Saturday, September 8, 2007

The UFT Leadership and Fuzzy Contracts...

...honest mistakes, or deliberate deception?

by juliwoo, guest columnist

I've generally given the UFT leadership credit for drawing up each new contract with honest intentions. Maybe they were outfoxed by BloomKlein. Maybe there were too many tactical errors. Maybe they weren't fighting hard enough. But I always assumed the ambiguities in the contract were the result of someone just not paying enough attention. Slip-ups.

Since we have lost so much ground in the past few years, I’m looking at things a little differently and am more unhappy with the fuzzy wording and the misplaced bits of text. With so many legal heads supposedly having worked on this document, I have come to believe that where the text is unclear, the leadership meant it to be so — to confuse members and mask the severity of the givebacks.

After the fact-finding report came out in 2005, much was written about the seniority rights we were going to lose and subsequently did lose. I was pretty oblivious to the chatter, though, feeling no particular threat to my career and assuming ATR neverland was not going to happen to me.

But I was, in fact, excessed last spring, music being the fickle little subject that it is, and after being told by Human Resources that “the days of us finding you [teachers] a job are over,” I looked up “excessing” in the contract. It was at Article 17, which states more than once that excessed teachers would be placed in new jobs.

Then I got all kinds of stuff from the DOE telling me to sign up in the Open Market system, including a massive, condescending document on how we could improve our job hunting — which they wouldn’t have dared to send to their own parents if they had been senior teachers excessed out of their jobs. I sent angry emails to the UFT to find out what was going on and why I was being pushed towards this new hiring system. Didn’t 17B say I’d be placed? I hadn’t even heard of the Open Market before, and hadn’t much looked into the whole transfer thing in general because there hadn't been any need to. I was content enough in my job.

In response to my memos to RW and others, grievance head Howard Solomon asked me to come to 52 Broadway to talk about these issues "from beginning to end.” Adam Ross (legal) was also there. They listened to my gripes and acknowledged there might be a contradiction between a rule or two in 17B which they would perhaps tighten up.

I walked away from that meeting thinking I had done my homework, made my complaint, and was heard.

What a dupe I was! Festering away in another part of the contract that I had not seen was an entirely different scenario for the excessed teacher. In Article 18, “Transfers and Staffing,” there was more on the subject. I was really surprised to see in the middle of 18A that vacancies “will be posted as early as April 15” and “candidates (teachers wishing to transfer and excessed teachers) will apply — ”

Wait a minute. How did that “and excessed teachers” bit get in here? I thought the subject of this article was transfers and staffing. The words “will apply” are rather vague as well. Must they apply? Will they apply only when they want to apply?

Clearly, Solomon and Ross were willing to talk "from beginning to end" about the issues I had brought up in my emails, but they were not at all inclined to point out other parts of the contract they knew I had overlooked, bits that are absolutely crucial to any discussion of what happens to a teacher when he is excessed.

The long and short of this is that these two articles in the contract, on excessing and on transfers, contradict each other entirely.

Rule 4 of Article 17B says that excessed teachers “must be placed in vacancies within the district to the fullest degree possible,” or for certain categories “must be placed in appropriate vacancies within the district or central office or if no such vacancy exists, within the region.”

Rule 6 says that the “central board has the responsibility for placing teachers who are excessed from a school or office and cannot be accommodated.” But an important factor at the very core of teacher placement (or non-placement, as it happens) crops up way down the list of rules, at no. 11 — so far away from 4, 5 and 6 that I missed it at first.

It starts: “Unless a principal denies the placement, an excessed teacher will be placed by the Board . . .” (Note that it again says the Board will do the placing, but that’s not what’s important here.) The mistake I made, and I’m sure many have done this as well, was to trust what the sentence implied, that under normal circumstances excessed senior teachers could expect to get placed by the Board. My second mistake was to brush off the severity of the final sentence, that “the Board will place the excessed teacher who is not so placed in an ATR position.” I had heard, of course, about various people becoming ATRs during the course of the year, but not in great numbers, not like we've been hearing about this summer. I more or less set that ATR possibility aside as a long shot.

With all the legal expertise running this union, are we to believe that these half-truths, set out as they are in various non-contiguous paragraphs and especially under a less than truthful heading (18), are the result of carelessness?

