by James Eterno, UFT Chapter Leader, Jamaica High School
For the greater part of the last three years since the punitive 2005 Contract was forced down our throats, the UFT leadership has been telling us that giving up the right to grieve letters in the file was really a gain. They argued that after three years if disciplinary charges don't result from a letter, then it can be removed. They never mention that material that is older than three years cannot normally be used in 3020A hearings, which is the process to discipline tenured teachers. This year the UFT has not admitted that they were wrong in giving up so many of our rights in 2005, however behind the scenes they have been trying to find new ways to fight file letters and we are winning back piece-meal what we gave away.
Earlier in the school year, we were told about four teachers who challenged file letters in court and won. These letters were written following a Commissioner of Special Investigations report. The courts said a file letter for a tenured teacher cannot be strictly disciplinary. To discipline a tenured teacher requires a 3020A proceeding.
Fast forward to the June DA where we heard about the case of Todd Freedman who won his grievance on attendance from 2006-07. The remedy that he asked for was that the letter the administration wrote for his file be removed. According to Grievance Director Howard Solomon, the arbitrator gave him that remedy. The arbitrator also codified in writing that a teacher who gets a letter for file based on an underlying clause in the Contract can file a grievance and ask for the remedy to be that the letter be removed from the file.
For Todd the issue was Article 16 (attendance) and Chancellor's Regulation C-601 which would fall under Article 20 (matters not covered). The arbitrator, according to Solomon, said no specific number of absences automatically triggers discipline but a good faith case by case of analysis of the facts in a particular case must be done by a Principal. In this particular case, the principal had a policy that ten absences would lead to an automatic letter for the file. The arbitrator also said that there were five factors that must be considered which are: unusual circumstances, likeliness that the situation will recur, pattern of absences, employee attendance and work history, and the seriousness of the illness involved.
Freedman was then given a chance to address the Delegates. He told us that he had a bad year last year because of the death of his father and an illness. He then interestingly noted that the UFT Grievance Department told him to file a case under the Family and Medical Leave Act but it was Randi who supported his grievance (under Article 16). Why wouldn't the Grievance Department fully support this case from the start? Freedman concluded by dedicating his victory to his father. On a related issue, if a member is protesting a letter about Corporal Punishment, we were told to file a grievance under Article 20 (Matters not covered; the Chancellor's Regulation would be A420).
It is good news that we are winning back in pieces the ability to grieve letters in the file but this right should never have been surrendered in the first place and there are still types of letters that cannot be grieved. One final thought for our Unity readers: If the 2005 Contract was so wonderful and the new rights are better than the old ones, then why are we trying to win back our old right to grieve letters in the file? Please just admit that the givebacks were horrible so we can organize a campaign to win all of them back.
When my wife and I walked in, Randi Weingarten was urging the Delegates to continue to fight budget cuts. We were urged to keep calling 311 and complain about cuts to schools. She also commented on the hearings for the Contracts for Excellence and how they have turned into Klein bashing. She then told us that collective action is the only way to move the DOE. We totally agree with her on this.
She then talked about the rights that excessed personnel have, including the right to stay employed. She also said that by Contract people in danger of being in excess must be told by June 15. It was then reported that 244 Chapter leaders responded to the UFT's online survey. (Unity readers I was one of them). When there are around 1500 schools, 244 responding doesn't seem that high. Randi said the excessing problem was severe in many middle schools. She also mentioned how the entire English Department from Lafayette High School was placed in excess. She concluded her remarks on excessing by urging people who believe they were excessed improperly to file grievances.
Leroy Barr's Staff Directors' report was next. He told us that the Borough Offices will stay open this summer from 9:00 a.m. through 4:00 p.m. from Monday through Thursday. He also said that 22,000 members have opted in to 55-25 and that the deadline is August 25.
