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by Cara Metz | January 17, 2013 New York Teacher issue
The UFT on Jan. 3 prevailed in its grievance charging that the Department of Education’s implementation of the Special Education Student Information System required members to work beyond their regular workday. The independent arbitrator ordered that UFT members be paid for all the time that they were logged into SESIS outside the regular workday — using the system’s own tracking of their time.
“After our longest-running arbitration in UFT history, the arbitrator agreed with us that the workday provisions in our union contract had been violated,” said UFT President Michael Mulgrew. “It’s a great victory for members.”
School psychologist Barbara Mercaldo, who works with students in three Manhattan schools, estimated that she has worked at least 10 additional hours each week since SESIS was launched.
“I think it’s a wonderful win, and I feel great about the outcome for everyone who has worked on this morning, noon and night,” she said.
“UFT members standing up for their rights, sending in their surveys and testifying before the arbitrator all helped — this was everybody’s victory,” said Ellen Gallin Procida, the director of the UFT Grievance Department.
The Department of Education implemented SESIS citywide in September 2011 with the aim of consolidating special education students’ service information in an online data system for better tracking for Medicaid reimbursement and coordination among service providers.
While lauding the goal of SESIS, Mindy Karten Bornemann, the chapter leader for UFT speech therapists, noted that “once the attendance program was added to SESIS, the problems with an already cumbersome and overwhelmed data system went from dreadful to horrific.”
As part of the arbitration proceedings, the union submitted more than 500 member surveys documenting the numerous computer, equipment and systemic issues that caused members to bring SESIS work home or perform it outside regular work hours in order to complete it.
As members logged in to do the work early in the morning, at lunch, after school, in the evenings, on weekends or on holidays, the union argued that the DOE, in essence, lengthened the workday of members.
When the problems with SESIS first came to the union’s attention, the UFT asked the DOE to do more training, to set aside time in the workday for members to do SESIS work and to provide the proper equipment and necessary bandwidth to complete SESIS on school computers. When the DOE refused to fix the problems, the union filed for arbitration.
Arbitrator Jay Siegel ruled that the DOE has records of when employees logged in and out of SESIS, providing the necessary documentation of any work performed outside the regular workday. He ordered the DOE to turn over those records by Feb. 8.
Members will be compensated on a pro rata basis for any time outside the regular workday that they were logged into SESIS from September 2011 through Dec. 31, 2012.
Siegel said that members would not be paid for any work done during lunch but reaffirmed members’ right to a duty-free lunch period. He also said that the DOE should inform its employees that they should not be using their lunch hour to do SESIS work.
The arbitrator said that UFT members should be paid by March 15, but if the DOE appeals the decision, it can ask the judge to delay implementation. The arbitrator retained jurisdiction to ensure that the DOE complies with his ruling.
The arbitrator also ordered the DOE to negotiate with the UFT on all relevant issues related to the implementation of SESIS going forward.
An earlier version of this story was posted to UFT.org on Jan. 3 at 4:31 p.m.