Friday, September 02, 2005

Will the New Contract End Seniority?

Today Newsday has an article about the 1000 or so teachers still waiting for assignment. The rhetoric continues with the DOE blaming the cause of this perennial problem on seniority.

It doesn’t take a new teacher long to learn that seniority is incredibly watered-down in our system. In most unionized professions seniority is one of the lynchpins of an organized employer. Seniority provides stability for the employer and predictability for unionized employees. After all rewarding people on the basis of longevity provides an easily verifiable mechanism to ensure that management does not pick apart union members.

Of course seniority is not without problems. We have learned over the years that seniority can reinforce racism and other societal ills. When seniority is used to layoff the most recently hired are terminated first. If the employer had an affirmative action program going this system perpetuates the racism.

Teaching in the NYC public schools allows seniority to be used in very few areas. In the Police Department, for example, vacation picks and many job assignments are chosen by seniority. Teaching does not have vacation picks but we do have job assignments. Two teachers who want the same program will usually get rotated, a non-seniority based system, which provides so many exceptions and qualifications that most teachers don’t bother grieving when they are unfairly impacted.

Additionally seniority is used for layoff purposes. While the teachers have not experienced this recently the paras have. Did the DOE follow seniority when paras were laid off in 2003? It became clear that seniority rules were violated both in the layoff and in the rehire. No grievances were ever filed and when everyone was offered their job back the issue became moot.

Now, we turn to seniority transfers and SBO’s. When a teacher wants to transfer to another school he or she chooses a school from an annually prepared list and if they meet the basic criteria, license, “S” rating, etc., they are transferred. If two or more teachers transfer the most senior teacher gets the job.

SBO’s watered down seniority by allowing committees (made of union and administration members) to select candidates on other than seniority criteria. Since SBO’s were supposed to be a choice of each school it was touted as not being a loss of rights.

Now here’s the rub.

Bloomberg wants complete control over teacher placement. Being thoroughly schooled in anti-union tactics he knows that ending seniority will effectively end most control a union has over the workplace. He’s not going to get it.

Weingarten and the negotiation team don’t really care about seniority transfers although seniority, as a general concept, will be defended. They claim that very few teachers take advantage of it. (Of course we all know the Union has been allowing the DOE to hide positions for years leaving nothing of value to chose.)

Could it be we have the makings of a “compromise?”

Give up seniority transfers. Make every school an SBO school and the Mayor wins and the Union wins. Right? Wrong.

How does a senior teacher transfer in this “compromise?” Never. Under an SBO senior teachers, unless they are super-teachers, are not worth their pay. Remember, we value teachers, for budget purposes, at their length of service. You can get two new teachers for the price of an old one.

Additionally we all know the SBO process is a farce. Even in the most active Chapters the administration completely controls the process. Converting the system to an all SBO system would be pretty close to what Bloomberg wants except he could still blame the union for his lack of freedom in assignment.

Will this actually happen? Who knows. But it is starting to look like it.


old-timer said...

Jeff, Do you think that a contract is imminent? Is it possible that an agreement has already been reached, but both sides have agreed to keep it under wraps until just before the election? Can we go yet another year without a contract? I've been teaching for over 30 years (my starting salary was $9200), and this fiasco is the worst situation I can recall. Bloomberg almost makes me nostalgic for Rudy (but not quite). Thanks!

Jeff Kaufman said...

I have no inside information nor will I make predictions. What is clear is that the news blackout that accompanies contract negotiations is both unnecessary and frustrating for our members. I am not a fan of conspiracy theory but keeping our members in the dark definitely adds to our paranoia (and apathy).

John Lawhead said...

Jeff's analysis includes some important points. The advent of lump-sum budgeting for the schools has the effect of drastically undermining seniority, both for SBO transfers and hiring by schools reorganized into minischools. As he points out it's unlikely that the principal (or SBO ctte or school planning team) is going to take one veteran teacher instead of two new ones.

But I think the ultimate aim is to not just to undermine seniority rights but to destroy teaching as a career and make it into a stint one does for a limited time or a stepping stone to something else. That's becoming a
widely used approach to reshaping and controlling education.

Bloomberg is indeed anti-union, but it's hard to imagine him going it alone without help from a business union like the UFT. Nothing shows his true colors as "education mayor" like (1) his hostility to significantly reducing class sizes and improving facilities and (2) the increased destabilizing of school staffs.