The power of a union derives from the power of its membership acting together. But also, its ability to get the support of a wider part of the community.
So, the main job of a union is to build solidarity among its membership and with its natural allies. In the case of a teachers’ union the natural allies are parents, community, students, other unions and workers, and other teacher unions throughout the state, country, etc.
Each stance that the union takes must be measured against the effect it has on building unity. Seen from this vantage point the proposed contract offers up a number of red flags:
1. The vulnerability of ATRs: Although they mostly play down the vast problem of unfair, incompetent, corrupt and often insanely vindictive principals and supervisors (except when they were arguing for the “objective” VAM to rate teachers), our union leaders along with DoE and city officials are surely aware of the problem that this poses for ATRs sent to these schools. Two such principals can end the teaching career of any ATR, ¾ of whom were excessed from closing schools or schools that lost student population. With the practice of sending ATRs from school to school, almost every one of them will end up in those schools with a lot of staff turnover. In addition, in selling out the ATRs, this puts the UFT leaders in the camp of those who say that ATRs who aren’t wanted by principals are incompetent teachers.
2. The extra pay scheme for so-called expertise, which only serves to create divisions among staff: This is especially dangerous in the present context of top-down unworkable educational mandates, widespread favoritism and other types of corruption, which unfortunately may the norm. Good teaching practices are best developed and spread in a collaborative way. For the union to sign on to a competitive winner and loser approach to rewarding individual teachers is a further blow to collegiality and solidarity.
3. The less than cost-of-living wage increases that have ramifications for all other municipal employees.
4. Nothing about class size and increased services for children, particularly crucial to those teachers (a majority of classroom teachers) who are working with children who are have needs that can only be met in small classes and with extra supportive staff. Nothing that addresses school closings and using test scores to punish students and teachers.
5. We have seen how the DoE, mayor, and union leaders have been so far unable/unwilling to take on the State in standing up against the high stakes testing/common core mandates, and the usurpation of funding and property by charter school businesses and private contractors. Our union contract should have an added agreement in which the DoE, mayor, and union work together along with other municipalities and school districts throughout the state to end the current policy of siphoning education money into private hands, and redirect all government education funds back into public education.
Vera is a retired school secretary and a founding member of ICE.