January 13, 2008

Reductivism — did we ask for this?

Some of the statements coming from Unity after they pushed through the last disastrous contract, and I guess back before that as well, have led me to think there are only two kinds of union leadership: the one that fights for better conditions and the one that settles for the bottom line: "Hey, you have a job, don’t you."

There’s almost no use beating this dead horse to make it serve us better. Weingarten, queen of collaboration and givebacks, hasn't got us better conditions for years, and that includes salary as well, since people who have bothered to calculate the net results of the pay increases came out with unfavorable verdicts once standard-of- living adjustments and increased hours were factored in.

But there’s a lot of talk about job security and no-layoff. You get statements like these:

On the UFT website under Excessing Rules, June 5, 2006: "... the excessing clause is a virtual no-layoff provision"

In a Weingarten email of Sept. 16, 2007, the 2005 contract "created a job security clause the likes of which we have never had.”

Another of her emails a few weeks later: "I have said the following countless times: we have total job security ... By negotiating full job security in the 2005 contract, we stopped [Klein]. That was re-affirmed in the 2006 contract."

As I see it, Weingarten thinks of the word “job” as “the state of being employed.” She has neither the intention or the anger to fight for the kinds of things that word means to the rest of us — that in return for our expertise, stamina, creativity, and willingness to teach huge classes with limited supplies and social supports, we ask for a fair degree of autonomy and other conditions shared by professionals who hold graduate degrees.

Weingarten is reductive: she diminishes and curtails our profession. There are any number of conditions that don't really work for us, like cafeteria duty, staff “development” (professionals don’t need to be “developed”— they need to confer, meet, read, and chew over educational issues and school methodologies), one-size-fits-all staff development, longer days, shorter summers, and meaningless procedures to rebut untruths in the files to exemplify her long record of this kind of diminishment.

In the past two years, the leadership seems to have gone from this statement in Edwize, where a “job” seems to imply a real position:
Seniority in lay-offs is a core union principle. We could not accept a contract which did not secure the rights of senior excessed teachers to a position in another school. (Leo Casey, Oct. 4, 2005)
to this statement on the UFT website a year later talking about the No-Layoff Provision, where the mention of a real “position” is decidedly absent:
The fact-finders ... agreed with us to stop bumping and to maintain educators who are in excess in the D.O.E. employ.
Here's something else. When I wrote Weingarten last summer (after being excessed) that in spite of years of good service and skills it looked as if I was not going to land even a single interview much less a new position because of my age or salary, she wrote back rather glibly:
"It used to be this way all the time except that when music teachers used to be excessed they were laid off."
What this statement showed most was her indisputable lack of concern for quality and length of service. When she got blindsided, seemingly, by Klein's move last spring to have principals pay salaries out of their own budgets, even then she couldn't muster anything more than a "Ho, hum."

It would surprise a lot of us if Weingarten were to hold firm on job security, and it's not at all clear she's even planning to. Unity staff have accused people of fearmongering and keep insisting that giving up tenure will "never happen."

But, the wording in the explanation of tenure given on the UFT's own website is vague enough to spell no good. I've underlined these bits, then elaborated on them below:

Tenure is a status that appointed pedagogues achieve after completing a probationary period with satisfactory service. Once you have tenure, you cannot be dismissed without being formally charged and having a hearing before an independent arbitrator on those charges. This protects you from being fired by your supervisor for personal or political reasons.

Although teachers are not “guaranteed a job for life”, as critics often say, it is true that, after completing a probationary period, teachers in New York State may generally not be fired except for just cause or a layoff situation. Inappropriate conduct that gives rise to dismissal is defined in state law and must be substantiated by the DOE in a due-process hearing before an independent arbitrator. A layoff or “reduction in force” happens when positions have been eliminated, usually due to funding cuts. (NY Teacher, June 7, 2007)
generally — mostly, but not always

just cause — defined as a “standard or test often applied to determine the appropriateness of disciplinary action,” and which we all know is not always kosher, either at the school level or the DOE level

inappropriate conduct ... defined in state lawEducation Law 3020-a talks about the sale and possession of drugs and certain felonies, as well as “pedagogical incompetence or issues involving pedagogical judgment,” but other kinds of inappropriate conduct are not mentioned or defined. Article 21.G of the UFT contract also speaks of 3020-a procedures, which includes this time Time and Attendance (G.1). It also seems to recognize a difference between plain old misconduct and “serious misconduct,” which gets its own subsection, G.5; firearms and unspecified felonies are mentioned here. So these kinds of things seem to be covered in a variety of laws and contracts, and those of us who are not lawyers will find this whole search tiresome, vague, and fairly impenetrable.

independent arbitrators — which most of us really doubt, since there is much talk of their having to divide the cases up to find for the board and the members in somewhat equal proportion

usually — in other words, there might be cases when positions are eliminated for reasons other than funding cuts (like when the board eliminated the position of ed evaluator in 2003, probably because these people cost the city a chunk of change)

No matter what the leadership says about holding firm on no-layoff, this kind of ambiguity does not bode well for our future. The board is already finding it easy enough to pressure us to resign through harassment even when a no-layoff rule is still in place.

We need substantive changes in the way the UFT deals with the BloomKlein regime in the next couple of years. We need less kissy-kissy, less gamesmanship, and less collaboration. We don't need the public hugs, or the compliments, or the birthday celebrations. And we certainly don't need a president who serves us less than full time while she goes about seeking national office and working for other labor unions. There's certainly plenty of work to be done right here.

What we do need is to reconstitute this union. We need a rank-and-file that is motivated to stand up to management when it needs to, we need protests and other kinds of demonstrations (like withholding service within contractual stipulations), we need instant responses to the outrageous union-busting maneuvers Klein has been pulling for years, and we need a definitive commitment on the part of leadership to send these anti-teacher corporate thugs back where they came from.

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