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The general thrust of this tentative agreement (TA)  is to move from enforcing members’ rights and toward greater collaboration with management.

Part of this is the large number of joint UFT – DOE committees it sets up.

Two of these joint UFT – DOE committees are being set up to formulate “standards,” which are very similar to contract provisions.  Like all the committees set up in this TA, they have the following characteristics: (1) an equal number of members appointed by the UFT president and the Chancellor.  (2) The UFT appointees are unelected, and not directly accountable to the membership. (3) Their meetings are not open to members. Only the Chancellor and UFT President have the power to approve or reject these standards, not the members or even the Delegate Assembly. If Chancellor and UFT President cannot agree, a neutral can be called as mediator. If that is unsuccessful, the TA calls for that neutral to “issue a binding decision,” i.e. binding arbitration.

One of these joint committees, the “Central Committee,” (CC)  will set standards governing “reduction and elimination of unnecessary paperwork, defining a curriculum and when it must be provided to teachers, professional development, the requirement to provide basic instructional supplies. [Item 6]  Furthermore, “Nothing precludes the parties from agreeing to the addition of new System Wide Standards with respect to operational issues.” [Item 6]. Another will set system-wide standards for school safety, positive school culture and climate. [Item 7]

These committees will be, in effect, making contract.  If they cannot, these standards in most cases can be established by arbitration.  So, members are now voting on a TA that will have, in effect, many provisions they cannot possibly know.

Just as alarming, members do not have the power to grieve violations of any of these standards.  Instead, the TA states: “Employees . . . may request that their Chapter Leader raise school-specific Operational Issues with the principal, the employee’s direct supervisor, and/or in a  . . . [consultation meeting]” But this is only a request: the Chapter Leader (CL) has no obligation to honor it. In place of the member filing a grievance, the CL can “raise” the issue. “If the issue is not resolved within five school days . . . the appropriate UFT District Representative (DR) may raise it before the District Committee.”(DC)    If the DC reaches a resolution, it is “subject to approval by the Chancellor.” It the DC cannot resolve it, it “shall refer the issue to the Central Committee for review.” There is no time limit for this last step. If the CC reaches a resolution, it too is “subject to approval by the Chancellor.”

An important difference from the current grievance process is that in the latter,  a neutral arbitrator whose award is not “subject to approval by the Chancellor” comes in at the “third step”   In this new process of committees, the chancellor has final say over even the third step. This delays the introduction of a neutral party.

After the third step, “[f]or alleged violations of the System-wide Standards, the UFT [not the member] may file a grievance . . . [but] it is understood that, PRIOR TO [emphasis added] a grievance being filed, the issue must go through the committee process as described above.  Such grievances shall be filed directly with the DOE’s OLR [Office of Labor Relations] . . . ” So, even at the end of the process of committees, it is still not in the individual member’s power to initiate a grievance.

The TA also specifies that the arbitrator’s written award will be “brief.”  Long awards have often established important rights for members. This would seem to discourage that.  It also says, “The parties shall negotiate pre-arbitration hearing procedures so each party is aware of the allegations and defenses being raised at the arbitration . . . ”  The current contract doesn’t seem to have a provision like this. If this is a new provision, it also signals additional cooperation between the union and the DOE.

So, to summarize, these changes will (1) force members to vote on a TA whose provisions they do not know, because these provisions, called “standards” in the TA, are to be determined in the future by joint committees;  (2) delay arbitration by channeling the adjudication of complaints about violations of these standards through a hierarchy of joint committees before they can be grieved. (3) Completely deny members any right to grieve over these standards.

Other similarly structured joint committees that are not establishing standards but will have a bearing on working conditions and even salary include: a Joint Labor Management Committee “to review and discuss programming in the schools . . . ” [Item 19]; a “Professional Learning Team . . . charged with the planning of an annual training session schedule . . . regarding the implementation of the observation cycle,” [Item 10] a Joint Accreditation Committee (JAC) to take part in the revision of the criteria for courses that will count toward the second differential.  Even “[t]he posting for these deans positions shall be jointly created by the UFT and the Board (DOE)” The training of Deans “shall be jointly developed by the UFT and the Board (DOE) [Item 7]. Another joint committee will “design and implement” the Remote Teaching Pilot Program.” [Item 16] In this last example, if the committee cannot reach a consensus, “the UFT President and Chancellor shall jointly make the final decision,” rather than an arbitrator as with most of the committees.

The TA’s way to handle class size violations likewise delays the grievance process, channeling complaints through a hierarchy of joint committees.  The UFT leaders call this an “expedited” process, but, as others have pointed out, it will actually take longer for grievances of over-sized classes to reach binding arbitration this new way.  

Under the current contract, school administrations have the first ten days of classes to get classes down to legal size.  The union can file for arbitration two days after that, and arbitration must begin no later than five days after that. So class size violations can begin to be arbitrated 17 school days after classes begin.  

