By James Eterno
The fact-finding report is out. It is filled with givebacks that will set us back ages by fundamentally altering the administration-union relationship in the schools in favor of management. These recommendations basically spell the end of the UFT as it currently exists and operates in the strong chapters. Everyone should go to UFT.org and read the report very carefully to see how badly we will be treated if we are to accept it. The givebacks the arbitrators suggest are horrific.
The losses include: the principal having the right to send us back to hall patrol, cafeteria duty or potty patrol, a longer year, a longer day that includes two extra periods where the principal will assign us, ten extra unpaid coverages, the elimination of our right to file grievances on disciplinary letters in the file, principal’s discretion as opposed to seniority in all transfers, plus weaker due process and excessing rights and a zero % raise in year one.
We have been bitterly complaining for over two years about how administration has been micromanaging us. Wasn’t “Let Teachers Teach” our big slogan at rallies? The Fact Finders didn’t even address our issues concerning micromanagement. Instead of moving us forward, they decided to take us back to a new Dark Age where we will be modern day serfs beholden to the lord principals who can assign us as needed and fill up our files with disciplinary letters and we won’t be able to fight back. Shockingly, the response from the Union to this draconian document has not been complete outrage.
In the Thursday, September 15, 2005 NY Post, UFT President Randi Weingarten said that the recommendations “have the potential to form a basis for a negotiated settlement.”
Any real union leader would tear the report into pieces and publicly say two simple words: NO WAY!
UFT leadership is spinning the report by saying that it is only a framework and it will be improved upon in subsequent negotiations. We only have to look at history to see the absurdity of this argument. In 1993 the final contract was essentially the same as the Fact Finding Report that was issued back then. In 2002, the final Contract was in some ways worse than the Fact finding Report, but very similar. First, while arbitrators were deliberating, we were told by Union leaders in early 2002 that any extended time would be utilized by adding two or three minutes to our current teaching periods and we wouldn’t even notice it. Then, the Fact Finding Report was released and it said we should add time to the school day in exchange for more money but buried in the report they suggested blocking the time to add one late day every six days for professional development and using the rest of the added time for instruction. At the time Weingarten assured us we would have “voice and choice” in how the extended time would be used. We didn’t know that the voice and choice would be the voice of management choosing how we should spend the additional time.
In the final 2002 Agreement Weingarten and then Chancellor Harold O Levy negotiated, there were two late days instead of one and it was left up to the discretion of the Superintendent as to how extended time would be used. We were placed at the mercy of administration in most schools. The extended time provision was so flawed it has subsequently been renegotiated three times. Does anyone seriously believe we will significantly improve on anything that it is in the current Fact Finding Report in final negotiations with current Chancellor Joel Klein?
Also, we should not buy the argument that Bloomberg and Klein are the toughest negotiators ever and this is the best we can do. UFT leaders made the same argument when Rudolph Giuliani was Mayor and they wanted us to swallow a Contract that included two years with no raises in 1995. Former President Sandra Feldman told us we had to be smoking something if we thought we could do better battling this very tough Mayor Giuliani. All of our enemies are formidable. We should not appease them by agreeing to massive givebacks. They have the classic bully mentality; they’ll only get worse if we keep giving in to their demands.
As for moral high-ground with the public, a union that surrenders basic rights merely appears weak to the people. Maybe we’ll get public pity but that will not strengthen our bargaining position. Bloomberg thinks he’s invincible. Only through strength will we gain respect.
What should we do? We can do nothing at all and at least we will still keep all of our rights as the Taylor Law maintains our current Contract until we have a new one. I understand that many chapters are not ready to strike at this point. We must organize chapters and prepare to be able to take industrial action so we can win, perhaps in tandem with other unions as they do in Europe. Right now we should not accept the Fact Finding Report. We should blame the Fact-Finders for not addressing our core micromanagement issues. We should then ask that negotiations continue and work to build militancy. If the City still insists on trying to destroy our Contract, then I suggest we go to the other extreme and demand and publicize the same Contract that teachers in surrounding districts have. New Rochelle was mentioned in the Fact Finding Report and their union recently agreed to a contract where top pay will rise to $116,000 per year.
Teachers in many surrounding districts earn six figure salaries, have class sizes around twenty, are paid thousands of dollars extra if they volunteer for cafeteria duty and they have full tenure protections as well as a shorter school year than us. Don’t city students deserve the same learning conditions as students in the suburbs? Let’s move forward not backwards. Do not accept the Fact Finding Report as a framework for negotiations. Let us not doom ourselves to micromanagement that will be much worse than we have already seen.