by James Eterno, UFT Chapter Leader, Jamaica High School
The 11 Officers of the UFT (The Administrative Committee) have approved a resolution that will go to the Executive Board and the Delegate Assembly resolving "that the UFT reject the opening of our contract" over the Absent Teacher Reserve issue. It also resolves to press the Department of Education to stop wasting money and talent and try to find full time positions for Absent Teacher Reserves. This sounds good but a close reading of the whereas clauses that precede these two resolved clauses shows that the UFT leadership will go to any lengths to wipe their fingerprints from the dreadful ATR situation that they did a great deal to create by agreeing to the indefensible 2005 Contract givebacks.
The first whereas clause in the resolution opposing ATR negotiations states that the 2005 Contract provided "rock-solid job security for any educator who is ever excessed by the DOE, a new right we had never achieved before." Is this true? We need to go back as far as 1992 to examine the veracity of this statement. Article 17E which has stayed in the Contract since that era states, "Beginning in the Spring term in 1992 education funds in the Mayor's Safe City/Safe Streets Program will be utilized to eliminate tipping by establishing a dispute resolution program staffed by teachers." For those who do not remember, tipping was when high school teachers were laid off in the middle of the school year because student registers invariably dropped in the spring. We were told at the time that this was a no layoff clause. This provision has been used for years since to stop midyear layoffs.
In the 1995 Contracts when we were forced to endure two years without a salary increase, the UFT sold the first Contract that the membership voted down and the warmed over version that was subsequently ratified by telling us that at least we have job security. The actual language in 1995 Article 17F says: "...no employee covered by this Agreement shall be displaced or involuntarily separated from service except for cause or reason related to state civil service law (e.g., the movement of appointment lists and/or requirement to hire certified teachers, if available)." We were told this was ironclad language that protected certified as well as non certified teachers and when the clause was permitted to sunset in 1998, UFT leaders told us not to worry because we still had the no tipping clause which the Board respected. A similar job security clause to the 1995 version was in the 2000 Contract but it was removed from the 2005 Contract (officially the 2005 Contract ran from 2003-07).
There is no job security clause in the current 2007-2009 Contract. Article 17F is no longer about job security but instead covers a voluntary buyout for ATRs. The UFT's claim that there is "rock-solid job security" does not hold up under careful scrutiny. To put it another way, would you rather have a clause in a Contract that says you have job security or have the UFT leadership tell you that you have job security?
As we see it, if there is a financial crisis (certainly possible in the current economic climate), the Mayor could lay off anyone as long as he follows civil service procedures which call for the last employee hired citywide within a license to be the first to be fired. What prevents layoffs is not the Contract but DOE's preference for new employees who are easier to control than veterans. The new teachers would have to be let go first and so the DOE finds a so called education commission to manufacture a fake ATR crisis and then they pressure the UFT to end what is left of the civil service system.
The next whereas clause in the AdCom resolution talks of the 7,000 members who have used the open market transfer system to move to "jobs of their choice." Who are they kidding? It's jobs of Principals' choice, not UFT member choice. Schools are now principal political hiring fiefdoms that cleverly circumvent the intent of civil service rules that have their roots in the 1880s when the Pendleton Act put in place civil service examinations for federal jobs. A civil service hiring system normally bases personnel decisions on how well an applicant scores on an objective, competitive exam. The higher you score on the test, the faster you get hired. The purpose is to eliminate patronage in government job appointments. This type of hiring system is used for most city jobs and was used by the Board of Ed until recent years. Joel Klein, with the UFT's approval in 2005, has taken us back to a patronage system that past trade unionists fought bravely to end.
When the UFT talks about the success of the open market hiring system, they always compare the open market to the seniority transfer system of the past. However, by 2005 only about half of the schools were using the seniority transfer system and they only needed to post half of their vacancies. UFT leaders now seldom mention the SBO transfer and staffing plan that the other half of the school system used. Under this system schools had hiring committees that were made up of a majority of teachers and those schools had to post all of their vacancies and hire based upon objective criteria that included seniority. There was an expedited grievance procedure if someone was rejected by a personnel committee. Clearly, there was at least a check on the Principals with the SBO system which was given away by the UFT in 2005 along with seniority transfers. This is a major cause of the current ATR mess.
The next two whereas clauses in the new ATR resolution state that the Department of Education has consistently in bargaining tried to fire the ATRs but they are constantly rebuffed. This is true. The problem is the UFT created this problem by agreeing to patronage hiring and transfers, i.e. the open market. The 2005 Contract ended preferred placement for teachers who are excessed if a school is closed. It also stopped placement in a vacancy if someone is in excess because they were the junior person in a license within a school. The UFT agreed to insert the words "unless a principal denies placement" into the Contract to give principals a veto over any staffing decision. The UFT accepted the "imperial principal" concept for hiring and now they are surprised to find the DOE is pushing strongly to eliminate the last vestiges of the civil service style personnel system: who can be terminated. To put it another way, we gave away the hiring and transfer system so why would anyone be shocked that DOE wants complete control of the firing system too? (Weakened due process fits in here as well but that's another article.)
Another whereas clause in the UFT resolution on ATRs says that "the DOE never followed up to negotiate after we agreed to do a buyout in the 2006 contract." Why doesn't the UFT add that the buyout for ATRs is supposed to be voluntary?
A later whereas clause criticizes the DOE for creating the financial disincentive to hire senior teachers. The UFT leaders fail to mention that the UFT agreed to the new funding formula for schools last year and called off a giant rally with parents and other activists to protest it and in return there were only minimal modifications made to the so called fair student funding formula. A year later the Keep the Promises Coalition has been revitalized but we have to build the momentum again.
Then to top it all off, the UFT has to take a cheap political shot at ICE when the final whereas in the ATR resolution declares: "the Delegate Assembly passed a resolution in February not to reopen the contract over anecdotal reports of a spike in letters in the file because it understood the protection provided by a closed contract." Meanwhile, the NY Sun on Monday, May 5 reports that there have been private meetings between the UFT and the DOE over the ATR issue for seven months. The Contract has unofficially been reopened to discuss what management wants, not what we need.
We stated back in February on this blog: "ICE has attempted to ask that the contractual provision concerning letters in the file be reopened as per a letter labor Commissioner James Hanley sent to Randi back in 2005 when we were giving away many of our basic rights. We wanted to introduce a resolution seeking to revisit only the letter in the file provision, not the entire Contract." The 2005 letter from Hanley said that the city would reexamine the issue if there was an increase in letters. Those negotiations with Hanley should have taken place right after we saw U ratings going up a year ago. We missed the opportunity to go on the offensive and instead we are once again defending what few rights we have left.
As yet another year winds down and more schools and programs are being closed and phased out, the ATR situation will only worsen. For the UFT to act as if they didn't play a major role in creating this disaster is revisionist history at its worst.
Instead of trying to persistently excuse the inexcusable concessions from the 2005 Contract in their resolutions, UFT leadership should be acknowledging that because we were not organized properly, we had to give up way too much in 2005 and those givebacks are hurting the school system. The only way we will win back a transferring and staffing plan that is like the old SBO process, a full summer vacation, no more cafeteria or hall duty, the right to full due process and other take-backs is if the UFT admits that teaching and learning conditions are dreadful and will only be improved with real Union action.
On May 14 at the next Delegate Assembly, I will vote for not reopening the Contract on the ATR issue. However, I hope someone points out that Unity's need to politicize the ATR issue and rewrite history is quite disheartening.