Friday, October 19, 2018

Vote Yes

 by Mike Schirtzer

Full Paid Parental Leave For Six Weeks-✔
Two Observations-✔
Strong Protections From Abusive Administrators-✔
Raises for Paras and Due Process-✔
Healthcare for Every UFT Member Without Paid Premiums-✔
Enforce Class Size Limits-✔

Educators and union workers around the country are under attack. The Supreme Court just ruled against unions. Members can receive all the benefits of being in a union without having to pay dues. Charter schools here in NYC have terrible conditions, where teachers work long hours, have horrible medical insurance, and hardly anyone stays around very long. That’s what life is like without unions. Our new contract strengthens our union and our rights.

Let’s face facts--compared to educators around the country, we in the UFT have it good. We still have workplace protections that most don't, we still have a contract, and we still get regular raises and healthcare without paid premiums. The raises of 2% in February 2019, then 2,5%, and 3 percent are fair. We could have had higher raises, but it would have been at the expense of our paraprofessionals. Instead, the negotiating committee decided to better compensate paraprofessionals with $1,200 after 5 years  and over $3,000 after 15 years.

We all sacrificed a little. Perhaps we all get a little bit lower raise,  but compare what 3% is for those of us making $60,000 or more with the same 3% raise paraprofessionals would receive for their $25,000 salary. The sacrifice is worth it to benefit our 30,000 brothers and sisters working as paras.

Don’t forget UFT members now have fully paid parental leave for moms, dads, adoptive parents and foster parents for 6 weeks. Many around the state only get half pay. That’s another victory we fought for and won.

The Federal Reserve bank says an acceptable rate of inflation is 1 to 1.5% and when this contract was being negotiated that’s what it was. It is not the fault of UFT or the city that the extreme right wing federal policies of drastically cutting taxes for the wealthy and large corporations, while raising tariffs on things working people like us use every day has caused  inflation that now exceeds our raises. We can vote in the upcoming elections for some rational politicians to get the inflation rate back down below 2%.
Finally paraprofessionals will get enhanced due process rights many of us have always had. With this contract, they can no longer be suspended without pay if an administrator makes a false accusation, as has happened in many schools. Paras are mostly women and many are women of color. The way they have been treated and their low wages are inexcusable. Thanks to our new contract this will change for the better.

We were elected to the Executive Board of the UFT to represent high schools. It’s the 100 member decision making body of the union. We pushed really hard for paid parental leave and for two observations. This is what our members wanted, and this is what we delivered. Members also wanted stronger language in the contract to protect against abusive administrators. The new contract has an anti-retaliation clause that states the work environment must be “free of harassment, intimidation, retaliation and discrimination” or it will result in a investigation and consequences for administrators that violate it. DOE fought very hard against this, because it gives us another level of protection and actually holds abusive principals and APs accountable. There are only two observations for effective and highly effective rated teachers with one that must be completed by the end of the fall term. Last year, throughout the city most observations were done in May, which made the process a complete joke.

You may have received a vote no flyer or seen posts online from a faction within the UFT that ran against UFT President Mulgrew in the last union election. I was one of the leaders of that  group. I became dismayed when they started a vote no plan against the contract and “preparations” for an unrealistic strike before they even saw the proposals. They did not join the contract negotiating committee, take part in the process, nor did they communicate with members of their own group that were on the negotiating committee. Go around your school and ask how many members want to sacrifice two days pay for every one day by going on strike. Ask how that beats inflation. Ask parents barely making ends meet, without paid vacations or pensions, without fully paid parental leave or time with their children how they’d feel seeing their kids with no place to go on weekdays. Ask parents with no pay for extra hours of work or weekends, no contract, no lunch breaks, and no due process if they'll support a no vote against this contract or better yet a strike. Imagine how they will react.

Class-size is out of control around the city. The legal limits are being violated year in and year out. Our students, parents, teachers, and guidance counselors deserve better than oversized classes. The old process doesn't work. UFT fought hard and won new procedures to have these violations be sent directly to the superintendent and resolved quickly, rather than wait for the failed arbitration process. Schools that have oversized classes every year will now get special attention from the DOE and UFT, in order to ensure it stops happening. Let’s give the new process a chance before simply condemning it outright.

The contract is not perfect, but bargaining is give and take on both sides. We’ve met many educators from around the country at union conventions, grading sites, and professional developments that tell us they wish they had the union and contract protections that we have. Our union is under existential attack, and even under so we maintain our rights. Our union is listening to members, to us,  and fighting for what we want. This contract shows when we struggle together we win together.
       New salaries: Raises of 2%, 2.5% and 3% produce a three-year compound rate of 7.7 percent, above expert predictions of inflation of 6.2 percent (Federal Reserve Bank) and 6.8 percent (International Monetary Fund).
       At the end of the contract period, new teachers will earn $61,070; teachers with a master’s and 10 years of experience will earn $101,441; and the new top salary will be $128,657. The new contract raises are in addition to lump-sum payments negotiated as part of 2014 contract, including the payment this month and others payable in October of 2019 and 2020.
       More money for Paraprofessionals -receive raises of over $1,200 for 5 years service and another $1,200 for 15 years in addition to other 2%, 2.5% and 3% salary raises
       Paid parental leave: No changes to the paid parental leave agreement won in June.
       Health care: While a national survey (Kaiser Employer Survey, 2017) showed that U.S. employees pay an average of more than $5,700 per year for family health care coverage, UFT-represented employees — thanks to the citywide agreement reached earlier this year with all municipal unions — continue to have access to premium-free health care coverage.
The proposed contract breaks new ground in workplace improvements and the voice it gives educators:
       Reduces the number of principal observations for the vast majority of educators.
       Creates a faster process to resolve class size overages earlier in the school year. For schools that are do not reach quick resolutions, arbitrators will have the authority to impose a remedy. No more ridiculous “action plans” from Tweed.
       Provides additional compensation for paraprofessionals and gives them much greater due process rights.
       Creates a way for chapter leaders to fight for improvements in safety, curriculum, workload, space and other working conditions.
       Protects UFT-represented employees from retaliation and harassment by administrators for highlighting school problems. If not resolved, an independent arbitrator will now make the final determination.
       ATR assignments will now be made at the beginning of the school year rather than after Oct. 15. An ATR’s salary will no longer affect the average salary calculation of a school that hires the ATR.
Schirtzer is a social studies teacher at Leon M. Goldstein High School. He also serves as a member of UFT Executive Board, High School Division. 
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