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Queens Chronicle

Some teachers sour on labor agreement

Some express concerns about pay, benefits, disciplinary procedures

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Posted: Thursday, May 15, 2014 10:30 am | Updated: 11:56 am, Thu May 22, 2014.

The city’s tentative contract with the United Federation of Teachers may have the support of the mayor and the head of the union, but some of the UFT’s members are not happy, with one teacher calling it “highway robbery.”

Arthur Goldstein, UFT chapter leader at Francis Lewis High School, said the deal, which members will vote up or down, was not being met with positive praise from the teachers at his school.

“I cannot predict how the entire city would vote, but I can tell you my members are not happy for it and will probably vote against it,” he said.

At issue are plans to pay out the retroactive pay raises over the course of the next six years, a stipulation that has left many teachers wondering if they will get the raises at all.

“In some cases, they won’t be paid out until 2020,” said one Queens high school teacher. “But the contract expires in 2018. What happens then? Can the city not honor the pay raises after that?”

City Comptroller Scott Stringer said that retroactive pay for this year would have to be paid out in the current budget year and Mayor de Blasio agreed Tuesday to reallocate $725 million from the Fiscal Year 2015 budget to FY 2014 in his budget request to cover the 2014 raises.

A Flushing elementary school teacher said she was concerned about the possibility of teachers leaving the profession before 2020 not getting their retroactive raises.

“I certainly hope to be teaching for decades, but a lot can happen between now and 2020,” she said. “I could get married and my husband could get a job in California. What happens then, do I not get the money the union is telling me I earned?”

She is also concerned about the stipulation about healthcare savings. The deal does not lay out specific steps that would be taken to save on healthcare. That left some wondering if they will contribute more and how much.

“It’s not that I mind contributing to my healthcare, but how much and when?” she said. “If I end up having to contribute more before I get any of the raises, then this deal is worse for me than the status quo. I can’t vote for this until I have more information.”

But one of the most serious concerns teachers expressed relates to teacher discipline. Goldstein said it was his biggest issue with the contract deal.

As part of the agreement, teachers in the Absent Teacher Reserve will get a one-day hearing for any infraction they are accused of, Goldstein explained.

“It appears to me that we are going to have a two-tier due process,” he said. “I believe all teachers should be treated equally and under this deal, that doesn’t seem to be the case.”

Goldstein said many teachers in the ATR end up there for nonserious infractions and a one-day hearing makes it harder to call witnesses in defense.

“Any teacher can become an ATR teacher at any time,” he said. “[Mulgrew] hasn’t defined what is problematic behavior.”

But some say that a one-day hearing could make it easier for ATR teachers to get back into the classroom.

Further, Goldstein said he felt the union should have been tougher if it was planning to make concessions to the city.

“If we accept this contract with all these financial compromises, why can’t we negotiate lower class sizes?” he said. “Why not make that the price of this contract?”

The process of how the vote will take place is not entirely clear. According to the UFT, ballots will be mailed to each school, but the union did not offer a specific timeline.

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