Members of the Buffalo Teachers Federation, angry over the lack of a contract offer from the school system, gave the union's executive committee authority Monday night to take any action it feels necessary, including a strike.
Union President Philip Rumore described members, who contract expired June 30' as overwhelmingly angry.
"The teachers are insulted," he said after the closed meeting in Kleinhans Music Hall. "They're angry. Here it is the first day of school, and they (school officials) haven't given their negotiator the authority to make an offer."
"People are ready to take drastic action," he added.
Rumore said members authorized the committee to take legal action for bargaining in bad faith. That would include filing an improper-practice charge against the city, an action not taken since the strike of 1976.
Rumore said the union's initial proposal included a salary increase that would meet the average beginning salary of the Big Five school districts in the state -- Rochester, Syracuse, Yonkers and New York City, plus Buffalo -- an increase of about 10 to 11 percent over three years.
The school system and the union have been waiting for nearly a year for State Supreme Court Justice Edward A. Rath Jr. to rule on a motion that could determine how much the system would owe the teachers in a dispute over the 1990-1994 contract. The union puts the figure at slightly more than $200 million in that settlement, while the schools calculate it at $23 million.
Rumore said the settlement of that long-running dispute has no direct effect on current negotiations. But a grievance the union filed in relation to the contract dispute "is something that would be a subject of our negotiations." He declined to elaborate.
The grievance, filed about four years ago, sought a 35 percent salary increase in 1994, Rumore said.
"We have told the board, and we have told their negotiator that that linkage piece is something that would be a subject of our negotiations," Rumore said.
School Superintendent James Harris, who has been overseeing the district's negotiations, could not be reached this morning to comment.
At the most recent negotiation meeting, Rumore said, the schools' negotiator told the union he did not have the authority to offer the teachers a financial package.
With their vote Monday, members also directed the union's executive committee and its negotiating team to take all action necessary to reach a settlement quickly.
Rumore said such a settlement would be "one which greatly improves teaching and learning conditions and programs, and which is reflective of the highest professionalism, commitment and dedication of Buffalo teachers."
While admitting the possibility of a strike, Rumore said that would be a last resort, one the union hoped to avoid.
"I'd rather talk about us having a contract," he said.
Before closing Monday's meeting to the news media, Rumore said no offer was on the table.
"We have no contract to put before you," Rumore told the several hundred teachers at the meeting. "As a matter of fact, this is the most ridiculous negotiation I've been involved with since 1981."
Many of the teachers agreed.
"Everyone's very upset," Lynn Colley, a mathematics teacher at School 81 at 140 Tacoma Ave., said after the meeting.