In the TA’s so-called “Expedited Procedure for Class Size”  it isn’t until the 21st day that the violations go to yet another joint UFT – DOE committee, the Class Size Labor Management Committee (CLMC).    The CLMC will “attempt” to resolve the violations. (Only for schools “chronically out of compliance” does the CLMC start to attempt a resolution earlier, on the tenth day.  But even for those schools, the CLMC only “attempts” a resolution.)

Only when the CLMC fails to reach a resolution may the UFT, in 2 days, file for arbitration, and then arbitration must begin in 5 days.  So, this change actually delays for at least eleven school days the violations reaching a neutral party whose decision is binding. It appears that the grievance process, which already functioned poorly, will be increasingly delayed by a journey through a series of joint union-DOE committees, operating by consensus, whose decisions are non-binding and can, in almost all instances, be vetoed by the DOE.

These changes are part of a turn away from an adversarial model of labor management relations, which was based on enforcing the contract through grievance and arbitration, and toward management by consensus and joint-ness.  This was already the direction in practice and to some extent in the last contracts, but this new agreement codifies and consolidates it.

The most glaring danger is that at some future date, a hostile city administration along the lines of a Giuliani, Bloomberg or Emanuel, comes to office, and this regime could use this collaborative model very powerfully against the union.  

But even with a “friendly” administration, this turn gives members less control over working conditions.  They cannot vote on the “standards” which will govern many of them. Their ability to protect their rights will be limited and delayed, making it more likely that school administrations will violate these rights.  This weakens the union at the chapter level at a time when the loss of the right to collect agency fees has made the union more vulnerable than ever.

Its role in speeding up this ongoing shift in the general orientation of the union is another reason why this TA should be rejected.  

-Marian Swerdlow, retired
Former Chapter Leader, FDR High School, Brooklyn

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“What happens if we vote it down?”
“What will happen if we don’t approve the contract?”

People ask and want to know the answer.  Whatever happens, experience says it won’t be the “doom and gloom” scenario that UFT leaders threaten it will be.

In fall, 1995, UFT leaders unveiled a tentative agreement with no raises in the first two years, and givebacks in pay, benefits and working conditions.  As the membership ratification vote proceeded, it was obviously in danger of rejection. Then-president Feldman wrote in a letter to the membership dated November 12, 1995:

“What would happen if the members reject this agreement and send us back to the bargaining table?  I believe we would be faced with chaos and crisis. Job security would be gone and massive layoffs could begin as early as February.  By next year, between the city, state and federal cuts, the layoffs of teachers and paraprofessionals could reach into the thousands.

“In addition, if we reject this settlement, we probably would lose some of the very positive gains we won in the agreement such as longevity on eligibility date and electronic deposit.  And all those givebacks we successfully fought off such as loss of prep times, sabbaticals and the mid-winter recess – would go back on the bargaining table. Nor is there much of chance that a rejection of this contract would result in a better agreement . . .”

These scare tactics failed, and the contract was voted down.  How did the results compare with Feldman’s fearmongering?

  1. There was no chaos.  There was no crisis.
  2. Not a single UFT member was laid off.
  3. A new proposed pact was negotiated before the end of the same school year.  
  4. It retained all of the modest gains in the rejected pact.
  5. It didn’t have any new givebacks.  Prep times, sabbaticals and the February recess stayed.
  6. It was a better agreement, if only slightly.  The worst givebacks were axed: a provision to hold back 5% of the salary of new teachers was removed.  Instead of 25 years to top pay, it was reduced to 22 years. A few small sweeteners were added.

The takeaway is that union leaders will use threats to get a contract approved, but in the one case where a contract was rejected, all those threats proved baseless.

But the second proposal, which the membership accepted, still had no raises in the first two years. Although the union went back to the negotiating table, it did not organize the members to fight and pressure the city for a better deal.  So, it takes more than just voting “no” to get a significant improvement in a contract. It takes a struggle by the rank and file and allies.

-Marian Swerdlow,
Retired 
Chapter Leader, FDR High School, Brooklyn

On Oct. 12th  after school, all UFT delegates & chapter leaders were summoned to an emergency delegate assembly to vote on whether or not to endorse the contract they negotiated for us (click here to learn more about how a UFT contract is negotiated and voted on). As we have for every contract in the 50+ year history of the union, the body voted to endorse it and send it on to the membership. I voted no at the delegate assembly, I will vote no again with my paper ballot as a UFT member, and I urge all of you do the same. I have a lot to say about this contract, but I have summarized some of my main reasons below:

The “raises” are not raises, they are not even cost of living adjustments:  2%, 2.5% and 3% over 3 years and 7 months will not keep up with the national inflation rate under even the most optimistic projections, to say nothing of the much faster rising cost of living in NYC. Our buying power with our paychecks will be weaker than it is now when the contract is over in 2022 (as was the case with the contract we are currently finishing). NYC educators deserve better.

There is no class size reduction: This is consistently the #1 request from both staff and parents on the NYCDOE school survey, and class sizes, which are significantly larger than in neighboring suburban districts, have not budged in more than 50 years. There is some language about more strictly enforcing the existing rules (which are routinely ignored), but it’s pretty weak sauce as far as I am concerned.

