Our proposed Contract is a landmark for the labor movement. Nationwide, in both public and private sectors, unions are under siege. It goes beyond tough stands by management. Unions’ basic right to exist is under sustained and potent attack. That is the cruel truth. It applies to every manufacturing and service industry. Every day there is breaking news about a catastrophic setback suffered by our brothers and sisters. In the airline and car industries they are fretting not about the loss of some Brooklyn-Queens holiday equivalent, but the explosive loss of their pensions and health benefits. Randi Weingarten has preserved not only the structural integrity of our Contract’s edifice, but raised it to new heights. We have come closer than any other union to scraping the skies.
We built a relative palace from the hovel of the fact-finders report. We thwarted the proposed “divine right of principals” doctrine, securing substantial immunity from their abuses. We led our new teachers away from the altar on which the City wanted to sacrifice them, as they had done to new police officers. We repelled the demand for a many hundreds of percent increase in coerced unpaid coverages. The City yielded an increase in our retroactive pay by nearly 65 per cent over the fact-finders report that most pundits expected would be, in effect, binding.
The UFT has frustrated the Chancellor’s death warrant against us.
Since June 2002, we have given the City 30 minutes and two days in exchange for a 33 per cent pay increase. For the surrender of half an hour, we got a windfall of 9 per cent. Even this sacrifice leaves us ahead of the game in terms of the length of the suburban school day.
Professional Detention has passed into history. No more Mondays of this collective root canal. We have lost the throbbing agony!
But what have we NOT lost?
We have not lost tenure. We have not lost health benefits or been made to pay higher premiums to match catapulting costs. We have not lost 6 of the 8 additional days of labor that the City had fiercely demanded. We have not lost our four-tier pension to a fifth tier that Oliver Twist would at the peak of his misery have rejected. In fact, the City has pledged to unite with us in political action to secure pension equity in Albany. That’s a first.
But what else has the UFT disallowed the City from wrenching lately?
We have not lost our buffers against forced transfers, class size and teaching period limits, personal days, sabbaticals, and the preponderance of our seniority rights. We have not succumbed to the 6th period clamor, but instead will be providing remedial help to a strictly limited number of kids. The UFT blew out of the water the DOE’s stubborn call to empower principals to excess teachers without regard to seniority and to force them to find their own jobs within a stipulated time or be fired.
We did not lose our argument that despite “pattern bargaining” being anchored deep in precedent, we would not be hogtied by the below-inflation DC 37 settlement that the City viewed as exemplary and inviolable. We did not abandon our core values as a union. That’s one thing that didn’t change.
A union’s reach should exceed its grasp. In today’s times, grasp and gains are defined in terms of lack of loss. How else have we thereby advanced?
Circular 6 suffered some superficial abrasions but is fighting fit. Elementary schools on 7 period days are not affected. Only an SBO approved by the chapter can change that, not a principal’s bull or fiat. Principals still must consult with the chapter about numbers and qualifications of positions. If they are being obstructionist or playing cute, the UFT can circumvent the DOE and appeal directly to the Office of Labor Relations.
Assignments can now be made to hall, yard, or cafeteria duty, but only if there are not enough volunteers, and they cannot be made for consecutive years. They must be made in reverse seniority order, thus blocking any principal’s wanton discretion. Most middle schools already have homerooms. If you have a homeroom you are exempt from a professional activity.
Space is short. Here are some other points of contention and revelations to soothe members of good will:
Grieving letters-in-file has long been a symbolic and largely futile act. Hearing officers have, to put it mildly, not been independent judges of merit. I still have letters in my file from the reign of Gerald Ford. Letters that do not lead to a bona-fide disciplinary case in three years will be tossed. The principal will have to get off the potty if he cannot deliver the product.
What other inroads have we made? Paraprofessionals will now be eligible for a much higher bachelor’s degree line of salary. We have found a way of instituting “lead teachers” while warding off the DOE’s cry for individual merit pay. There will be an open and fair selection process by personnel committees and a clean appeals process.
We have strengthened the grievance machinery by jettisoning the fluff of the past. Our new Contract provides an expedited means to file special “harassment” complaints. Micromanagement, which we all revile, has been targeted as a persistent outrage. Now it is codified into the Contract that funny stuff like bulletin boards and angles of furniture cannot be used to menace a teacher’s livelihood.
Increased discretion for principals does not necessarily translate into defeat for our members. Sometimes there are symbiotic relationships. Consider the areas of transfers and excessing.
Thanks to our new Contract, principals will have to declare all the vacancies in the school, not just a chunk of them. You will for the first time be able to apply for as many schools as you want from among those in the current transfer plans. For the first time, your principal’s permission will be irrelevant for transfers before August 7th. For the first time there will be no caps on the number or proportion of teachers who may successfully apply. And guess what? The existing seniority transfer plan was slated for extinction ten years ago, but the Livingston Street and Tweed never quite got round to it.
High anxiety and much confusion surround the new protocols regarding alleged commission of sexual misconduct and other felonies. A person can be suspended without pay, but only for three months and if “probable cause” has been shown. “Probable cause” is not mere suspicion and there are burdens of evidence that must satisfy the law.
The law is never perfect with regard to redress available to innocent defendants. But a close examination of the proposed Contract will clear the air and give proof that to the full extent of the letter and spirit of the Constitution, our members’ rights shall be guaranteed.
I am, by the way, an active teacher with years of service “in the trenches.” In Klein’s empire I’ve been in more of a tin-pot cell than an “ivory tower.” I have neither sought nor been given any perk or sweetheart deal in exchange for bought loyalty. That goes for both the DOE and the UFT. I need to be in the good graces of my conscience, which is why I strongly endorse the proposed new Contract.
The Union is the champion of us all.
Update by Kombiz This post was submitted by Ron Isaac to motivate informed discussion on the current tentative contract that is slated for a ratification vote beginning on Oct. 24th. I made a decision to post this using a pseudonym to encourage discussion. His piece is also posted at Education News where you can see other essays by Mr. Isaac.