Sunday, July 29, 2007

UFT To Members: Seniority is No Longer An Issue Because We Eviscerated It

When I was in college I studied labor history. We studied the development of unionism as an agency for change and protection in the workplace and then as a strong political force in both local and national politics. As unions developed in the various sectors of society certain fundamental concepts of unionism developed.

It is axiomatic that unions represent the best interests of their membership. When they don't they no longer have the legitimacy to be exclusive bargaining representatives. One of the concepts that has developed to protect all union members is seniority.

Seniority, simply put, provides special benefit to union members who have been members the longest. It provides a mechanism to protect members by ensuring that employer decisions are made in a fair, non-discriminatory way and without regard to union activity.

So important is seniority in organized labor that union officials are often given "super-seniority" to protect the union and the unit from arbitrary and discriminatory action by the employer.

Seniority works in a variety a ways. The most important is layoff seniority. Here, employees are laid-off in a way which prevents an employer from discriminating against individual workers. The UFT has not had a teacher layoff since my college days but there have been layoffs for paras and other titles much more recently.

In 2003, in a feeble effort to destroy the para title, the DOE decided to layoff large numbers of paras when the UFT allowed a no layoff provision to sunset. I can remember a meeting of almost 30 paras in the Rikers chapel in which the principal explained that there was nothing he could do but hope that the DOE would reverse its decision. Speaking on behalf of the UFT as the Chapter Leader I advised all the paras in my Chapter that the "no lay-off provision" was no longer in effect. I assured them that the layoff would be by seniority order and that any rehiring would also be done that way.

I had some difficulty getting a district-wide para seniority list but eventually obtained one. I made sure all of the layoffs were done properly and that paras were listed correctly.

To my surprise, when we returned at the start of the next school year, all of the paras were back to work in my school. The principal told me proudly that he had worked out a deal that allowed their return even though paras with higher seniority in other schools were not called back.

I was in an awful bind. How could I fight against the principal's deal when my Chapter clearly benefited from this discrimination? How could the Union approve the clear violation of seniority rules?

I did not have to live with the dilemma for long as within a couple of weeks the DOE reconsidered and hired back all of the laid off paras. I found out later there was no "deal." Rather the Union had decided not to do anything about it at that time. They were just happy that some of the paras were called back and were not willing to risk political capital on asserting a seniority right.

In hindsight it is now abundantly clear that the UFT has no concern for seniority because it has stopped acting like a Union for some time.

While layoffs, in this economy, seem unlikely (at least for teachers) seniority also plays an important part in most organized sectors in work assignment. The UFT, since its inception, jealously guarded seniority in work assignments including mounting a strike to protect it.

The seniority transfer system became an institutional mechanism to protect this right and while never perfectly implemented it clearly allowed some protection for senior teachers. The DOE developed ways around the seniority transfer system such as not listing all vacancies or working deals with the Union when new schools opened but on the whole the system provided a safety valve based on non-discriminatory criteria for teachers, who needed to move to another school for any reason or no reason at all.

Then along came our new contract and the eradication of seniority transfer and in its place the "open market." The "open market" couldn't fly in the face of historical and fundamental union values any more. It permits the wholesale discrimination against senior and other disliked teachers, Chapter Leaders or anyone else. No longer do teachers have a union-protected work assignment right on transfer.

At the time that the contract was ratified Randi and her union-paid supporters heralded the loss of the seniority transfer system as a great victory for the union. "No longer would less senior teachers be bumped" and "now all vacancies would be listed" were some of the arguments they made.

After a short time it became clear that not only was the "open market" a fraud but an underclass of absent teacher reservists would give the DOE what it wanted…unfettered discretion in teacher work assignments. Teachers could be moved around the system at the whim of administrators.

Whole districts reorganized, Bronx and Brooklyn High Schools closed and principals mostly fill vacancies with untenured Fellows. Where's the Union?

