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Tentative Contract Agreement: Vote Yes, But Keep Talking…

October 23, 2018 pm31 11:36 pm

The Tentative Contract Agreement (TCA) has some very important gains. This is a contract we need to vote yes on. And it deals with some issues, but incompletely. And it does not deal with some important issues. There are provisions that we should not care about. And it introduces a major problem. The way it was negotiated is an improvement on previous contracts, but there is still a long way to go.

Note: I am a co-ordinator of the New Action Caucus / UFT – but I am writing here for myself, not my caucus.

First, the very good.

Due process for paras. Before this contract, paraprofessionals could be suspended without pay based on a single allegation. This contract establishes elements of due process for paraprofessionals (pp 10 – 12 of the memorandum of agreement (moa)).

Easy grievances to file. The TCA creates categories of complaints that can be brought to consultation, and if not resolved within five days, go to the district level. This creates five new classes of complaints (along with paperwork) that are functionally grievances, but do not require members to file an individual grievance. The categories are: Paperwork, Workspace, Workload, Basic Instructional Supplies, Professional Development, and Curriculum. (pp 4 – 6 moa)

More Arbitration Days. We get for our purposes more arbitration days by agreeing to use existing days better. 1. Class size grievances will be heard earlier, and resolved more quickly. In practical terms, arbitrators will handle 6 in a day (instead of 1). (moa pp 12 – 16). 2. Salary, LODI, and religious observance arbitrations will be scheduled 5 per day, instead of one per day. (moa p55) The Grievance Department estimates that we will get an additional 140 days that we can use to arbitrate matters that are critical to us.

Process for forcing the DoE to move on stalled arbitrations. Needs no explanation. (moa pp 53-54)

Next, the Incomplete:

Two observations: For most teachers (with an HE, or two consecutive Es) only two observations per year. (16 – 18). Our ability to challenge bad observations is blocked by the state law (which Mulgrew boasts he helped write). And students’ test scores still factor into our observations. We still have a long way to go

No Harassment. Language prohibiting retaliation, with a process that leads to arbitration. Hey, enforcing it will not be easy – but this is the first time we will have such language:

“The Board (“Department” or “DOE”) shall maintain an environment that promotes an open and respectful exchange of ideas and is free of harassment, intimidation, retaliation and discrimination. All employees are permitted to promptly raise any concerns about any situation that may violate the collective bargaining agreement, rule/law/regulation, or Department policy or that relates to their professional responsibilities or the best interests of their students. The harassment, intimidation, retaliation and discrimination of any kind because an employee in good faith raises a concern or reports a violation or suspected violation of any DOE policy, rule/law or regulation, or contractual provision or participates or cooperates with an investigation of such concerns is prohibited.” (p 19).

This does not come close to solving the problem of the abusive administrator, but it is a step in the right direction. We’ve got all these new arbitration days – we have to press Unity to use them to push back on abusive administrators.

ATRs – Placed in vacancies Day 1 (instead of several weeks in.) Salaries won’t count against the school. Mulgrew says we need to keep the pool under 500. I think that’s 500 too many, but these provisions are small positive steps. (38 – 40)

Next, Missed Issues

Abusive Administrator. This is touched on through the anti-harassment language, and implicitly by the increased number of arbitration days. But we need to keep pressing the union to respond to members in schools with abusive admins.

Class Size. Expedited procedures are one thing, but reducing class sizes should be the goal. We need to end the false dichotomy between raises and reducing class size. We need a campaign not based on contract, but on the common good, for reducing class sizes. We should target lower grades, and we should target higher needs districts.

I don’t care deeply about:

There’s a pilot for remote learning. Two classrooms in the Bronx will be videoconferenced with a third, so that AP Physics can be taught in three schools. There will be a pedagogue in each room, and class size is fixed below the normal level. And the experiment will probably fail and not be renewed. (33)

The Bronx Plan, which is for schools in other boroughs, too. This replaces the “renewal” program with one that requires UFT/principal cooperation before a school can join. There is shared decision making, and there may be extra money for some titles. (24 – 32)

Prose Plus is for existing Prose schools. They get to take an annual vote of no confidence in their principal. (32-33)

A+ credits will likely be Teacher Center credits for people trying to get their 30 above. At least 18, for new employees, will need to be these A+ credits. I don’t love the TC making money off our members, but it will be easier to get the 30 above. (19 – 22)

There will be join professional development (teachers + administrators) on how the observations should go. Unity seemed excited about this. For most of us, it’s another PD we don’t want or need. (18)

Chapter Leaders now get incident reports and the safety plan. I thought we already got that. (6-9)

The 13% appealable ratings now include people covered by the S/U system. (18)

There are now more “teacher leadership roles” – I don’t think many will get filled. (22 – 24)

Problems

The pattern was set by DC37, and the money is not great (2%, 2.5%, 3% over 3½ years). This is sub-inflationary – not by a lot, but it doesn’t keep up. For lower paid titles there was across the board money as well, so that some of them do keep up with inflation.

But the pattern is discussed in the Municipal Labor Coalition before the first union negotiates. The membership should have been involved in the discussion, BEFORE DC37’s contract. Agreements at the MLC that bind us later on, during negotiations, should be brought to the UFT membership first.

Health includes unspecified savings totaling $1Billion over 3 years for all the municipal unions. (not sure what the UFT’s share is) (p3, moa). Again, this was bargained at the MLC, with UFT participation. It should have come to our members. One specific provision we know of is that the right to choose your own health plan will not start until your second year of employment (everyone will get HIP during their first year). We must guard against future incursions on our health care, and block proposals that push the second tier further.

The issue of Unity making deals with the City and the other unions, and presenting them to us done deals (and not taking responsibility) is very serious. We must work to expose this to the membership, and attempt to end this anti-democratic practice.

The Negotiating Committee actually did some of the negotiating this time – that’s a step ahead, although it falls far short of having meaningful engagement at the chapters. A sub-group of regular members did sit across the table from the DoE negotiators – but the real bargaining remained behind closed doors. The contract survey was better written, and Unity acceded to at least one member concern: Unity Bigwigs (including Amy Arundell) had wanted as many observations as possible – but the members wanted the numbers cut. And we did get the number of observations reduced.

People like the idea of an early contract. But if it is early, there should be no rush. The deal was done on Thursday, and delegates were summoned on Friday to a DA, without the MOA being published. The MOA was e-mailed during the meeting, where Mulgrew summarized the TCA. Delegates were asked to vote on a document they could not have possibly read. Unity distrusts the delegates, and some of the delegates, many of whom were at their first DA, felt it, and may have distrusted Mulgrew right back. The No vote at the DA was double on Friday what it would have been on Wednesday, had they given people time to read through the agreement and talk with their chapters first.

Conclusion

This tentative contract has good new provisions, especially due process for paras, reduced observations, and some repairs to our grievance machinery. It also has disappointing salaries, and a dangerous change in our health care. There are issues (class size, abusive administrators) that we need to continue to deal with outside of the contract. And we must challenge Unity’s practice of making deals at the MLC without membership oversight.

Overall, the good far outweighs these reservations. We should urge a yes vote.

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