A recent update from the UFT sent out to school Chapter Leaders reads:
Teacher eval impasse will go to binding arbitration if no agreement reached by May
“Given the city’s failure to meet the state-imposed Jan. 17 deadline, which cost our schools $240 million, the governor added an amendment to his budget submission on Thursday that empowers state Education Commissioner John King to act as a binding arbitrator to settle any elements of the agreement that have not been finalized in negotiations by May 29. In that event, after reviewing position papers and hearing oral arguments by both sides in May, Commissioner King will establish New York City’s new teacher evaluation plan by June 1.”
In this same email to chapter leaders, Dr. King was referred to as
“a lifelong educator who is serious about education, who has approved more than 700 evaluation plans across New York State”
Of course, teaching for three years, receiving public funds to run charter schools and being an appointed bureaucrat does not meet our definition of ‘life-long educator’. But of Dr. King’s work, UFT President Mulgrew has said
“We’ve seen the kinds of plans the state has approved and we are comfortable with them because they are about helping teachers help kids”.
The fact that there is no evidence that these plans have helped teachers to help students is a point that has been made time and again. In fact, with the increased testing that will be required, this plan can have only a negative impact on our students’ education. But that this evaluation will be imposed notwithstanding our collective bargaining rights is a point that, while we’ve made in the past, we feel we must make here again.
To be clear, the assertion of the union’s leadership that the ultimate decision will be rendered by Dr. King (and that that is OK) is deplorable to the extreme. MORE has, in the past, described this move as “Surrendering Our Collective Bargaining Rights” and has been attacked by the Unity Caucus, the caucus of Michael Mulgrew and the current union leadership, for saying so. MORE knew very well that Unity’s response (that part of Collective Bargaining is the ability to turn to an arbitrator to settle disputes between labor and management) was without merit when applied to this scenario.
We knew this for two reasons: 1.The process of arbitration depends on relying on a fair and independent arbitrator (Dr. King, who is responsible for creating much of the current education policy in New York State, is anything but a fair an independent arbitrator) 2. Any responsible union, lead by people who care about the status of their members, would seek only a fair and independent arbitration process.
The bold arrogance revealed by UFT leadership of the Unity Caucus in this Chapter Leader update leaves even us a bit taken aback. It does, however, afford us the opportunity to examine exactly how Unity has sold out our collective bargaining rights by taking a closer look at exactly what a fair and independent arbitrator is and detailing how Dr. King is in a position to act as anything but a fair and independent arbitrator over this issue.
Most arbitration cases between the UFT and the Department of Education, binding or otherwise, are handled by the American Association of Arbitrators. That organization was founded in 1926 and is the nation’s leading organization for settling collective bargaining disputes between labor and management. Recent UFT cases arbitrated by the AAA include the 2012 UFT/CSA victory that stopped the mayor from closing twenty-four schools and excessing half of the staff from each of the those schools and the recent UFT SESIS victory which allowed special education teachers to be paid for the forced overtime incurred during the 2011 and 2012 academic year.
It is with good reason that the UFT has turned to this organization to settle disputes in the past, as the AAA sets a very high standard for exactly who can and cannot be an arbitrator. In order to become an arbitrator on the AAA’s Labor Panel, one must be on a list called the “Roster of Neutrals”. This roster only accepts applicants who meet a very high level of standards. Among those requirements are a list of basic qualifications. Let’s review those requirements and ask whether Dr. King meets the standard of being a fair and independent arbitrator.
1. Experience. Applicants “must have a minimum of 10 years senior-level business or professional experience” and have “hands-on knowledge about Labor Relations”. Dr. King was twenty-eight years old ten years ago and was leading Roxbury Prep Charter School in Massachusetts As this is a non-union charter school, it cannot be said that Dr. King developed a ‘hands-on knowledge’ of Labor Relations during this time and he cannot be considered to have developed ‘senior-level’ business experience. Yet the Unity Caucus premises that he does.
