Friday, January 04, 2013

WILL SESIS VICTORY BE A TURNAROUND MOMENT FOR DOE/UFT?

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.

12 comments:

edlawfaqs said...

I appreciate your optimism but there are several issues that will need to be sorted out before we can claim victory, no matter how small that may turn out to be.

First, compensation. The DOE was ordered by the arbitrator to produce its SESIS time records (the only way the retro overtime will be paid) in February. Do you think that they will pay overtime just because someone turned on their computer on Saturday evening? I would be shocked if the DOE didn't try to put the burden on the teacher to prove what work was specifically done and that it was "required" to be done outside of school hours. If a principal states that work on Johnny's IEP should have been done during school hours or worse that the work was really done on school hours how does the teacher get retro money? If the arbitrator allows retro money just for turning your computer on you can guarantee that the DOE will look for a stay and argue that the issue and remedy go beyond the arbitrator's power.

It's also important to note that the Article 20 (Matters Not Covered) claim by the Union and whether the whole issue was arbitable in the first instance was strongly contested with the Article 20 claim dismissed and the arbitable claim sustained.

These issues are related in that the issue of whether the DOE can change the job description of a title may be a mandatory subject of bargaining subject to the Taylor Law and thus not arbitable. Article 20 holds that "With respect to matters not covered by this Agreement which are proper subjects for collective bargaining, the Board agrees that it will make no changes without appropriate prior consultation and negotiation with the Union."
Here's the problem. If the matter was not a subject for collective bargaining but a proper subject for arbitration how can the arbitrator order retro overtime?
The most important part of the Union initiated grievance that gave rise to this arbitration was the refusal of the DOE to bargain about a significant change in teachers' job function with the implementation of SESIS. Sure the retro money is good but this arbitration hold that the DOE can unilaterally change our jobs without the need to collectively bargaining and as long as they don't keep convenient time records won't even have to pay for the extra work they order us to do. This is not victory.

Anonymous said...

Jeff can you simplify the legaleze? Explain this in simple English please

Anonymous said...

The post says the DOE won't learn a thing from this. The first comment confirms this.

ed notes online said...

Given James' comments it is clear this is not as much a victory as it seems. The fact that the DOE can force people to do this for years without any response other than a grievance verges on abuse.
The UFT commercials should have been used almost from day 1 -- details on the rediculous work in front of the public would have got the bad publicity Tweed would have gotten into a much quicker favorable resp than a griev. Or threaten a city wide boycott. James point here is right on but we need not to congratulate the UFT ldrs but demand much MORE.
"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."

Anonymous said...

I do not have a problem giving credit to the UFT when it is deserved and am proud to do so. And while I agree that this arbitration may allow many of our members some compensation for the extra hours they worked doing SESIS, I am not convinced that this is a great victory for our members and it is certainly not a victory for our students.
Being compensated for our labor is good, however, I maintain that money is not the issue and if this is all we win, then I don't call it a victory.
Many special ed workers (Related Service Providers, SETSS Teachers, Psychologists, Social Workers, Guidance Counselors) have been forced to do excessive amounts of Data Entry work. This is certainly not in our contract. Yes, the right thing should be that workers get paid overtime for this labor, however, in my opinion, member concerns were not over money in this case. It was the forced labor that we had to do on our own time IN ADDITION TO THE other tasks we have always done largely after school hours including lesson planning and IEP writing (which takes more time on SESIS then on prior paper IEP's). If we gain additional workers to do the data entry tasks required by SESIS, that would be a victory because it would allow more time for intervention and counseling with our students.

Additionally teachers, social workers and psychologists now spend excessive amounts of time dealing with the complex systematic errors resulting between SESIS and the other systems that are used to record and monitor the special education services our students are legally mandated to receive. As some glitches are fixed, new ones keep appearing. Time spent on these tasks is important for administrators because it affects compliance but is really wasted time for our students due to lose of instruction and services. There is no real monetary compensation for this.
Special education workers were bullied by the DOE into doing all the SESIS work. Many were afraid to not comply and the UFT, by telling members to keep logs , aided in this effort. I know of one teacher who retired early due to pressures put on her to maintain her so-called SESIS responsibilities. Speech teachers have been told that if attendance records are not up to date, their ratings would be negatively affected. And I’m sure there are other stories out there.

Before we give credit for winning anything, let’s see how this arbitration will benefit members and our students moving forward. Because living with SESIS these last two years has been a failure and many of us have not felt supported by our union as we labored long and hard to get the work done AND provide services to our students at the same time. Legal actions without strong on the ground support and well organized school chapters will never be sufficient to protect us from the growing DOE abuses we are now seeing in NYC.