In a recent article published in Washington DC's CityPaper
our Union's spokesperson is quoted about the loss of the seniority transfer system, something they are contemplating in DC. The article ends, aptly:

Ron Davis, a spokesperson for the New York teachers' union, declined to say how happy his group has been with the new system but says the union has indeed moved on. "I'd have to say we have other concerns [now]," he says. "It would not be an ongoing bone of contention for the membership."


ed notes online said...

Great post Jeff. It lays out the basic seniority issues very well.

We should not view the issue solely from the perspective of teacher rights.

One issue I would like to deal with is the argument Klein makes that a school system should not be about job protection but about teaching and learning. Weingarten I believe goes along with these beliefs as evidenced from her actions and by info from the inside that she talks about getting rid of bad teachers and not being worried about protections.

I believe there's an argument to be made that seniority rules create stability and school cultures that overcome the instances of the bad teacher being protected (I still think there are as many poor teachers if not more since BloomKlein and many people loyal to the principal will be protected no matter how bad they are.)

Stable schools include experienced people who often share their knowledge. Kids have long-standing relationships with teachers in these schools. The assault on seniority had done as much damage if not more to the educational institutions as it has to the traditional union prespective that you raise.

NYC Educator said...

Great analysis, as usual. A couple of points:

1. The UFT spin machine has invested a great deal of energy in its deal with Green Dot. In all its arguments touting Barr's system as an improvement upon tenure (which I don't buy anyway) it has pointedly ignored the lack of seniority, proudly advertised by Green Dot on its website.

2. In all the propaganda mill's fawning articles on the "open market" system, it blatantly ignores the teachers in ATR status. Were it not for the new system, there would be precisely zero such teachers.

They also ignore the fact that Klein keeps hiring new teachers, even as senior teachers linger in ATR purgatory.

Anonymous said...

I agree with you, nyc educator, and you were posting while I was writing this comment.....

Thanks for the historical and structural overview described in the post and the first comment. You can rely on ICE to provide background information on grave union issues such as these, and I regret deeply, both on a personal and a collective level, that the people running this union and ultimately responsible for maintaining our existing job protections break so frequently with long-standing union goals.

I would like to comment on something the Chancellor has pushed for what he has actually done.

One of Klein's earliest and most continuously iterated goals has been to be able to put good experienced teachers where they are needed, in the more difficult schools. His two recent initiatives, the Open Market hiring system and the way teachers will soon be paid (directly from the principal's budget), have not only hobbled his cause, but have shown him to be duplicitous.

Experienced senior teachers who indeed want to work in tough schools for a variety of reasons (the commute, the level, the challenge) have just become expensive. It is attractive for a principal to avoid calling them in for an interview, let alone hiring them.

Young teachers who spend a year or two in a difficult school are already looking to transfer out, to what they think is a better school in another district or out of New York City altogether. There is no reason for a new teacher to settle into a school with a difficult environment or one they're not happy in when adequate skills and a low salary makes them highly marketable. They'll apply to the schools with good reputations, and by gosh, they'll get those jobs.

It used to be that job vacancies were frozen until excessed teachers were placed, but the Human Resources people are no longer allowed to do this. The vacancies will be filled with new and fairly newly instructors, some of whom do not yet have a Masters. And even before these young teachers get tenure and full certification, they too will get the chance to look for and take that job in a "better" school. This is not conjecture, I already know of many examples.

The Lead Teacher program puts a few experienced teachers in difficult schools - for a salary bonus, and for only half their time teaching. That's a failure for the city's kids no matter how they spin it, and since it's a form of merit pay, it's a failure for labor, too.

There is not one item in the chancellor's agenda that will put good experienced teachers in full-time teaching programs in difficult schools and make them want to stay there.

The Chancellor is a fraud, the Mayor still backs him, and it looks as if Union leadership has a different agenda than what's in our best interest. I can't believe they thought these schemes would be of any use to the profession in the long run. It's something else, and they don't want us in on it.

