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