I don’t think so. I think that the UFT leadership has deliberately fogged up this contract, first to obscure the complete sellout of our seniority rights, and then to make it difficult for us to demand they defend our jobs.

We know this chancellor will keep following his businessman’s path towards financial gains for the privateers he’s feeding and losses for the rank and file. He's never been a standard bearer for the public good. We expect him to treat some teachers as collateral: he'll tolerate the cost of paying senior ATRs for a few years until they are weeded out through disillusionment, harassment, or legitimate retirement.

For all Weingarten's pretty words, she has really broken faith with us. Ingratiating herself into corporate and governmental playgrounds kept her from doing the job we've been paying her to do, which is to keep blocking these deplorable attacks on our core benefits and not stand down.

When a union president, who is herself a lawyer and supported by an entire legal team, is capable of writing succinct, fail-safe text and then chooses not to do it, we demand to know why.

Editors Note to juliwoo:
We don't need them to tell us why?
UFT staff director's Jeff Zahler's own words from the UFT weekly update.

"Underscoring the need for genuine collaboration, Weingarten made a joint appearance that morning with Mayor Bloomberg, Governor Eliot Spitzer, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and Council of School Supervisors and Administrators Ernest Logan at PS 53 in the Bronx."

The UFT/Unity caucus leadership function like the French Vichy government in WWII. They ought to serve Vichyssoise at Exec. Bd. meetings.


17 (really 15) more years said...

Just curious - in all that fuzzy wording, is there a clause that will somehow have teachers on sabbatical ending up as ATRs?

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

We all knew about what the changes to Article 17 and 18 meant when the god awful fact finding report came out in 2005 before the Contract. Section G of the Report is copied word for word for you below. Jeff and I didn't scream against this Fact Finding Report for no reason:

"Under the current transfer and bumping procedures, the vast majority of positions held by first year teachers are considered vacancies and may be filled by an excessed teacher or senior teacher exercising his/her bumping rights. This system creates uncertainty among first year teachers who may not know whether or not they are able to return to their school until September. This practice may also contribute to the high attrition rate of new teachers. Additionally, principals do not have the right to interview teachers bumping into their schools and, therefore, have no input into their selection process and no ability to determine whether the teacher is a good match for that particular school.

The Panel recommends modification of the current system of seniority transfers and bumping. First, the Panel recommends that no vacancy be declared if a teacher is currently filling the position. Second, the Panel recommends that the parties negotiate a date certain for giving an incumbent teacher notice that he./she will be excessed.
Third, the Panel recommends that any excessed teacher or any teacher who wishes to exercise his/her transfer and/or bumping rights must be interviewed by the principal and a committee of teachers, similar to the procedure used to fill positions in SBO schools. The final decision, however, shall be made by the principal. Fourth, the City/DOE has recommended that an excessed teacher who does not find a new position with 18 months of being excessed be terminated from the system. We specifically reject this proposal."

The UFT considered this a victory because the DOE couldn't fire the excessed teachers. The arbitrators created the current ATR system with the UFT's concurrence.

Anonymous said...

After reading the article by juliwoo ( and others, plus drawing on my own experiences), I am strongly convinced that our esteemed Union and its' leaders have basically sold us teachers a contractual version of the Brooklyn Bridge to us.

Isn't it obvious to people by now that Mssrs. Bloomberg and Klein
are firmly behind a corporate model for the New York educational
system, and that Madame Weingarten is firmly in their camp, for
reasons of her own? Whether or not the changes enacted by this team
stick over time remains to be seen. If so, woe to us all as citizens
of New York City. Eventually, public schools will go the way of the dinosaur.

I cannot think of any other group of professionals that would
tolerate being treated the way teachers are by their employer. Would a group of lawyers or doctors allow themselves to be treated so
shabbily? Are there "rubber rooms" for lawyers and doctors? Are
doctors and lawyers rated arbitrarily on their "performances" by their administrators? I think not- but, they are in professional

If we are to be treated as PROFESSIONALS and stop the many abuses against teachers, it is high time that teachers BROKE from the
unions, and formed associations, where we are empowered to protect
ourselves. So long as we depend on others to do so, we will NEVER be
perceived as professionals by the employers or the public. Why not
play by the rules as set forth by people like Mayior Bloomberg and
Chancellor Klein, and employ a corporate model for ourselves? Then, we will NOT have to depend on highly paid lawyers that masquerade as teachers to represent us. As an ASSOCIATION of professionals, we
would represent ourselves.