Anonymous said...

Sorry for the couple of spots above that needed further editorial fixing. Am one of those senior teachers we're talking about, and it's a matter of what I miss editing on screen, not that I don't know me grammar. If you couldn't figure out the 3rd para., it should have been:
"I would like to comment on something the Chancellor has pushed for and what he has actually done."

The others you'll catch on your own.

Anonymous said...

The Ron Davis comment just shows how out of touch Unity is.

Anonymous said...

You're entitled to your own opinions, but not your own facts. I'm sorry to lead with a cliché, but it's preferable to leading with falsehoods.

Perhaps you've heard that counsel before. May I suggest that you read the UFT’s booklet “Know Your Rights?” You’ve had since last February to read it. Since all the members received it they are up-to-speed and therefore both optimistic about their careers and immune from being led astray by you.

The Open Market has been a huge success. It is far nearer perfection than was the system that it replaced. The Union is always working to fine-tune it and make it even more responsive to members’ needs. But progress to date has been striking and hugely beneficial to affected members.

Here is the collaboration – what do you think?

The Union’s members are professionals. The key to all the Union’s positions on work-related issues is the recognition of the professional status of its members and the rights and responsibilities that go with it. Being treated as a professional means having the freedom to feel like one, and that can only be accomplished when members are at liberty to make choices for themselves, rather than have such decisions as place of work taken out of their hands and thrust upon them. That was the case before the Open Market and it definitely didn’t do anything for the professional dignity of Union members.

To put it mildly, neither did the loss of a job.


Had you read “Know Your Right” you wouldn’t need to be reminded.

Under the Open Market, more teachers by far have gotten their requested transfers than did prior to its inception. This includes members with 15-20 years of service and 20 years and more. It is an entirely more professional system than existed before when members had to fit into an allowed percentage and be at the mercy of their principal.

Giving “excessed” members the prerogative and opportunity to interview for over 5,000 vacancies is vastly preferable to maintaining the old exclusive power of the DOE to force them to work at a specific site that might not meet their needs or desires. Members in the “good old days’ before the Open Market had to comply under duress. In those days, for which you are nostalgic, members bumped members and forced them into vacancies citywide.

It’s not too late for you to read “Know Your Rights!”

The Open Market is simply a choice for those who wish to use it. It is an option, not a mandate. Those choosing not to exercise this choice are protected from losing their jobs. Full pay and full benefits and guaranteed them. They have the right to stay within their district or high school superintendency. Faceless bureaucrats can no longer deploy them to some remote outpost of the system. Members are no longer vulnerable to such paternalism, punishment and indifference.

Professional opportunities versus forced placement: which do you think members (at all stages of their careers) want? The ultimate “no-brainer”!



The Union is not complacent and, as I said earlier, vigorous and unrelenting in its campaign to enhance the ATR arrangement so that “excessed” members are given first crack at filling vacancies. I don’t want to take words out of your mouth, but if your history is any guide, you will call these Union initiatives “lip service.” NOTE: THE UNION HAS ALREADY ACHIEVED THIS GOAL ON BEHALF OF “EXCESSED” MEMBERS. IT APPEARS IN BLACK AND WHITE AS PART OF THE NEW DISTRICT 79 AGREEMENT. THE UNION IS PUSHING TO EXPAND IT CITYWIDE.

Will you do your share to spread the good news?

The Union treats and trusts its members as professionals. It is astute and passionate. Its judicious idealism and forceful advocacy for its members have given it credibility and clout as a partner in the quest for quality education and professionalism in this city.

The Union is the champion of all its constituents and has been on top of every challenge. It has prevailed against detractors from outside and from a tiny cadre within. It is a transparent, democratic, and highly effective organization. The fantastic preponderance of members realizes that and count more than ever on the union to continue delivering dividends of security and dignity in their workplaces.

