent the letter, Ferrara’s tires were slashed at school. The school board reacted by asking the Bucks Countydistrict attorney to investigate harassment of teachers by their own union.
District Attorney David Heckler was receptive to the board's complaint.
"I'm deeply offended by this kind of conduct, whether it's a teachers strike or any kind of conflict in a civil society," Heckler said.
‘Definitely not professionalism in action’
Ferrara isn’t granting media interviews, but his letter provides a rare glimpse into the frustrations of teachers who don’t agree with the union way and have the courage to say so.
Neshaminy union officials have been embroiled in heated negotiations with the school board since their last collective bargaining agreement expired in 2008.
The school board is trying to bring labor costs under control and preserve financial resources for students. It wants to eliminate many expensive perks that existed in the expired teachers’ contract, including $27,500 retirement bonuses for those who work in the district at least 10 years.
The union has no interest in making concessions for the good of the district, and has responded to the situation with various types of pressure tactics, including work-to-contract efforts, boycotts, picketing, and a recent strike that cancelled classes for eight days.
In his letter, Ferrara criticizes his union’s brash approach to the dispute. He also paints a behind-the-scenes look at what life is like for teachers who don’t toe the union line.
“Our NFT elected officials have had no successful strategies in four years to swing the negotiations in our favor,” Ferrara wrote. “The boycotting of back-to-school night was a public relations nightmare and made no favorable impact on the negotiations process.
“Harassing individual members of our community by showing up at their homes in numbers had no effect on negotiations or on the elections … to the school board. Creating a page length ad in the local paper attacking specific members of the school board had no positive outcome. Yet members of our union still follow the ineffective ways of elected officials.”
Ferrara took exception with union leaders who last month insisted that teachers observe the strictest definition of “working to the contract,” which means they should be unavailable to students outside of the contractual work day, refuse to write college letters of recommendation, and boycott after school activities.
If a teacher doesn’t comply, the union is encouraging members to “confront or shun these individuals,” according to Ferrara.
“This is definitely not professionalism in action. It is a terror and fear tactic and I call on all professionals in our union to stand up and not allow for this attitude and behavior to seep into our professional work place,” he wrote.
Control and manipulation
In his letter, Ferrara indicated that there have been other cases of campus vandalism, targeting teachers who have questioned the union or failed to follow the “work to contract” strategy. He suggested that many teachers were afraid to report the incidents due to fear of reprisal.
One union member has received several anonymous written threats, including a death threat, according to Ferrara.
Middleton Township police are investigating the slashing of Ferrara’s tires. And his letter inspired school officials to contact the county district attorney and seek an investigation into threats made by union members against their fellow teachers.
“The board has concluded that credible concerns exist for the safety of our staff,” school board President Ritchie Webb told Philly.com.
“This kind of thing is generally pretty hard to prove who actually did it,” said district attorney Heckler, regarding the Ferrara's slashed tires. “Even if you believe a group had motivation to see it through, as Ferrara did, we do not prosecute groups, just individuals.
“I think every law-abiding, right-thinking person would be deeply offended by the idea that a teacher, administrator or citizen could be subject to vandalism or other threats in order to force them to conform to a particular pattern of behavior.”
Ferrara’s slashed tires, however, are only the most recent example of tactics used by local union officials to keep their members in line and their authority intact, according to his letter.
Ferrara details how a small group of stubborn union officials frequently overrides the will of the entire teaching staff. It’s the type of union obstruction that’s whispered about in the school hallways, but rarely exposed to taxpayers and parents outside of the school system.
“The ridicule originates with the same gang of individuals who have surrounded our elected officials,” he wrote. “NFT members are being punished by bullies in our schools who stand shoulder and shoulder with our elected union officials.”
NFT President Louise Boyd said the union “has not supported, encouraged or condoned such behavior,” according to PhillyBurbs.com.