Tuesday, February 20, 2007

First Step (Salary) to Last - Quite a Journey

An interesting debate broke out on ICE-mail over the gap between first and last salary steps. I've heard arguments on all sides (as you can see, there may be more than 2 sides to the question.)

Sean writes:
Higher salaried teachers are in this predicament due to the Unity Caucus' bargaining strategy over the last 30 years which has deepened the division between those at the top of the pay scale and the median salaried teacher.
In Most NYS school districts, median teacher tenure is between 10-15 years. In NYC its 5-6yrs. The difference between the median salaried teacher and the top salaried in NYC is unequaled anywhere in the USA. Hence the endangered higher salaried teacher which Unity had relied upon for support over the years and on into retirement is now exposed and vulnerable, an endangered species, as a consequence of Unity's misleadership.
Unity boasts that it has achieved near parity with suburban districts. This is not an straight up lie when the pays scales alone are compared side by side but it is nevertheless a fraudulent misrepresentation of the prevailing situation on the ground. It obscures Unity's bargaining strategy over the years which has created the precarious sitting duck situation now faced by members at top salary.
The actual median salary paid in NYC (represnting that of a 5-6 year teacher) is much lower than the than the actual median salary paid to a suburban teacher who usually has between 10-15 years on the job. The higher salaried teacher is a comparative rarity in NYC, and if our bosses have anything to say about it, they will become even rarer.
It was 8 years to top pay in 1974 now its 22. A living wage is a living wage whether you are 30 or 55. A solidarity approach puts a living wage for all in first place, not the slice and dice, divide and control policies of the "Unity" caucus.
What does the opposition propose now that the corporate reformers seem inclined to buy two teachers for the price of one? It is an important question because it is about overcoming the disunity that the Unity caucus has institutionalized within the salary schedule.
I think the charge of "age discrimination" is a false flag that diverts attention from the ridiculous disparity between the top and bottom of the pay scale. It diverts attention from a lousy contract that offers no positive job quality enhancements for senior teachers who have skills and knowledge acquired through a lifetime that need to be preserved and passed on.
There are not unlimited resources and there never will be. Any management responsible for budgeting will be faced with the same choice; Two for the price of one? Why not? This would be the case whether you have democratically elected school boards or corporate/centralized/mayoral controlled bean counters making such decisions. How did we arrive in this pickle and how to get out?
Bring up the bottom to meet the top? Bring down the top to meet the bottom? What's the solution?
From a labor perspective you aim for solidarity. Unity's pay scale divides the members. Most members don't stay for more than five years(low salaries, lousy conditions anyone?).
Why should a step 5 teacher support another member who makes twice a much, has a paid off house that has appreciated considerably, earned a degree when it was either free or inexpensive, has a quarter million $ in the TDA, voted for Unity these past 20 years and never cared much what happened to the teachers behind them in line to retirement not to mention the majority who pack it in by their 5th year)? This is the solidarity deficit that is Unity's legacy.
The charge of "age discrimination" is not applicable and diverts attention away from Unity's divisive approach to salaries. Its not the "age" of the teacher, it's the longevity increases that have put higher salaried teachers into a vulnerable position even as they welcomed these increases!
Longevity increases should be gradually rolled back into steps 1-8 in lieu of pay increases for those at the top rate. Sure this is going to arouse criticism from the top salaried but what is the alternative? Short of that or in combination, percentage increases should be replaced by flat rate across the board increases that will also tend to gradually compress the salary gap.
Reward seniority through job enrichment and an array of choices that utilize the knowledge and skills of the experienced educator and free them from the full class load to be mentors and school leaders as they see fit. Rewards for seniority should be more weighted towards enhancing job satisfaction than in the gold ring that Unity has over the years dangled before their loyalists. ( assuming of course that top compensation is at an acceptable level which I think $100,000 is)
I did not see in the rank and file program or in the contract negotiations a demand from the the rank and file opposition for an alternative bargaining strategy that would lead to the compression of the pay scale. This is a bit of a Gordian Knot that Unity has created for its own self preservation. I think this is only one piece of the UFT reform puzzle but It merits a closer look and a bold stroke if the opposition is to evolve out of its perennial gadfly role.

Here is one response to Sean. What do you think?

The problem I have with his argument is that it is based on the fact that NYC teachers as a whole do not last very long. He accepts this as a given and then uses that to argue that the negotiating strategy needs to change as a result of this so that more of our increases are spent on salaries on the lower tiers then on the upper tiers.
He ignores the historical fact that for most of our years people didn't leave the system as a whole early in their careers and to me the main reason for that is that the attacks on teachers were focused in only some parts of the city while most teachers were immune. This longevity of the teaching force is why the salary schedule was stretched out from 8 to 22 years over our careers--people mostly stayed until retirement.
To me the discussion then becomes do you deal with the underlying weakness that the UFT has placed teachers in vis a vis an aggressive DOE or do you throw up your hands and accept that as fact and change salary negotiating strategy to take this reality into account.
Of course there is no doubt that there is a need to return the schedule to a shorter time frame between minimum and max and also to insure that newer teachers are receiving a fair early salary. With the new contract entering teachers will be earning more than 45,000 -- certainly not enough for what a nightmare they have to face but much more reasonable if this were a humane system to work in.

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