Julie Cavanagh is a special education teacher at P.S. 15 Patrick F. Daly in Red Hook, Brooklyn. She is also an active member of the MORE caucus, a group of public school educators.
Opinion: Here's Why NYC Teachers Should Reject Labor Contract
Thursday, May 08, 2014 - 04:00 AM
The proposed new contract for New York City public school teachers highlights the current mayor's commitment to collaboration and communication between the United Federation of Teachers and the city after years of deteriorating learning and working conditions.
It includes some steps forward in rebuilding respect for educators, including parents more and improving conditions for students and teachers. But I have serious concerns about several aspects of this proposal.
For example, the proposed contract would divide educators into several tiers. Once we destroy union solidarity, we destroy our union. Career ladders are nothing more than a merit pay scheme with a different name. Teacher leadership is critical to the success of schools but dividing teachers by salary is not a way to achieve this goal.
Due process, job security, and fair evaluations for all educators are the foundations of any teacher’s union contract. There cannot be two sets of rules for educators. Those who were excessed through no fault of their own and were placed in the Absent Teacher Reserve (ATR) pool should not be held to a different standard than their fellow union members.
I also hoped this contract would address pay parity. Occupational and physical therapists, who are essential to the success of the children we serve, make considerably less than their educator colleagues. Paraprofessionals also deserve consideration in this contract, as they are underpaid for the important and challenging work they do.
While I commend the effort to address the needs in hard-to-staff schools, I believe a different path should be taken. Wraparound services, reduced class size, additional nurses, librarians, social workers, counselors, healthy food initiatives, after-school and weekend academic programs, and extracurricular activities are all proven formulas for success, not $5,000 bonus pay. Simply, I feel this money would have been better spent on direct services to children.
I also commend the additional time for educators to work in teacher teams, engage in meaningful professional development, and complete the monumental tasks that we frankly do not have the time to complete. However, I am concerned that the change leaves our children behind, because, with the information I have seen thus far, there will be no efforts to replace targeted intervention for students.
UFT members are dedicated professionals and although we didn’t become educators for the money we do have families to raise and financial obligations to meet. I am a teacher, a wife, a mother, and a New Yorker; I want to live where I work and provide my son with every opportunity, including doing my part to improve our schools and society for him and all children and their families.
This proposed contract would have members accept raises, worth less than 2 percent each year between 2009 and 2018. This does not keep up with the rate of inflation. Salaries around the country have fallen behind, which has caused terrible income inequality for many families of the children we serve. Every working man and woman deserves a living wage and fair annual cost of living increases. If our union does not take this stand, who will?
If we accept this deal, other union members may be forced to accept similar bad contracts. Politicians now have the green light to refuse to negotiate in good faith and force pay freezes for workers, deferred raises and a contract below the rate of inflation.
Union members have been without a contract for more than five years. We, along with the communities we serve, have faced a tidal wave of attacks on our neighborhood schools. A new contract has the power to right these wrongs. I believe the path to real change must be traveled together. Only through the active involvement of our members, parents, and with respect for all students can we achieve the promise of public education.
Many teachers I know would have happily conceded some financial compensation in favor of a greater improvement to teaching and learning conditions. Given this contract extends beyond the next mayoral election, it wrongly surrendered a great opportunity for meaningful improvement.