For the first time in almost five years, UFT members finally have a contract. But almost one quarter of the membership (23%) voted against the deal. Most of the members with whom we spoke who approved this contract only did so because they felt it was the best our union could do. We disagree, this contract does not provide the same pay raises that other municipal labor unions received in 2009 and some of those unions are already stating they will reject these terms if offered. We believe our union can and should do much better than this.
Under this new contract, teachers who were excessed from their schools because they were closed will have weaker due process than those whose schools survived. Different titles of teachers, with different pay and different expectations, will now be created and over ten percent of our schools will operate outside of UFT contractual rules and DOE regulations. This creates a union membership increasingly divided against itself and members who will have even less of a reason to stand together in solidarity.
This contract, which was negotiated in secret and approved by the union’s Negotiating Committee and Executive Board without seeing it in writing, represents a leadership that is out of touch with the union membership and students we serve. Educators everywhere want an end to high stakes testing and the seemingly non-stop test preparation that goes along with it, a decrease in class sizes and caseloads for guidance counselors and an increase in services for the children we serve. Instead, we have a contract that codifies the testing regime, ignores class size and caseload limits and makes it easy to terminate some of our colleagues.
Many educators voted against the contract for the simple reason that the raises negotiated, averaging to 2% annually over the 9 years of the deal, do not keep up with inflation. Cost of living in New York City is increasing by at least that much and expected to rise even faster in future years, resulting in an effective pay cut. Furthermore, while other city unions received 4% raises in 2009 and 2010, teachers will have to wait until 2018 to see those raises fully incorporated into their salaries, and will not receive all the money they are owed until 2020. This is two years after the contract expires, leaving open the possibility of having to renegotiate with a different Mayor. Much of this weak economic package was financed by a set of health care changes that remain unclear. Reforms could range from innocuous, such as making sure dependents covered by the health care are valid, to the disastrous, perhaps forcing teachers to sacrifice 2% of wages to pay for premiums, wiping out some of the already paltry wage gains this contract has to offer.
Occupational and Physical Therapists provide services that are essential to the success of our children most in need, but still receive wages far below other professionals in the DOE. Paraprofessionals are still receiving salaries that make it difficult to live in one of the most expensive cities in the world. Secretaries who retire are being replaced with part time workers. The funding formulas for school budgets are not fair, because they favor hiring inexperienced educators at the expense of those who have been in the classroom for many years. The lack of diversity within our workforce was never even discussed. With a lack of Black and Latino educators we have removed the most consistent advocates for a historically accurate, culturally relevant and inclusive curriculum. This contract is a lost opportunity to address these inequalities.
Last year, fewer rank and file educators voted to endorse Michael Mulgrew’s Unity Caucus’ style of unionism than ever had before. This year, instead of involving the entire membership in the contract negotiation and organizing with our parents and students, Mulgrew negotiated behind closed doors. This strategy caps off a full decade of growing frustration with UFT leadership’s old way of doing things. MORE has a new vision and will continue to work with parents, students, and community members to achieve the public schools all our children deserve. In the spring of 2016, MORE will proudly field its second full slate of candidates to run against Unity for leadership of our UFT.