Anonymous said...

MORE congratulates the UFT for the financial compensation they’ve earned our Special Education colleagues across the city. The SESIS case is another example of UFT leadership pursuing the same bureaucratic, top-down strategy it always pursues. Sometimes that strategy yields small victories. Nonetheless, because of this strategy the UFT is losing the war on several fronts.

First, the UFT did not involve rank and file members in this effort any more than it normally does. It issued surveys and asked chapter leaders to report abuses to district representatives. The UFT compiled the survey data and used it as evidence in the arbitration case. Members were not organized to respond collectively or actively in any way. There were no membership meetings, no mobilizations, no involvement of members in strategy discussions. The UFT strategy was purely legalistic and involved only the grievance department, some officers, and some lawyers. And this time they won an arbitration case. Can we expect more cases against the DOE: Teachers are currently being evaluated with the Danielson Rubric, educators are being compelled to spend hours upon hours writing curriculum in the form of Common Core Units of Study and are grading on Acuity well into the night , high school teachers are being forced to change schools during Regents Week, creating traveling and childcare hazards for our colleagues all across the city.
Many special education workers including Related Service Providers, SETSS Teachers, Psychologists, Social Workers, and Guidance Counselors have been forced to do excessive amounts of Data Entry work. This is certainly not in our contract. Yes, the right thing should be that workers get paid overtime for this labor, however, money was never the issue. It was the forced labor that we had to do on our own time IN ADDITION TO the other tasks we have always done largely after school hours including lesson planning and IEP writing (which takes more time on SESIS then on prior paper IEP’s). If we gain additional workers to do the data entry tasks required by SESIS, that would be a victory because it would allow more time for intervention and counseling with students.
At times the UFT leadership has won victories through its top-down approach. In the 1990s it successfully lobbied Albany to make per session pensionable. It used a court case and an arbitration case to stop two different rounds of school closings. It used arbitration to prevent the DoE from unilaterally ending sabbaticals. The problem is that we are still losing the war. The UFT has forced Bloomberg to follow the rules to the letter in order to close schools, but Bloomberg is still closing schools. It won a victory on SESIS but seems unable to do anything about the dramatic cuts in special education, under the guise of “special ed reform.” It has successfully used the Triborough doctrine to block Bloomberg’s desired concessions — ie., it has maintained the status quo by refusing to negotiate a new contract. However, the union leaders have no strategy for winning a better contract except to wait another year for a new mayor and hope for the best. Over that time we make no contractual progress and we get no raises.
Legal actions without strong on the ground support and well organized school chapters will never be sufficient to protect us from the growing DOE abuses we are now seeing in NYC.

James Eterno said...

Ed Notes-We are not all about being negative (contrary to Unity-New Action belief) so it is ok to give credit where we believe it is due. Filing grievances is one tactic that can be used to fight back. I would rather people get paid than not but Ed Notes your point is well taken. There needs to be much more done.

ed notes online said...

MORE should call for penalties for DOE and principals who so willingly violate the contract. They have nothing to lose otherwise. In this case they lose (sort of) and they just pay what they would have paid anyway. So why not do stuff like this all the time? Which they do.

And as for giving them credit -- you all know my Vichy mentality view (NOT A VIEW HELD BY MORE THOUGH I TRY HARD TO CONVINCE THEM)-- where Vichy argued they saved 10 people while letting thousands die. No one gave them credit.
I hold the minority view that the UFT leadership is on the other side or at best straddling the fence.

Anonymous said...

I normally stay away from Nazi analogies but I see the UFT more as Neville Chamberlain's Britain than Vichy France.

Britain appeased the aggressor Germany by giving Hitler the Sudetenland in 1938 and could not believe he wanted more. When Hitler went after Poland and it was time to finally fight, Chamberlain had no clue. Unity Caucus hasn't a clue either.

They have appeased the privatization crowd and now can't believe they want to destroy us. Unity may win a battle or two but we are ultimately doomed as they have no credibility as fighters. Without that fighting spirit, members will not be inspired to stand up for themselves and then union is doomed.

Anonymous said...

Congtrauations to the UFT on their win in arbitration. However James is right that themembership needs to be mobilized for the union to gain the upper hand.

Anonymous said...


I am a school based speech pathologist who has lost many hours of my time working on SESIS. I am very happy about the overtime pay, however, till this day I am still inputting my session notes and attendance over the weekend. The major problem has not been solved as of yet! What are they going to do about the extra work burden?

Tonja said...

This is cool!