In addition, the AAA demands that its applicants have “training and experience [specifically] in arbitration”. Dr. King, who attended the nation’s leading universities developed a vast amount of training in education and education policy over the course of his career, but not in labor related arbitration. Therefore, it can easily be concluded, by anyone except the Unity Caucus of the UFT, that Dr. King does not possess the training or the experience to be an arbitrator.
2. Neutrality In order to be an arbitrator, applicants must meet the AAA’s high standards of neutrality. These standards include “freedom from bias” and an ability to “evaluate legal principles”. Most specifically, arbitrators “cannot be an active advocate for labor or for management.” Doesn’t his current status as the Commissioner of Education, a leader in the education reform movement in New York State, and his past status as founder of the UncommonSchools network of charter schools (a charter network that hires non-unionized teachers) clearly demonstrate that he is not free from bias? Our union leadership does not seem to think so.
Let’s take a moment to examine whether or not Dr. King is an “advocate for management“ with regard to this matter. He was the Deputy Commissioner of Education when the system was negotiated and debated (and ultimately ratified) by the state’s legislature in 2010. He has written all of the regulations and guidelines around the creation and implementation of this system as it will exist in the state’s 694 school districts. He has had the singular power to approve or deny the teacher evaluation agreements that have been reached between school districts and their union. And let us not forget that Dr. King was the one who insisted that a teacher not be able to earn an effective rating on the new system unless his or her students perform well on standardized tests (a system that has led to the outcry of how forty (the amount that objective measures will be worth) will equal one-hundred percent of a teacher’s rating (see here)).
What kind of union would attempt to convince their membership that the very person who has been responsible for creating, revising, approving and implementing this new evaluation system can possibly be a fair and independent arbitrator in a labor dispute?
Only the leadership of our union. Only the Unity Caucus.
Leaders of the Unity Caucus, in their zeal to accuse the Movement Of Rank and File Educators of not understanding the basic principles of collective bargaining, have failed to admit that arbitration itself hinges on the training, the experience and the non-bias of the person who is acting as the arbitrator of an issue. Why have they hidden this obvious truth? Only two possibilities can explain: 1. They do not know what fair and independent arbitration is. 2. They simply do not care.
As troubling as this is, our examination has thus far centered around one type of arbitration; the grievance arbitration. There is a basic difference between a grievance arbitration (such as the ones mentioned above) and a contractual arbitration. Grievance arbitrations, which address alleged breaches of the contract, occur quite often. However what is before us, what the UFT Chapter Leader update identified as ‘binding arbitration’, is a contractual binding arbitration; a decision that will allow major parts of our contract to be altered. The UFT has stood firm in not allowing binding arbitration to determine its contract for decades.
But, of course, this is a different UFT.
The issues over which the Unity leadership is going to allow Dr. King to ‘arbitrate’ (a role he is clearly not qualified to fill) address a broad swath of present and future working conditions for teachers across the city. For instance, Under what circumstances can a teacher be fired for incompetence? Who, if no future agreement can be reached, will decide how teachers are evaluated after this agreement sunsets in one, or two years? These decisions, the Unity Caucus believes, would be better left to Dr. John King; Commissioner of NYSED, than to the collective bargaining process that has been established.
But, of course, truth is that the Unity leadership knows full well what a real arbitration process is. A much more accurate (and truthful) way of describing what is about to happen is to call it out for what it is: Imposing an agreement. This is how UFT spokesman Peter Kadushin identified it:
“The UFT would prefer a negotiated settlement with the Department of Education, but … is supportive of the state imposing one if an agreement cannot be reached.”
Perhaps Mr. Kadushin should be writing the Chapter Leader updates?
We do not want our union to surrender our rights of collective bargaining –not to SED, nor the courts nor the governor. Like teachers in Chicago and Seattle, we believe that educators have the power to organize and to fight. The Unity leadership may tergiversate over this issue until the cows come home. But we see their actions for what they are and the Movement of Rank and File Educators believe that teachers do not have to surrender. In fact, it is the last thing that we should do.