by James Eterno, UFT Chapter Leader Jamaica HS
Teamsters Local 237 has reached a new Contract settlement with the City according to the September 19 issue of the Chief Leader civil service newspaper. Local 237 agreed on a two year, 13 day Contract that will give them annual raises of 4% and 4%. This keeps in line with the pattern established by uniform unions that the Police Sergeants set last year and this blog reported on. The only difference between the 237 pattern and the uniform pattern is that the benefits' package for 237 is not as good as what the police unions received. The 237 deal was confirmed by Randi Weingarten at last Thursday's Chapter Leader meeting. The Chief stated that it may mean there is a pattern for all civilian settlements in the next round of bargaining and Randi said this too.
While many people are surprised that a deal that sets a pattern would be struck amidst an ever worsening financial situation at the city, state and national levels, it is apparent that the city already budgeted in settlements for the civilian unions, including the UFT. According to this pattern, the UFT would receive a wage and benefit package that would be similar but slightly lower than what the uniformed unions negotiated. Our Contract expires on October 31, 2009; a successor agreement would cover the next two years should it follow the civilian pattern.
UFT BLUEPRINT FOR SUCCESS
There are no reported givebacks in the 237 deal or any of the current police and other uniform settlements. My five year old niece could now go to the Mayor and say, "Me too," and get the 237 pattern, unless the current financial meltdown leads to a municipal fiscal emergency. At last week's Chapter Leader meeting, Randi stated that a city budget meltdown is not likely. If it were to occur, then every union will be in trouble. We would then have to band together like we never have before to preserve what we have and make gains. If the system does not collapse, then our primary goal when the UFT starts negotiating must be to reverse the awful givebacks from the 2005 UFT Contract that have made life miserable for so many of our members.
This blog has written repeatedly about the horrific 2005 givebacks: the longer day, the longer year, a return to cafeteria and hall patrol, losing the right to grieve material in the file because letters are inaccurate or unfair, the loss of seniority transfer rights as well as the SBO transfer and staffing plan, an end to preferred placement for members when schools close, and weakened due process for time and attendance matters. This Contract clearly worsened teaching and learning conditions to the point where we don't know of too many people who aren't hoping to leave the system as soon as they can. This does not bode well for the future of education. In spite of the hype to the contrary, teachers are not the problem.
The next Contract should not be exclusively about money; it should be about making teaching viable again. We should consider accepting the raises every other union is receiving, even though it will leave us behind our suburban colleagues in terms of salary, particularly at the middle and top steps. (If we want more than the pattern, it means more givebacks or a successful strike.)
We need to organize to convince the public that our fight is about empowering parents, teachers and students to really improve the schools. Let's work with parent allies to push for lower class sizes, teacher as well as parental voice in all hiring decisions and other working condition changes that will truly improve education.
The usual argument against negotiating for smaller class sizes is that if we lowered class sizes in the Contract, then we will have less money for salary increases. We are competing against ourselves. That is not true this time as mandates from the Campaign for Fiscal Equity settlement include lower class sizes. If smaller class sizes are funded by the State or Federal government, great, but class size caps have to be enforceable. What better mechanism than the UFT Contract? The class size grievance process already exists.
We need a return to the SBO transfer and staffing plan where UFT members and parents had equal voice with the Principal on who was hired. In fact, we were the majority on SBO committees and there was an expedited grievance process if someone did not obtain a position. Principals need a check on their power to hire staff as personnel decisions now are top-down and there is no evidence that this has educational benefits. However, there is plenty of anecdotal evidence that senior teachers are being shunned. The current financial disincentive to hire senior teachers must be eliminated. We need to show the world how senior people are an asset and not a liability. We also have to cease any non-professional activities such as hall or lunch duty unless a teacher wants them. Yes, we need to have Circular 6 back to the way it was so teachers can work on educational matters and not hand out straws.
Last week, this blog explained how we could use the precedent established by police to gain a day back and help students have an extra day of instruction right before Regents exams, while eliminating some of the annual chaos at the start of the school year. We should return to work after Labor Day so administration has sufficient time to reorganize schools. We also need to have full grievance rights restored and hopefully improved. If principals are allowed to argue their grievance positions on the phone, they certainly can take the time to defend some of the ridiculous letters and observations they write before an independent party. Furthermore, if a letter is pulled, administration shouldn't be allowed to bring it up in any future forum, case closed. Teacher morale would improve if people felt they had a fair process for redress of all grievances.
Anyone who is not moved by the horror stories playing out in real time in the comments section of this blog concerning Absent Teacher Reserves is not a real human being. Hearing about how our members are being shuffled around is heart breaking. I feel for each and every person and of course I know I could be next if my school were to close. Not allowing these teachers to teach is an outrage that must be addressed. An ATR who desires a position must be placed before any new person within a license is hired. This must be in the Contract. Firing ATR's is not an option.
The ATR's will not be sold out and allowed to be terminated if they can't find a position within 12 or 18 months. We should not even argue this phony issue. To terminate them would necessitate a change in civil service law that would set a precedent for the labor movement that this union could never agree to. Even while they were winning all of the draconian givebacks in 2005, the DOE lost in fact-finding arbitration when they sought the right to fire the ATR's. They tried again in 2006 negotiations but they were not successful. They are not going to win in 2009 either. (This is one of the reasons why ending the Mayoral dictatorship over the schools next year has to be one of our major non-contractual objectives. We need educators running the school system who understand that teachers who are excessed are not horrible employees.) We also must have guidelines for evaluating schools that are fair and reasonable.
The pattern set by Local 237 and the uniformed unions looks like the pattern for the next round of bargaining and if a union accepts what other unions are getting, then there will be no givebacks. Over thirty years of history are on our side there. ATR jobs are safe. Our goal must be to show that the educational gains we are talking about putting in the Contract are in the best interests of the students. Continuing to close schools, firing senior teachers, scaring others into socially promoting students so their schools won't be closed doesn't help anyone. If it continues, soon we will be giving out "sub-prime diplomas."
Lack of day-to-day accountability and unchecked power is being discredited throughout the private as well as the public sector. The "imperial principalship" where principals are corporate style CEO's is not succeeding. Test scores on exams that are out of the control of the state (the NAEP and SAT) are not rising. Many principals in the city are not spending the money from the Campaign for Fiscal Equity settlement to meet the mandate of lower class sizes. Budget games are being played all over the place at the expense of senior teachers as well as pupils. The UFT needs to fight back by exposing the scam now.
We will not improve our working conditions if we don't understand that two annual raises of around 4% each are guaranteed if the city isn't bleeding red ink. A contract that equals the pattern and gives nothing further away is not sufficient even in difficult economic times. Saying "Me too" to Bloomberg or his successor won't restore what we have lost and won't help the kids. We need to fight as a Union to win our dignity back.
It's up to each and every UFT Chapter to organize to put pressure on our leadership to attain these goals. Contractual gains will not be possible unless we are prepared to battle for them with all of our collective strength. Don't let the UFT take the easy way out by accepting the pattern and claiming victory because we didn't give anything else away. Remember, my five year old niece could do that.