The Delegate Assembly featured a lengthy Contract speak out highlighted by a spirited debate between UFT President Randi Weingarten and Truman High School Delegate and ICE member Julie Woodward. The debate centered on the inadequacy of the grievance process for our members mainly because of us surrendering the right to grieve letters in the file in 2005. Many of the delegates spoke of our need to win back what we gave away in 2005.
Randi in March called for a Contract negotiations discussion at this DA and the opposition caucuses that represent rank and file educators were prepared. Both Teachers for a Just Contract and ICE had leaflets prepared relating to the Contract and our demands. The majority Unity Caucus had literature that led with a piece on how the UFT supports charter schools that was followed by an article on school governance and concluded with one on the budget. There was not one Contract idea in the Unity leaflet.
Overall, the Contract discussion lasted over an hour. There was very little discussion of money although Randi did mention that the police and sergeant’s unions had agreed to lengthy Contracts where the final two years had two 4% raises. Randi also briefly talked about the difficulty negotiating in this severe recession but we believe that these agreements plus the DC 37 settlement of 4% and 4% over two years are pattern setting for other unions so they would impact on us. Interestingly, most of the speakers at the DA focused not on salary but on professional gains that teachers, and other UFT members, believe are essential.
The best part of the meeting came when a delegate brought up the issue of winning back the right to grieve to remove inaccurate/unfair letters from our personnel files. She talked about how the threat of multiple grievances often forced principals to back off of our members. Randi said that in the current system principals don’t care about the threat of grievances. She then added that we gained all of the substantive rights on letters in the file back through the courts and through grievances on other Contractual provisions where the remedy was to have letters removed from files. She said we won the Todd Friedman arbitration on attendance and five or six other cases so it was clear that a letter could be grieved as long as another article of the Contract was violated.
Randi then asked for someone to find any substantive right on this issue that we have lost since 2005. She went on to talk about how after three years, letters are removed from files if we haven't been charged and we could bring up the issue if there were a spike in letters.
Julie Woodward rose from her chair and answered Randi specifically. She said that we could no longer stop Principals from lying about us in letters written for our files with a grievance. She stated that principals could write anything about us and we were basically powerless to do anything in response. In the course of this debate,the standard from the old Contract, inaccurate or unfair, that allowed us to fight grievances successfully was raised. Randi responded that we almost never won and letters were just altered and now they are removed after three years.
Randi neglected to mention that after three years, the letters are basically useless to the DOE because unless it is a criminal matter, the DOE cannot use material that is over three years old against us in 3020A disciplinary hearings. What does the DOE need to keep the letters for if they are inadmissible? Having them challenged before they are three years old gave us a chance to have a letter expunged before it could be used against us and for untenured personnel, it gave them a chance to have some kind of hearing before a neutral person.
Julie then stood her ground against Randi. She blasted the grievance process. She stated that there are very few cases that the UFT takes to arbitration and she went on to say that she had a very strong personal grievance that was delayed for a long time and then it was stopped by the UFT and only through her strong advocacy for herself did the UFT decide to go through and win. She then argued that many members are not so persistent and they suffer in silence when the Principal writes lies about them. She added that when these members see someone grieve and have to wait for years while the harassment from administration continues unabated, this silent majority is not about to exercise their union rights.
This view was also put forward by Peter Lamphere from Bronx High School of Science and TJC. Peter talked about a harassment case that was filed a year ago by 20 teachers in the Math Department that has not gone to arbitration yet, even though there are strict timelines in the Contract. He also told us that the principal is denying the UFT the right to put material in mailboxes with inpunity; a right the UFT won decades back.
ICE in its leaflet is calling for an expedited grievance process. Without a strong grievance procedure that every member can take advantage of, the Contract is basically rendered useless. Lamphere also called for penalties if the DOE violates grievance timelines. He also stated that we need to fight as the teachers in Los Angeles battled with their sit-in at the school board meeting and now they are threatening a one day strike. Randi responded that we have to know what we are getting into with militant actions and arguments were made in favor of using the status quo part of the Taylor law to our benefit. This provision keeps an expired contract in effect for NYS public employees until we have a new one unless we go on strike.
Other proposals included winning back some of the other givebacks from 2005 including eliminating the two school days before Labor Day from the calendar, ending school-wide merit pay, or individual merit pay and bringing back the Seniority/SBO transfer plans to put a check on principal power.
People also discussed paid child care and parenting leaves, reducing paperwork, eliminating data entry work for teachers, no further extended time, reworking how the current extended time provision is used, stopping attacks on senior teachers, stopping outside consultants from judging us, having a fixed number of days in the school calendar, limiting the number of periods in a row that elementary school teachers can work, getting more per session for secretaries, allowing people to transfer their sick days to others without a penalty and more. A lively discussion indeed that won't mean much unless we are willing to fight for whatever goals we want to push for.
The remainder of this lengthy meeting was basically just the Presidents' Report and the Staff Directors' Report.
Randi said she wears the front page assaults against her from the NY Post as a badge of honor. She said that Rupert Murdoch is going after her personally to try to get us to capitulate. She said the vengeance of the attacks on her shows just how powerful UFT advocacy is. She also talked about how the unions identified healthcare savings that were ignored but the battle against us would heat up with the issue of mayoral control being taken up by the legislature after the transit fare is resolved.
She said that as part of the Working Families Party, we were pushing for a solution for the subway fare issue that would be paid for by everyone. She then said that in terms of mayoral control of the schools, with the Post, the Daily News, the Times, the business community in favor of the current system, we might need our members to be on call for mass faxes, emails or a big rally to show that it is 200,000 UFTers and not just Randi Weingarten that want to see the system changed.
Randi and grievance director Howard Solomon reported on a victory on hardship transfers at arbitration. If someone has a hardship transfer for medical or safety reasons and is found qualified, the DOE must assign the member to another school to relieve the hardship within 15 days; that person is not an ATR; he/she is a "hardship transferee."
For the next two years, they will get to teach in their license area or at least be given appropriate work within their license area. However, they cannot grieve their program preferences. After two years, they can be transferred back to their original school if the hardship has abated. The member can appeal and go through medical arbitration or if the issue isn't medical, they can grieve through the regular grievance procedure.
Hardship transferees are required to try to go through the open market hiring system during the two year period to try to find a regular position. After two years, if the person can't get a job on the open market and hasn't been transferred back to their old school, they get full rights and should be placed on the table of organization of the school they have been transferred to. However if they have not made a good faith effort to find a regular transfer through the open market, they can be placed in ATR status at the end of two years.
After reading through this decision thoroughly, I would not consider it a major victory but it is better than no hardship transfers at all and transferee status is a step up from being an ATR.
In other news, there was a moment of silence for a teacher, Lem Martinez Carroll, who recently passed away. Also Councilmen Mitchell, who won a close race, thanked the delegates and Leroy Barr promoted the upcoming Spring Conference where Ted Kennedy will win the John Dewey Award. Finally, Leroy told us that Chapter Leader and Delegate elections are coming. ICE urges everyone to become active and run for Chapter positions.