Negotiations – what matters most

by Jonathan Halabi

Halabi is a 13-year math teacher in the Bronx. He is Chapter Leader at the HS of American Studies at Lehman College and was Deputy Chapter Leader and Delegate at Columbus HS before that. He is on the executive board of New Action/UFT and on the UFT Executive Board, as well as currently serving on the Executive Committee of the UFT’s Negotiating Committee.

We should have two priorities in these negotiations. Not that we should not try to get more, we should, but this is what we should be looking for as absolutes:

  1. A raise. Substantial.
  2. No harm. Nothing that hampers our ability to grow stronger, and to get better settlements in the future.

Some explanation:

A. Why are we negotiating?

Because our contract is expired. Because we have the right to negotiate. Because the law forces them to negotiate with us. And the legal framework is a product of struggle, of workers, of teachers, at one time, being strong enough to demand respect.

Can you imagine, they passed laws to restrict the growing power of unions? That’s a long time ago. They recognized rights we had won in struggle, and often in the same law, restricted them. Today, it is the recognition part, not the restriction part, that looms large. It forces them to the table with us.

I consider the Taylor Law an anti-labor piece of legislation. But in today’s environment, it contains protections that we rely on and benefit from.

Make no mistake, there is history. What we have, the rights we have, they are not immutable; they come from action that teachers and other workers took in the past. Nor has history stopped; what we do today has ramifications for the future.

B. What is our relationship with the DoE?

Our current relationship with the Department of Education is hostile. It is adversarial. They sign agreements with us, and ignore them. They bargain (in general, no particular reference to the current negotiations) in bad faith. They add requirements on our members that violate the spirit, if not the letter (but often the letter too!) of our contract. They are predatory. They are aggressive. And far more than in the past, they are shamelessly bold.

They attack us with U-ratings, with terminations. They are packing the Temporary Reassignment Centers. They are discriminating against older teachers, male teachers, and teachers of color. They use phony and pretend data to harass our members and bury them in busy work. They loose untrained, dictatorial administrators on our members.

They disrupt our schools. They close and reopen willy-nilly. They change curricula, requirements. They create ridiculous Progress Reports and Quality Reviews to scare and intimidate us. They deny us, our students, and our neighborhoods the stability that schools should provide.

C. Who is strong today?

Potentially, with scores of thousands of members, we are much stronger than the DoE. But our membership is fragmented, and partially unorganized. Too many of our new members are worried about getting U’ed or tossed. Too few of our members are tenured. And the clusters of untenured teachers put entire schools, perhaps entire districts at a disadvantage. And too many of our experienced members are concerned (with reason) about being forced to become ATRs.

And the DoE is aggressive, overstaffed at Tweed with management-types and a (relatively) new, useless/destructive Office of Accountability, and armed with a confrontational, ideological agenda. They’ve been coming at us and at the kids for over half a decade, and the best we’ve managed is to hold our own. Despite our potential, we need to recognize the current balance of forces. And today the bad guys are stronger than us.

D. What matters most?

For this contract, we all need a raise. That’s first

Beyond that, we need to improve our position for the future.

i) we need to stop their drive to turn teaching in NYC into a temp job. We need to stop the harrassment of new teachers. We need to restrict the arbitrariness of the rating process. We need to curb the predations of aggressive, unstable, dictatorial administrators. We need to help new teachers reach tenure and last and become experienced teachers.

ii) we need to stop their drive to marginalize and eliminate senior teachers. We need to stop the harassment of senior teachers. We need to stop the arbitrary reassignment of ATRs, and assure that ATRs become regular classroom teachers. We need to revise the transfer process (or funding process, or both) so that senior teachers are not discriminated against when they seek to move within the system. We need to stop the abuse of the Temporary Reassignment Centers.

iii) we need a leadership that focuses on actual conditions in the field (we may have some recent progress here)

iv) we need to create/rebuild well-functioning chapters in every school. Well-functioning chapters defend our weakest members, enforce the contract, empower all of us. Well-functioning chapters are the key to changing the (currently unfavorable) balance of forces, to tapping our great potential strength.

But none of these things, i-iv, are we likely to do through contract negotiations. Rather, we should keep them in mind, and ensure that whatever new agreement we do reach does not make any of these harder to achieve.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *