2005-10-07 / Community

Coming Soon to Ebay – UFT Contract for Sale

The deal is done.

Signed sealed and about to be delivered.

Mayor Bloomberg said it best at the love-fest press conference announcing the teachers contract settlement as Randi Weingarten stood by beaming and Chancellor Joel Klein, who got 3/4 instead of the full pound of flesh he wanted, was scowling in the background.

Bloomberg said principals would now have the leeway to put teachers in the hallways and lunchrooms where they belong – “not in the classrooms” my wife and I said simultaneously.

Well, at least there’s money –14.25%.

But that is what this is all about, isn’t it?

You can’t blame people for wanting money, especially when you have to fill a wheelbarrow to get a tank of gas and empty an entire bank if you want to buy a house or an apartment. But UFT members will have to weigh the money against what they are giving up.

The UFT spinning wheel is working overtime and we can expect hordes of Unity Caucus/UFT officials to fan out to the schools to start selling the agreement, making sure to shriek “Whatdoyouwanttodo, STRIKE?”

Early emails speculate that teachers are so angry they will turn it down. One comment on the ICEUFTBlog ( http://iceuftblog. blogs pot.com/) My understanding so far: I am going to get a little more money to stay longer in school, teach a sixth period, have more work to bring home, give up three vacation days, watch children eat lunch, get harassed by the administration, spend less time with my children and get to pay the sitter more. Do I have this straight? Sometimes I feel as though I am in the Twilight Zone!”

Despite these comments my sense is that a rejection of the contract is almost inconceivable because the UFT/Unity machine controls the entire institution of communication within the union and forces opposed will have a hard job getting the negatives of the contract out to members.

Journalist and BloomKlein critic Sol Stern wants to bet me a cappuccino that 78% will approve the contract. I think more like 70% but would see a one third rejection rate as a victory. 60% would be glorious. I took Sol’s bet and offered to treat him to a night of drinking the real stuff if the contract is rejected.

The Internet has allowed people opposed to the settlement to get the word out and has even reached the mainstream media. Some members of ICE appeared on ABC – Channel 7 for brief sound bites (three ICE’ers had a one hour interview resulting in about 20 seconds, but we’ll take anything.) I was able to get into the fray a week before the contract when NY Times chief education reporter David Herzenhorn contacted me.

We spoke for some time in an open and frank conversation. It was only after I hung up that I realized I should have said that some things are off the record, but when you are not experienced talking to the press that happens.

Thank goodness Herzenhorn, whose mother was a chapter leader, was discreet, writing “Opponents of Ms. Weingarten within the union suggest that the talk of a strike is intended not to pressure Mr. Bloomberg but to scare teachers into accepting a deal that includes smaller gains and larger concessions than they wanted. ‘There are two angles that the union plays,’ said Norm Scott, a critic of the union leadership. ‘P.R. with the members and P.R. with the public.’” He gets an A for choosing one of the few comments I made that made sense.

Even without the UFT public relations machine, many UFT’ers will rationalize a vote for the contract on the grounds that it is hopeless to fight the BloomKlein machine anyway, so why not take the money? If retaining recently hired teachers, who often have little tradition of union consciousness, is so difficult (as was pointed out in our last column) we can expect people looking to leave teaching after a few years to not worry much about the almost total erosion of seniority rules.

At the other end of the scale, senior teachers nearing retirement may just decide the return to lunch, bus and coming soon – potty duty (bring your won toilet paper), can be handled for the few years left, though one Rockaway teacher and former chapter leader due to retire in June called me as I was about to submit this column to tell me she was so upset she was voting “NO” anyway and hoped the contract would be voted down.

Another teacher who was forced into retirement at John Adams HS after an onslaught of “U” ratings because he did not implement the Workshop model in his math classes to the administration’s satisfaction told me he would vote against the contract if he could (retirees can’t vote on contractual issues). “It depends on the kind of person you are,” he said. He wants to prevent the witch-hunt he went through from happening to others. And that is certainly what will happen under the new contract.

