Protecting our rights in a contractual never-never land

By Kit Wainer

Retiree, former Chapter Leader, Leon M. Goldstein H.S.

What rights do UFT members have when there is no school to which to report and traditional program rules don’t seem to apply?

MORE’s committee on working conditions under remote learning met on March 24 to address problems members are facing trying to navigate this new world. We found that many are experiencing variations on what Marian Swerdlow reported last week about conditions at FDR HS in Brooklyn

Several members report that administrators are insisting on being added as co-teachers to Google Classroom in order to be able to observe every lesson and assignment, and even make changes. Many administrators have already demoralized their staffs, imposing duplicative procedures for reporting both teacher and student attendance, or by trying to create regular bell schedules, despite an agreement between the UFT and the CSA that bell schedules are inappropriate for remote learning. Some administrators are engaging in particularly intrusive practices such as requiring the video recording of all student conferences, and reminders to teachers that they can see exactly when each teacher enters a classroom. One chapter leader reported that districts seem to be competing with each other to see who can utilize the most sophisticated — and most complex and burdensome — internet platforms.

In at least one school, teachers have stood together and refused to grant administrators access to their Google Classrooms.

Additionally, some key questions remain. Can IEPs truly be honored in a remote setting? How will observations be conducted and should they be conducted at all? What will happen to teachers who were up for tenure this year? Some MORE members are already working on a campaign to protect probationary teachers from discontinuation. After all, the purpose of the observation process is to observe progress and assist teachers over the course of a year. The UFT should fight against the discontinuance of any member who has not been afforded a full year to show improvement.

There was a general sentiment that the UFT needs to negotiate a new Memorandum of Agreement to govern working conditions in this new setting. MORE plans to initiate a campaign to pressure the union leadership to do that. We will be discussing this at our upcoming meetings and we encourage you to join us.

Finally, MORE also encourages members to file group (“et. al.”) grievances for members who who were absent during the week of March 9 or the week of professional development which followed the mayor’s March 15 announcement. The city failed to provide safe working conditions during those two weeks and members should not have days deducted from their Cumulative Absence Reserves if they were absent during those two weeks. We will soon have suggested grievance language for anyone interested in pursuing this within their own schools.

If you are interested in helping to defend members’ working conditions at a time in which contractual protections are suddenly unclear, please join our committee! Details for the next meeting are below:

Tuesday March 31 at 5:00 PM via Zoom. You can register for the call here and you’ll get login instructions: Welcome! You are invited to join a meeting: Working Conditions during Remote Learning. After registering, you will receive a confirmation email about joining the meeting.

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