That’s because they know their rights. Do you know yours?

Anonymous said...

I've said it before and I'll say it again: :You're entitled to your own opinions, but not your own facts. I'm sorry to lead with a cliché, but it's preferable to leading with falsehoods.

Under the new UFT Contract, “excessed teachers” would no longer have a job.

The UFT Contract guarantees all excessed teachers the right to a job within their own district or high school superintendency.

The UFT Contract does not protect its excessed members from losing their job.

All members without exception or condition are fully protected against having no job.

There has been a decline in positions for UFT members in the schools.

Not only has the Union been successful in maintaining the level of positions held by its members in schools, but it has significantly increased the number. This is in sharp contrast to what has otherwise been a national phenomenon, both in the public and private sectors, of a massive loss of jobs.

Under the old procedures, excessed members always found or were offered placements that they wanted.

Under the old system, excessed members were placed solely at the discretion of the DOE, and members were commonly forced into schools, districts, and high school superintendencies that they had absolutely no desire to be in.

Excessed members had many vacancies citywide from which to choose their placement under the old system.

Under the old system there were practically no choices available for excessed personnel. Under the Open Market there are over 5000 vacancies.

The UFT has not kept its members informed of their rights and opportunities.

In February, 2007, all members received the UFT’s “Know Your Rights” booklet. In it all details are fully explained and clarified.

The DOE issued their “Placement Guide” for excessed staffers solely in an effort to be of assistance to its employees.

The UFT’s successful effort to ensure a job for all its members meant that even if they would be excessed and in some cases become ATRs, the DOE would be obligated to continue to pay them full salary and benefits. This would put severe strain on the DOE’s budget and gives them the incentive to secure places for ATRs.

Excessed members are forced to participate in the Open Market Transfer Plan.

The Open Market is an option, not a mandate. Members can use it or, if they prefer, remain in their own school, district, or high school superintendency as ATRs until they find a position of their choosing.

Under the old system, excessed members were treated respectfully as professionals.

There was no freedom of choice under the former system. It was paternalistic and impersonal. You were a number and not a person. People were bumped and forced into vacancies. They were pawns. Under the new system there are far greater opportunities for members and a much better hope for them to achieve personal and professional satisfaction.

Anonymous said...

Myth: The UFT is a labor union.

Fact: The UFT is a self perpetuating organization that does little to help its members and usually only looks to assist its leadership in gain money and power at the expense of the wider membership.

Anonymous said...

Since Anon is dealing with facts, would he/she state how many teachers are still ATRs???? A "job" under excessing meant a position, not ATR status.

FACT: The pickens' are slim under the Open Market.

FACT: Under the UFT seniority transfer, the teacher got to pick the school.

Anonymous said...

If the open market is so great, why are veteran and younger teachers who were excessed waiting over a year for job placement? They can't all be bad teachers who don't know how to interview. The open market is a patronage system. Oh yeah, the Unity leaders of the UFT like patronage hiring systems; that's why they write comments praising the open market. It's how they operate.

Anonymous said...

Give something away and call it a victory. It's called UFT 101.

Anonymous said...

My principal hired 3 new special ed teachers w/o posting on the open market. How is that possible?

Anonymous said...

Those three jobs were probably posted on the open market (closed after
August7) for about five seconds.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

I am an excessed teacher looking for a job. I went to all the job fairs the open market had and it was a JOKE. Once we arrived at the Marriot Hotel in downtown Brooklyn. They took all the excessed teachers to another room and talk to us for two hours. At 5:30- 6:00PM when all the principals were tired and putting the signs down, they invited us into the hiring hall. What for?? to see the ghost JOBS. We complain to the union and they did not do anything. Ms. Weingarten wake up and do something for the excessed teachers. We pay the UFT to represent and fight for us.

Anonymous said...

If your principal didn't post positions it should have been grieved. Speak to your Chapter Leader

Anonymous said...

What will they do? Nothing