by James Eterno, Chapter Leader, Jamaica High School, UFT Executive Board
Before deciding how to vote on the proposed contract, it's important to be based in reality. Don't rely on hearsay. Don’t rely on alleged “SPIN” that supporters of the proposed contract want you to believe.
A lot of misinformation is being circulated. Most importantly, read the Memorandum of Agreement for yourself. (The following was taken from an “explanation” offered by supporters of the proposed contract).
MYTH: Supervisors would have free rein to write letters in the file which will go unchallenged.
Contract Supporters' Spin: Every member retains the ability to bring complaints about a letter to the principal and to append a written response. If a letter leads to disciplinary action, that letter can and will be challenged.
If a teacher is denied a teaching assignment, a per session job or a transfer based on a letter in the file, the letter will be challenged as part of the grievance of the denial. And all letters not used in a disciplinary process must be removed after three years.
In addition, the UFT will vigorously pursue charges of harassment against supervisors who use letters in the file to intimidate staff.
The union also wrested from the city an agreement to re-open this issue "if there is a disproportionate increase in the number of letters to the file" as a result of this provision. Bottom line: no letter harmful to a member will go unchallenged.
REALITY: The truth is that if you can't grieve a letter in the file, it can be used against you for three years. If you are tenured, the letter in the file grievance is your first line of defense. We are surrendering it. If you are not tenured, it is really the only line of defense where you can get your case before an independent arbitrator who is not a city employee.
U rating appeals go to Department of Education employees. The deck is stacked against us. The harassment article in the contract (article 23) only allows independent arbitrators to make recommendations. The final decision is left up to the administration.
Make no mistake about it, the leadership can spin it how they like but giving up the right to grieve a letter in the file including unsatisfactory observations is a tremendous surrender on the part of the union.
Also, remember if you are getting along with administration today, it doesn't mean your boss might find another job and then you could be stuck with a crazy principal. It happened to me when a principal who was well liked by the staff found a better position and we suffered under the replacement.
MYTH: All teachers would be assigned to cafeteria, hall duty or homeroom.
Contract Supporters' Spin: Although some administrative duties are on the menu, there are many restrictions on the principal's discretion to assign these duties.
Chapter leaders will continue to have a voice in determining how many positions will be allotted to each menu item. If a principal wants an unreasonable number of people doing activities like cafeteria duty and hall patrol, the chapter leader can appeal that decision outside the DOE.
The principal can assign teachers to an activity only if not enough people volunteer. Assignments, if necessary, must be made in reverse seniority order and rotated. Teachers doing homeroom will not have to do another professional activity. A teacher who is assigned an administrative duty one year cannot be assigned any administrative duty the following year.
REALITY: Who is going to volunteer for cafeteria patrol or hall patrol? I don't see too many hands going up. The Fact of the matter is that the principal can assign half of us to these administrative non professional duties every year and the other half the next year.
Why would a principal want to give us homerooms for ten minutes if he/she can have us in the halls or the cafeteria for a whole period? In the contract before Circular 6, we could only be sent to do cafeteria duty once every six years. Since 1997, it's been up to us to decide if we want to do non professional activities.
Now we could be assigned every other year to non professional activities such as the cafeteria or the halls. This is a huge step backwards in terms of our professionalism.
MYTH: Excessed teachers would lose their job rights and could be laid off.
Contract Supporters' Spin: No excessed teacher can be laid off. Under the current contract, excessed teachers are limited to placements in schools in their superintendency; under the proposed contract, excessed teachers will be able to seek a position anywhere in the city, if they choose to do so. Excessed teachers who don't obtain positions may be assigned to a school in their superintendency or to Absent Teacher Reserve positions in the school from which they were excessed or another school within that superintendency.
REALITY: The Union's Fact statement is not telling the truth. There is not a job security provision in this proposed agreement. The city could easily lay off anyone if we don't have a no layoff agreement. It is absolutely true that people who are excessed or whose schools are reorganized will have to find their own position or they could become Absent Teacher Reserves and could of course be laid off based on seniority.
People in certain license areas have already been threatened with layoff.
The current contract gives us a right to a position if we are excessed or if our school closes. This proposal gives us next to nothing.
MYTH: The 55-25 pension reform in this proposed contract will never happen.
Contract Supporters' Spin: The same argument has been made about every pension improvement the UFT has won, including the elimination of pension contributions for 10-year Tiers 3 and 4 members and the 2002 retirement incentive, which had a temporary 55-25 benefit for Tiers 2, 3 and 4. Usually the main obstacle has been the refusal of the city to support them, not the Legislature. In this case we already have the city's agreement to work out the details. But only if the contract is ratified!
REALITY: We might get the 55-25, not because it is an added benefit but because it won't cost the city a dime; we will have to pay for it ourselves with higher pension contributions.
Read the Memorandum of Agreement closely. It says in Section 6.2, "The [labor management] Committee will analyze the actual costs and additional contribution rates required to provide this benefit (including any additional health insurance benefit costs) without any cost to the City."
This means that we will only get this benefit if members pay for it themselves. That is creating a de Facto Tier Five. It is not a new benefit if we have to pay for it with higher pension contributions.