The Question period followed. Someone asked why we are paid overtime at a cut rate amount (per session) and not paid time and a half like other workers. Randi said that it was because our overtime is voluntary but that we have won in the courts to make per session pensionable and in collective bargaining we could try to increase the rate. She said that now that we have essentially caught up to the suburbs in salary, we can look to improve in other ways. Readers: Have our salaries essentially caught up to the suburbs?
Other questions concerned using Article 8J to grieve a lack of a Pre-observation conference. Randi said we would attempt to fight this with a good case. A question was asked about computer access and Randi replied by saying that mandatory computer use was a new condition of employment and therefore we would ask for impact bargaining. Protecting Chapter Leaders who have been removed to the "rubber room" was also discussed.
Motions & Resolutions: Can you say Rubber Stamp?
Liberation High School Chapter Leader John Powers from ICE was successful in getting the Leadership to move the resolution on healthcare up to the front of the agenda. Powers has led the movement within the UFT to fight the privatization of our healthcare plans. GHI and HIP, two not-for-profit entities, have merged and may now be sold off and become for profit companies. Powers had a resolution that he has been attempting to introduce for months saying that we should oppose moving our main healthcare plans into the private for profit sector.
Unity proposed a watered down healthcare resolution that does not oppose privatization but calls for maintaining quality, affordable healthcare. Randi illegally motivated this motion from the chair. She then continued her assault on Roberts' Rules by calling on John Powers and not allowing him to present his substitute motion that opposed privatizing healthcare as an amendment. A substitute motion is a form of an amendment which is a debatable motion. Instead, Randi erroneously in my opinion called it a new motion and said that it needs a 2/3 vote to be placed on the agenda. We went scurrying through our Roberts' Rules and it took a while to figure out Randi was wrong but by that time John Powers had been given time to speak and he made some valid points about how healthcare companies that had been privatized in the past were as effective with 9 out of 10 people. He asked who would want to be that tenth person.
Vice President Michael Mulgrew spoke against Powers on what was supposedly a non-debatable motion and then Unity voted against the Powers resolution that opposes privatizing our healthcare. Randi then tried to sneak through the watered down Unity motion without allowing someone to speak against it and at that point I had seen enough and raised a point of order. Randi made a snide remark about how I wanted to speak just to delay important political endorsements but she told me I could speak. (Translation, my point of order was valid). I declined the invitation as there are people who are far more knowledgeable on this issue than I am.
Gerry Froenhoffer (ICE-TJC VP candidate for CTE schools in 2007) from Aviation High School then spoke intelligently on why privatizing healthcare is an important issue that needs a great deal of discussion and should not be voted on right away. He also talked about the history and mission of HIP. After that, the usual sounds were heard from the Unity faithful to end debate so they could rubber stamp the will of the leadership and so debate was closed. The vote, while clearly in favor of Unity's watered down resolution on healthcare, had some strong dissent.
Rating Joel Klein was next on the agenda and since the ratings were due on the day of the DA, this resolution was moot although it easily passed (Note to Unity readers: I worked very hard to have almost everyone in my chapter fill out the "Joel Klein Evaluations" and my wife and I along with friends from Jamaica and plenty of ICE members attended the rally on Monday afternoon).
Political endorsements followed as two controversial Republicans were debated. Lisa North from ICE said that with control of the New York State Senate up for grabs this November, it might be wise to endorse more Democrats so that they could win a majority in the Senate. Unity's people talked about the virtues of the Republicans they were endorsing and how they were good on our issues. Even our friend Gerry Froenhoeffer supported one of the Republicans. Randi left the chair and actually spoke from the floor in favor of a Republican candidate who was not pro-gay. All of the UFT endorsements easily passed. The Delegates also passed another resolution calling for the Executive Board to be empowered to endorse other candidates over the summer.
Finally, a resolution asking for the UFT to persuade the American Federation of Teachers to endorse Barack Obama for President was presented. Randi again left the chair to motivate this one and it carried overwhelmingly.
Another year of attending DA's is over. We hope you enjoyed the reports. Randi refers to the blogs at just about every meeting so you can bet she will read your comments. Comment away.