Cleverly waiting until after teachers left for their summer vacations Randi and Joel signed an agreement about several issues concerning the "rubber room." ICE has lobbied for years to provide due process to teachers and staff languishing in the "rubber room" and as the numbers swelled several inept measures were taken to answer the "problem."
First an alleged survey was undertaken. According to Randi only a few teachers assigned to the rubber room wanted their cases expedited. Nevertheless she appointed a three member team to "investigate" rubber room issues. The three member team was so effective it ended up alienating many of the rubber roomers and was part of the motivation for a class action lawsuit against the Union was commenced by the very teachers this fabulous trio was assigned to help.
The agreement reproduced below is not really an agreement. It is rather a statement of hopes and unenforceable goals and filled with precatory language. The Union is given almost no enforcement power if the DOE decides not follow the "agreement." Let's take the "agreement" point by point with potential problems outlined in red.
1. The DOE intends to provide the "general grounds" for the reassignment. The current practice is merely reassigning a teacher to the rubber room. Now, presumably, in the reassignment letter there will also be a "general ground"
Problem: Nowhere is "general grounds" defined. Also, SCI investigations (a large number of rubber room removals) are specifically exempt from disclosure. Also it is not clear whether the failure to provide this notice can be challenged in any forum.
2. Specific time timetables are provided in the "agreement." OSI has 90 days, criminal cases shall be transferred to the Administrative Trials Unit in 30 days and the DOE has 40 days to draft 3020-a charges.
Problem: While the DOE "will diligently attempt to comply with these timeframes" the agreement further states that this provision "shall not be enforceable through either the grievance processes set forth in the relevant collective bargaining agreements or any other legal mechanism"
3. Teachers shall be assigned to rubber rooms in their borough wherever possible.
Problem: The provision is subject to Chancellor's Regulation C-770 which leaves the DOE with the discretion which rubber room a teacher is assigned.
4. The DOE agrees to maintain rubber rooms as safe working environments.
Problem: The Public Safety Employee Safety and Health Act already provides this protection.
5. The number of arbitrators is increased with a special group of arbitrators assigned to incompetence hearings. A provision to provide for discovery where information is exchanged prior to a hearing.
Problem: The Union has long maintained that the reason that there are a shortage of arbitrators (and thus lengthy delays in the hearings) was because the DOE allegedly would only agree to appoint arbitrators they felt were anti-teacher. Increasing the number of arbitrators either means that this was untrue or they don't care who is appointed since it is doubtful that the DOE will accept pro-teacher arbitrators.
6. The last provision deals with an increase in the number of arbitration days that are allowed under the contract. Currently there are only 140 days permitted. Given the DOE and UFT's decimation of the grievance procedure it is clear that additional days were needed. Now the number has increased to 175.
Problem: The limitation of arbitration days, a dirty little secret, has caused delays and deals to be made concerning contract violations. While this increase is welcome given that class size and reorganization grievances count toward this yearly limit it severely delays important issues. Without the ability to obtain relief at lower levels of the grievance procedure arbitrations have been the only mechanisms to obtain contractual justice. Borough offices know all too well about the limits and unless a grievant is politically connected will generally refuse to go to arbitration. If one makes it through it will be delayed while "more important" grievances are heard.
So, what did we get from this "agreement?" Basically the UFT and DOE get to issue a press release that they are making efforts to lessen backlogs and empty the rubber rooms. In reality nothing will change unless the DOE wants to change. Doesn't sound like much of a labor-management agreement!