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UCP workers win contract just before strike deadline

Howard Schoor discusses the new contract with members. Miller Photography UFT Brooklyn Borough Representative Howard Schoor discusses the new contract with member Audrey Taitt-Hall (standing) and chapter leaders (seated, from left) Thara Baucicault and Elaine Forrest.

Poised to strike if a new agreement were not reached by Oct. 15, workers at United Cerebral Palsy of New York City beat that deadline by one day and then ratified a new contract in the final days of the month.

Their contract, originally due to expire last June 29, was extended twice to allow management at the nonprofit agency to make an offer the 700-member bargaining unit could accept.

The new agreement comes with a 4 percent raise over three years and no givebacks.

Had the strike gone forward, it would have been the first since the chapter was organized in 2001.

When bargaining started in June, UFT Special Representative Ilene Weinerman said UCP offered what members called “a big fat zero.”

After a second disappointing session in late September, management again refused to give raises, leading the chapter’s newsletter to call the offer “an insult” and announce that if no progress were made at the next session on Oct. 5, they would give a 10-day strike notice.

The Oct. 5 meeting was again deadlocked, with management offering just a 2.5 percent one-time, lump-sum bonus payment in the contract’s second year. In return, management proposed reducing its annual pension contribution for employees from the current 5 percent to 3 percent.

The union filed a strike notice that day, as required by federal law whenever there is an intention to strike in a health care facility such as UCP.

“Over the years, management has found money for executive compensation, money to create more supervisory positions and, most recently, money to install a new agencywide time-keeping system ... but you, who are the backbone of their agency, continue to be just an afterthought,” the newsletter read.

Union members acknowledged that UCP, like many nonprofits affected by the recession, faced declining financial support, and UFT President Michael Mulgrew indicated the union was ready to help lobby Albany for better funding. But with UCP Executive Director Ed Matthews earning a six-figure salary even as he urged “creative solutions,” members found that Matthews’ creativity meant, as one said, “you continue to work long hours for little money and no respect.”

Fortunately, management changed its tune in time.

Thara Baucicault, a residential program specialist and chapter leader for members working in residential sites, who served on the union’s 12-person bargaining team, said her members approved the settlement. “Their proposal was to take away,” she said. “Now we took back.”

Elaine Forrest, a teacher’s assistant and chapter leader for the agency’s educators working in the pre-school, school-age and adult day program, said that “the idea of a strike was scary. But when the 10-day notice reality kicked in, we were ready to exercise our union rights and stand up.”

Forrest said that as much as the UCP workers loved the people they worked with, “we had to stand up for ourselves.If we hadn’t, we’d have gotten zeros all around.”

Forrest, also a bargaining-team member, heard rumors about hiring scabs and permanently replacing workers. “But when they felt the staff out and knew we were serious, they settled,” she said.

She also liked how the union comported itself in bargaining, with Brooklyn Borough Representative Howard Schoor leading the team but “relying on members to talk about issues relating to our own specializations.”

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