It's high time to channel that energy and anger that many of us feel into something constructive that will actually benefit the
educational system. Breaking from the UNION en masse and forming our
own association of professionals might be the first step towards
fixing what is wrong with education today.

Anonymous said...

I disagree with anonymous #4. Our union was fine (mediocre?) until Randi Weingarten took over. She had no educational background and no vested interest in teachers, students, education or the school system. We pay extremely high union dues whether we want to or not and President (Great Leader?) Weingarten has a monopoly on what happens in the union. Our union is no longer democratic and no longer serves in the interest of its members. Most members still don't know that. I didn't until a couple of years ago.

I stayed in the city system because I liked the idea that if a bad principal came to my school, I would have an easy escape. I liked the idea of seniority transfers. They were good for everybody--most senior teachers are great teachers. Yeah, there are some duds, but there are plenty of duds who are new teachers, too.

Now, Weingarten has sold us down the river. She doesn't care about us, our welfare or our careers. So many of us stayed in the system, bucking the trend to leave for greener pastures because we loved what we were doing and were willing to put up with the crap we do (from the administration) and the poor working conditions (34 per class???). This is our reward. We can blame ourselves for voting President Weingarten into office again, but we can blame her even more for selling us out and for being so dishonest. I only hope that more members see this and rebel against her.

If we lose our union and start a professional association (which is what BloomKlein would love), then we have lost everything and worse--so will our students. Having a stable, older workforce is a good thing.

Anonymous said...

RE: The corporate model. I would like to relate some comments that Randi made about four years ago, (I'm sure I've mentioned this online before, but it's worth repeating). I was an ed. evaluator for 18 years, and then one day I wasn't. We were all summoned to a meeting at, I believe, the Marriot in Manhattan to hear the news from Randi. (I knew as soon I entered and we had a variety of upscale pastries and coffee rather than Entemann's we were screwed!) I am bringing this up only because Randi stated, in her impassioned speech to us, how she was just beginning to see what corporate people were like; as educators we really could not comprehend what was going on. They certainly sounded evil, and she sounded very earnest. Now I have to wonder if she was being honest then, (she certainly seemed like she was), or was it all BS. If she was being truthful, I would think that this experience would have strengthened and hardened her against the corporate forces that we faced. Instead, it appears that she sold her soul to the devil for her own gains. (BTW, I am very senior and spent the last year in ATR hell due to a school reorganization. The last few years have taught me all I need to know about our contract).

Anonymous said...

Doubly screwed. Randi always sounds earnest. Check the results. Long-time observers of the UFT knew ed eval were dead meat and there would not be a fight. They say that Korasham was the agent of death. But he did ok for himself, didn't he?

ed notes online said...

"If she was being truthful, I would think that this experience would have strengthened and hardened her against the corporate forces that we faced. Instead, it appears that she sold her soul to the devil for her own gains."

Just words. She is part of the corporate model and runs the UFT the same way. She agrees with them. She is on their side all along. Forget the words. Look at the results. Not a finger lifted to fight the corporate model and contracts that reinforce it. What else do you need to know?

Anonymous said...

I can't resist adding a comment regarding Korashan. Before the final cut of the ed. eval job, we had an "action meeting" to try to save the position. I recall him saying something about how he, too, wasn't sure about what type of teaching position he'd have to take. No one believed him. We knew he'd land in a cushy union spot. I guess that's why there really were no actions taken after that meeting.

Anonymous said...

I think the best choice would be for Middle and HS teachers to secede from the UFT and start their own organization. They are most affected by this POS contract and lousy leadership. Randi has re-written every rule the union had that might of given them at least some voice and subjugated them to eternal hell. She's a real sweetheart isn't she?


Anonymous said...

The UFT/Unity caucus leadership function like the French Vichy government in WWII. They ought to serve Vichyssoise at Exec. Bd. meetings.

while the rest of the membership eats crow

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Splitting up the union? What a great idea! That will solve all of the problems of how public education is under attack everywhere in this country. If you think this is only happening in NYC you're missing the bigger picture. Many other cities have sunk and we actually have it pretty good. We should be figuring out how to be more united and more involved.

Anonymous said...

The UFT leadership will have to react and defend its members when its members stand up for themselves. The rank and file must lead the charge. The Union will then follow.