MYTH: The reconfigured time in the proposed contract is a sixth teaching period.
Contract Supporters' Spin: The language of the contract explicitly limits the new ten minutes, added to the former 20 minutes, to informal, individualized assistance to small groups of no more than 10 students [5 students in special education.] UFT President Randi Weingarten has made it clear that an additional teaching period is a strike issue for any proposed contract and will remain so.
Under this proposal, the session will begin after dismissal. In multi- session schools and in District 75 schools, the 10 minutes will be incorporated into a 6-hour and 50-minute school day by adding a minute or two to each period.
REALITY: We agree that the class size can't be 34 but ten students in a room with a teacher is a class. You can call it something else but it is an extra class. The ten to one ratio does not mean that they can't stick two or three teachers in the same room. It's only a ten to one ratio in the contract. This will be an extra teaching period for just about all of us.
There is nothing in the proposed agreement defining what can be done in this class. There is nothing that I can see that will stop administration from programming these periods for makeup credits for pupils.
There is nothing in there to stop them from observing us during that period and then writing us up unsatisfactory which we won't be able to grieve.
As for the multi session issue, it will be up to the principal to decide if he/she has space available to give the extra class. When principals figure out how much they can cut their per session budgets by not having to offer PM School, tutoring, makeup labs and makeup gyms, you will see how they suddenly will find space where there is none today. Only the most crowded of high schools and district 75 schools will add an extra minute to periods.
Everyone else will be doing the 37.5 minute teaching period.
MYTH: We would lose all our seniority rights.
Contract Supporters' Spin: Our seniority rights, including school seniority, are completely intact for layoffs, excessing, program preferences and other assignments under the proposed contract. The only change would be the end of the seniority transfer plan.
REALITY: The SBO transfer plan is eliminated along with the Seniority Transfer Plan. Instead of a personnel committee deciding who to select, the committee makes recommendations but the principal makes the determination based on whatever criteria he likes with no expedited grievance process if you are denied a transfer. The only thing a principal cannot do is discriminate. Good luck trying to prove discrimination.
MYTH: There is no raise in this contract.
Contract Supporters' Spin: Every union that bettered the basic 0-3-1 or 4.17% over three years civilian pattern set by DC 37 has made substantial trade-offs.
Pattern bargaining has persisted since the fiscal crisis. Take the recent sanitation agreement. It cuts starting salaries (as did the police contract), lengthens routes and reduces the number of people on some trucks from two to one, producing both layoffs and huge savings for the city. In our case the time-for-money swap consists of 10 minutes a day and two additional work days a year (3 in Brooklyn and Queens) for a trade-off of 4.2%. The rest of the 15% increase - 10.8% -- is a clear raise.
REALITY: Using the leadership's own math, 10.8% over 52 months and twelve days is less than 2.5% a year in raises for veterans and for new teachers that would come out to less than 2% and for per session it would be 1.7% a year. Not exactly a big increase.
We can beat pattern bargaining by having a credible strike threat as the Transit Workers' Union did in 2002 and will again this winter when their contract expires. According to the NY Times of December 20, 2002, transit workers received a 4.5% annual increase in compensation without givebacks because their health plan received a huge infusion of cash as it was about to go bankrupt.
In addition, they had their disciplinary code revised in favor of the workers. At the time, Randi Weingarten told the NY Times, "The health bailout is very significant. That helped turn a modest contract into a pretty good contract."
Randi is head of the Municipal Labor Committee and as such she could also try to get coalition bargaining with other unions. She has not done so. The Professional Staff Congress (CUNY Professors) does not have a contract and they are holding out for a better deal. We should also.
MYTH: If we vote this contract down, we can always go back to the negotiating table and get a better deal.
Contract Supporters' Spin: There is no legal obligation for the mayor or the chancellor to come back to the table. Given their history, there is no reason to believe that they would do so, let alone offer a better deal. Mayor Giuliani re-negotiated the 1995 agreement because he had committed a labor violation when he broke his promise and raised city managers' salaries. And the deal reached several months later simply moved money around, adding two months to the previous 61-month deal to reduce the 25-year longevity to 22 years and eliminate a temporary cut in starting salaries.
If this contract is voted down, the most likely option is a strike authorization vote by the members. Waiting another five years is unrealistic for our members and would undoubtedly leave us further behind as we would NEVER win eight years of retroactive pay.
REALITY: Bloomberg has to go back to the negotiating table as the law requires the Mayor to bargain in good faith. We will have significantly strengthened our hand if we vote no.
Giuliani had no competition for reelection and yet he returned to the table after we voted the contract down in 1995. In the revised agreement in 1996 there was also a real retirement incentive tied to the contract, new P credit courses were added, Circular 6 was made stronger to ensure we would not have hall patrol or cafeteria duty and the city agreed to add money to our welfare funds. We can do better now; we can't do much worse.
Many of the people who work full time for the union and will not have to live under this contract will get a 15% increase for spending ten more minutes per day in the UFT office. They won't have to do cafeteria duty or work an extra small group teaching period.
Ask them why they are trying so hard along with the Daily News and the NY Post, traditional enemies to unions, to sell you this giveback laden contract?