by Mike Schirtzer, Teacher/Delegate, Leon Goldstein HS
The UFT and City of New York finally came to an agreement. In fact, the UFT Facebook celebrated by proclaiming “the wait is over” and it’s “the contract for education”. Unfortunately, this is not the contract we deserve, and it is no reason for a victory lap. Simply put, the retroactive pay is delayed until 2020, the raises are deferred until 2018, and New York City educators are left with 5 years of pay freezes and “raises” that don’t even keep up with the cost of living in New York. We have not received a raise in 5 years and now are being told to celebrate because we finally have one! This is not a fair contract and clearly not the raise and back pay we deserve. Our costs from milk to gas to utilities to our children’s colleges, have skyrocketed and all we can celebrate is a 2% pay increase starting in September. This is a demeaning insult to our profession.
Most other unions received 4% raises in 2009 and 2010, deservedly so. When the mayor and the UFT president stood on the podium telling us how we were all getting full retroactive pay, the first thought that went through our heads was “Good, when I come back in September, I’ll have the 8% factored into my salary and the large retroactive check on the way.” Then they announced that there would be a 1% raise owed to us for 2013 and 1% raise for 2014. Those numbers didn’t seem fair. We all know inflation is more than 1% a year. The very next thought in our heads was “4% + 4 % +2% = 10%.” Right away we assumed that, in September we would have 10 percent added to our salaries, plus that retro check ready to be cashed. At least then we would have some reason to cheer. Now that the facts are out, and we see the UFT chart (above), we realized that none of this is true. If you need a chart to explain retroactive pay, raises, and all sorts of strange bonuses, therein lies the problem. A salary increase and retro should never have to be explained by graphs, formulas, and charts
The math is simple, our “raises” amount to less than 2% a year. Our retroactive will be paid in five payments, up until 2020. What good does that do for us now in 2014? We want to live in New York City and thrive here. In order to do so we must be able to keep up with the Joneses. All we want is what our police, firefighter, and other union friends already have. We want a raise and retro that we are due. We have put up with a storm of failed education policies, from common core to a new evaluation system that does more harm than good, years and years of incompetent or even abusive principals, closing schools, and negative press. The last thing we should tell the UFT members is that this is the best we can do.
The city can afford these raises, it’s not our job to help the city out, because no one has told the millionaires that they should help out by giving back their bonuses or pay more in taxes. Why is it that the teachers should suffer while everyone gets raises. Apparently they have created a new class of teachers “ambassador, model, master” who will make more than the rest. Now teachers are going to be tripping over each other just to get this extra money, because the actual contract is so bad. So what they are telling us is what we’re doing right now is not good enough, we need to do more just to get this extra money. How will they decide who is a master teacher and who is not, by more testing, the flawed ratings, who the principal likes the most? The city can somehow afford merit pay, but not our full raises and retro. They can also afford to waste millions of dollars on terrible curriculum, test prep books, danielson training, common core meetings, and consultants, none of which have a positive impact on our children.
We were strapped with a terrible evaluation system, yet this deal does nothing to address it. Cookie cutter rubrics, test based evaluations were failures when first started and will still be failures after this proposed contract. Most teachers still can’t figure how they’re being evaluated, and most administrators can’t even figure out how to even evaluate us properly. Teachers were miserable this year. They have a scripted common core curriculum, non-stop testing not aligned to the curriculum, administrators using teachers as guinea pigs for an evaluation system that is flawed. They became “experts” on the Danielson rubric by attending webinars, and morale in our schools has never been lower. This contract was an opportunity to say to us “we care about what you do and we value it,” instead it says, “you are worth less than everybody else.”
There are teachers who ended up as ATRs due to no fault of their own. They have been sent from school to school every week, made to do menial tasks, frustrated because they can’t do what they love, and treated like second class citizens with little to no help from our union leadership. Now we’re going to look at them and say in addition to your terrible treatment we’re also setting up different rules for you than other teachers. Let’s be clear, the charter school billionaires are insistent on closing down our public schools, or stealing space inside schools, so they can operate their for-profit charters. Look at the the three million dollar campaign they launched against DeBlasio. Look at how they bought off Cuomo. This is not going away. That means each and every one of us could be an ATR tomorrow. Under the new contract ATRs will have a different set of rules than those still in their schools. An injury to one is an injury to all. We can’t stand idly by while our friends are being sold out. An ATR can be anyone of us.
We love being educators. We do it for the children, but we also have to pay our bills. Asking for a raise that keeps up with the cost of living is nothing to be embarrassed about. Getting the retroactive pay that everyone else has shouldn’t take a chart and formula to explain. We want a decent life for our family. We want to be able to live where we work and we want to feel respected for a change. When we were children, teachers were held on a pedestal. We never would never berate our teachers. Our parents would have yelled us for even thinking about that. Let’s demand a contract that builds up morale, that lets teachers know they are still valued, that makes our public schools the best that they can be.
The city and UFT must go back to the drawing board. It’s easy: throw away the graphs and formulas and come to us with a deal that says “here are your raises, here is your retro, here is everything you deserve.” Otherwise we vote NO!