Thursday, November 29, 2018

The Things We Didn't Get

At the risk of being repetitious, I'm kind of reeling from what's happened over the last year. My brother Mike Schirtzer was able to take a fundamental role in enabling parental leave for UFT members. He brought in Emily James, who'd gotten a remarkable 70,000 signatures in support. Emily told the Executive Board she hadn't even known we existed, let alone that she could address us. A few short months later, there was a deal.

Reading some blogs, you'd think we'd gone out and committed serial murder. Why was it six weeks? Why wasn't it seven? Why was it this program? Why wasn't it that program? Why did we get this when they got that? Why did we pay for this benefit? Why should I pay for you to have a baby? I'm not having a baby, so no one else should catch a break either.

This is the story of the two farmers--One has a cow, and one doesn't. The one without the cow says, "I want his cow to die." This is the same train of thought I see from people who say they didn't get the benefit so no one should. It's also the same train of thought I see from people who say teachers shouldn't have pensions. They don't have them, so why should we? (And they lie about it too. I read an op-ed in the Daily News that teachers who left before getting vested lose their pension contributions. Not true.) 

Another thing we pushed was fewer observations for working teachers. Just a few months ago, we went to the Executive Board with a resolution. We asked for two observations for teachers who'd been rated effective or higher. We were met with fervent and passionate opposition. Statistics, they said, showed that the more observations you had, the better chance you'd have to be rated higher.

I believed that was probably true. However, our proposal said that anyone whose rating was effective or higher after the first two could be left alone for the rest of the year. It seemed to me that, under that scenario, anyone who needed more observation could get it anyway.

LeRoy Barr said that he took no position either way, but this was neither the time nor the place. He said this needed to go to the negotiation committee. I was pretty cynical on this front, having heard only negative things about the committee process. I felt that we were just burying a very popular idea, something the very blogs that criticized parental leave had clamored for.

I decided to push it anyway. I went to the committee meetings, and it did indeed entail sitting in a big room with hundreds of people. When I was discouraged by that, a UFT official lobbied me to come back.  I did, and we were soon broken into smaller groups. My first choice was evaluation. In that group, I pushed for fewer observations.

One day last summer I got an email inviting me to show for the class size group. In fact, that was my second choice. I was pretty curious as to why I'd gotten bounced. When I got to the meeting, it was a much smaller group, broken into even smaller groups. We were to go face to face with DOE reps, and make our cases. On the evaluation group, I'd evidently been replaced by Michael Mulgrew.

I was chosen to speak to class sizes in high schools. I told them what teaching oversized classes was like. I told them how awful and ridiculous the DOE "plans of action," supposedly to make up for oversized classes, were. It's ludicrous to imagine that relieving me from one period of tutoring a week somehow makes up for having an oversized class. The issue is not really the fact that I have too many papers to grade and now I have more time to get that done. The issue is I'm facing an enormous group of varying and unpredictable personalities, and that I can't do my job effectively under those circumstances. I don't need forty minutes a week to think about it, or plan, or grade papers. I need help right there, right then.

The DOE's response was, essentially, we don't care. Too bad. We're not doing anything about it. I think I heard they offered to sell leadership lower class sizes if we gave up a portion of our raise, but when I was there they didn't even do that.

When it came to evaluation, it was Mulgrew who spoke. He said we wanted two observations. They asked do you want formal or informal? He said we want two. Two. That was the message. In our second to last meeting he told us that this was one of the last sticking points. He said we were either going to resolve this very quickly or it would take a few years. A few days later I got an email telling me to report to 52 Broadway instead of school, and there was indeed a contract.

So now there is an agreement for two observations. This applies to around 85% of tenured teachers. I can't say I disagree with observing untenured teachers more frequently. Theoretically, supervisors are there to support us. If you're fortunate enough to have a supervisor who isn't crazy, that could actually happen. I'm very happy to say that since I became chapter leader, two of the very worst supervisors I've ever seen have left us for good. It's not easy to procure quality of life improvements in a school as overcrowded as ours, so we take what we can get.

No we did not get everything. We did not lower class size. We did not end the ATR. We did not beat the pattern. We did not revise the six-month-old MLC agreement to save money. We did not change it to say we would offer them no savings and continue to pay no premiums. I'd have liked to get all those things.

I guess if contracts entailed presenting a list of non-negotiable demands and winning them all we'd have accomplished all of that. However, I have a very clear idea of exactly how things would work it I were to take that approach, and it's therefore it's not at the top of my list.

I also think, though, that there are better ways to achieve some of these goals than via contract. As to health care, we ought not to be negotiating basic coverage at all. The NY State Assembly has passed a universal health care bill four years in a row, only to have it die in the GOP Senate. Well, there is no more GOP Senate in New York. Canada passed universal health care province by province. So there's that. There's also a very strong possibility we can take back the US Senate in two years.

As to parental leave, this should be a national issue. We can't do it right now, But people who say we didn't get everything are right. Maybe they'd have been able to instantly negotiate everything. On the other hand, maybe they're so inflexible and unreasonable they wouldn't have accomplished anything whatsoever.
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