Healthcare givebacks: President Mulgrew keeps repeating, as he always does, that there are “no givebacks” in this contract. This is disingenuous; the NYC public sector unions have collectively already agreed to find more than a billion dollars of healthcare savings for the city during the life of this contract. You’ll recall we had something similar in our last contract, with x number of billions of dollars every year being cut from the money the city spends on our healthcare (which lead to the higher copays for urgent care and ER use among other things). This is to make sure we can still look at our paystubs and see that we are contributing $0 to our health insurance, which is nice and all, but our healthcare coverage being eroded in less visible ways that we feel less viscerally than deductions on our paychecks is no less real and problematic. These givebacks weren’t purely a UFT thing, it was all the city unions (in the form of the Municipal Labor Council), and that deal was already signed (without our vote) in July. You may hear from the UFT that this isn’t an issue of this contract since it has already been signed and involves other unions, but the fact that it was agreed to by our leadership months ago without consulting us does not make it any better; in fact, it makes it much worse. A “NO” vote on the contract from the rank and file membership would be an unmistakable message to leadership that we demand better.

 

They did nothing with the extended time/extra parent teacher conferences: The former was a huge giveback in the 2005 contract, and the latter was from the last contract with Carmen Farina, which also included re-working the 155 minutes. The extended time was ridiculous when we were arguing about how to time the 37.5 minute increments, it was ridiculous when we were trying to figure what to do after we stopped meeting with the kids during that time, and it’s ridiculous today. This contract doesn’t get rid of it entirely, which is what should really happen, but it also doesn’t even try to make it less onerous. Between that and the extra parent teacher conference/meet the teacher days, there were a bunch of failed, silly experiments that needed to get cleared out with this contract and were not.

 

We can do better: How do I know? Because we haven’t even tried. There has been zero mobilization of the membership. Leadership used to at least pretend they were trying to leverage the people power of the ~200,000 UFT members for a better contract with a lame rally, but they can’t even be bothered to go through that charade anymore. They think their backroom dealing and political contributions will save us, but that is not the moment we live in. In the last nine months, educators have risen up and won significant victories across the country with aggressive picketing, rallies, PR campaigns that get the parents onboard, occupying state houses, credible strike threats and actual strikes- most of this in red states with hostile anti-labor governments where striking is just as “illegal”*** as it is for us here, and where the teachers aren’t even unionized in a way that we would recognize in NYC. They weren’t retaliated against because they had demonstrated their power, and even “Right-To-Work” Republicans were not willing/able to punish the striking, militant educators. There are some very good things in this contract; the one that stands out to me is the pay bump/introduction of due process rights for paras, and those things must be preserved as part of a better contract when our leadership is sent back to the bargaining table after a successful “NO” vote. The argument that we have it better than educators in WV, AZ and OK (where the pay and conditions are atrocious), so we should be happy with whatever we get and not fight for better, which has been circulating among many UNITY caucus people, strikes me as truly bizarre coming from union activists/staffers.

In Solidarity,
      Dan Lupkin
          UFT Chapter Leader, PS 58, The Carroll School

*** “There Is No Illegal Strike, Just an Unsuccessful One”

DC37 members were able to join the state’s family leave plan, which is an important benefit for those taking care of aging parents or sick children. But the new benefit is paid for exclusively through employee contributions, and only provides for partial pay up to 55% of the employee’s salary. So paid family leave ended up being a free sweetener to the contract for the de Blasio administration.

New York City workers help to set a pattern for employment wages and benefits across the metro area. We are among the few workers who do not have to pay any part of their health care premiums — an important legacy of the strength of previous union bargaining efforts that we have worked hard to protect.

But the continuation of concessions that threaten those benefits sets a dangerous precedent that will, over time, weaken health care to all those in the region.

In an era where universal single-payer health care been re-legitimized, it is foolish for city unions to concede ground on the benefits that protect working families. Instead we should be campaigning to expand protections for all.

This piece was originally published in the NY Daily News.

Lamphere and Myrie are teachers in the New York City public schools and members of the Movement of Rank and File Educators, the social justice caucus of the United Federation of Teachers.

Disappointment

June 3, 2014 — 25 Comments

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.

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When MORE members reached out to the union leadership about observing the count of the contract ratification ballots, Leroy Barr the UFT assistant secretary and chair of Unity Caucus (the caucus of Michael Mulgrew), offered one observer per caucus of the UFT contract vote.

You should not have to be in a caucus to observe the count. We demanded the vote be open to all UFT members. Members of MORE are not special, we are all UFT. Although the Unity and New Action caucuses both support Michael Mulgrew we see no reason why they should receive special treatment either. MORE refused to send a special representative. Anyone who attends from MORE does so a a UFT member, not a caucus member, Every UFT member must be allowed to observe this critical vote.

In response to our efforts, the UFT leadership has offered to allow as many members who wish to observe the count. See the details below.  We hope that they will advertise this information at UFT.org and in their weekly email to chapter leaders, as we requested. Continue Reading…

Vote No

By Kevin Prosen

Chapter Leader I.S.30

This letter first appeared here in Jacobin

A Letter to New York City’s School Teachers

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