The UFT received a very favorable arbitration decision concerning members being compelled to do special education computer work on non-school time. The UFT accused the DOE of lengthening the school day in violation of Article 6 of the contract. The arbitrator agreed with the union so members who had to work extra hours will be paid retroactively at the rate of their regular salary, not per session. The SESIS arbitration decision can be read in full at Gotham Schools.org.
We salute the UFT Grievance Department and their director Ellen Gallin Procida for their hard work and victory in this case. We also wish to acknowledge officers Michael Mendel and Carmen Alvarez as well as people from the schools who all testified in the case.
As a result of the grievance victory, UFT members who had to do special education computer work on SESIS before or after school or on days off from 2011 up until the end of 2012 should be paid by March. This is very good news except that people who did the work during their duty free lunch period will not be compensated, which angered a couple of people in my school.
And what about all of the other abuses that are taking place throughout the city? We have been told that members are losing prep or lunch periods and being forced to attend meetings in certain schools. We at Jamaica are being directed to give up preps to write a unit of study for the common core. Of course we have filed multiple grievances and asked for payment as compensation. President Mulgrew says we are taking the DOE to the Public Employees Relations Board on this issue. I am all in favor of this action but it is not enough.
A commentator on the Gotham piece complained about acuity and assessment pro. Another wrote about data entry for FITNESSGRAM testing. He complained about how much work is involved inputting data for this. We can go on and on about how the belittlement of teachers goes on unabated. Is the SESIS victory a turnaround moment? I hope so but my instincts tell me the DOE won't be humbled in the least.
The UFT has won two major victories in court and in arbitration on school closings. Has this stopped the DOE from closing schools? The UFT won a major grievance to stop school aides and other non-secretaries from doing secretarial work citywide. Do you think these violations have stopped? In one of the new schools in my building there isn't even a secretary. The DOE philosophy will more than likely remain the same after losing on SESIS. Break the UFT contract or law at will and if they are caught, they just say, "oops, my bad," pay some money and then move on to another area where they can abuse the pedagogical staff.
In the SESIS case people had their rights violated for two years. Yes they will be compensated but two years is an awfully long time to put up with a major contractual violation. I know of someone who is waiting since 2006 to have their grievance heard at arbitration. Justice delayed for sure.
A different kind of union would be grieving while simultaneously working with its members to figure out how to stop the violations collectively. We are trying to do that at Jamaica with the lost preps but a citywide strategy of collective action is where we need to be. We have to build a member driven union where, if something like SESIS abuse occurs, we would all have the courage to rise up to make our employer's lives so miserable they would end the practice immediately.
It's not up to the UFT leadership to make this style of unionism a reality; it's up to the membership. Maybe this decision will help give us some confidence.