In my last column I wrote, “Does anyone remember the ‘respect’ and ‘let teachers teach’ campaigns which will be ignored in any contract settlement?”

Give the UFT PR machine credit for getting language in the contract that on the surface appears to protect teachers from micromanagement. The following issues shall not be the basis for discipline of pedagogues: a) the format of bulletin boards; b) the arrangement of classroom furniture; and c) the exact duration of lesson units.

This may be the one item being cheered by teachers, but examine the language carefully. “Shall not be the basis for discipline” does not exclude these items from being a factor in the disciplining of teachers. So let’s say a teacher gets a letter in the file because the bulletin board is not aligned to the 30th parallel.

The new contract states:

Members may not grieve material in file. However, the teacher shall have the right to append a response to any letter (a right teachers always had) . If disciplinary charges do not follow, the letter and response shall be removed from the file three years from the date the original material is placed in the file.

Good luck.

I wouldn’t recommend you try the technique Ron Isaac, a middle school chapter leader in Queens and author of the “Wake-up Call” blog (http:// risaac.blogs.com/), uses. He rips off a small corner of a newspaper page and staples it to the bulletin board that is otherwise totally bare. When the supervisor comes by to reprimand him, he simply says “Oh my! They ripped it down already?”

I also wrote about the assault chapter leaders are undergoing so it is interesting how often the proposed contract mentions the phrase “…the principal, in consultation with the chapter leader.”

Principals are big winners in this contract as their power is strengthened considerably. Let’s imagine the following conversation:

Principal: I called you in Mr. Jones as chapter leader to consult on my plan to have teachers clean the lunchroom floors with their tongues after they finish lunch duty.

Mr. Jones: That is outrageous and I won’t stand for it.

Principal: By the way, Mr. Jones, did I tell you I’m adding the 5 children who just arrived from Creedmore Psychiatric to your class effective immediately and you are being observed right after this meeting is over? And you will be getting that letter in your file because the rug in your room was 8 inches from the wall instead of the required 10 inches.

One of the losers is Fernando Ferrer, who was hoping for UFT support. The chances of that happening are even less likely than a contract rejection, the actual vote by the membership being delayed until after Election Day. Cynics made note of that fact as being part of the quid quo pro between Weingarten and Bloomberg but I see it more as an attempt to give UFT machine more time to do its selling job, a mistake they made when the last contract was rejected in 1995.

They just rewrote a few sections and spent 6 weeks re-selling it.

By the way, that was the first contract Randi Weingarten negotiated before she became President of the UFT and she has clearly learned a lesson from that disaster.

A side note: one of the major reasons for the 1995 rejection was that new teachers were penalized with lower salaries.

The 2005 version is that new teachers only get a 9% raise, expanding the gap between new teachers (43K+) and teachers at the top (92K+), a divisive and unhealthy situation which we have often criticized.

Seeing the Bloomberg, Weingarten, Klein team (henceforth to be known as BloomWeinKlein) on the stage at the press conference affirmed what an education reporter once said to me – that Weingarten seems to be much closer philosophically to Bloomberg and Klein than she does to the rank and file teacher. But never underestimate her brilliant skills in the use of PR.

The incredible amount of money the UFT pays to in-house staff and outside consultants (Bill Lynch and Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager Howard Wolfson) is likely to pay off. But the forces in the UFT opposed to the contract led by the Independent Community of Educators (ICE) and Teachers for a Just Contract (TJC) are marshalling their forces among the rank and file to demonstrate their opposition at the Brooklyn Marriott before, during and after the Oct. 11 Delegate Assembly where the contract will undoubtedly be ratified by a Unity Caucus dominated Delegate Assembly before it goes to the membership for a vote. If you should see Sol Stern and I staggering down the street soon after, you’ll know how that vote went.

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