No grievances had been filed when the administration pulled ENL teachers for coverages and refused to hire substitutes when one of the teachers in an Integrated Co-Teaching class was absent. No one protested when administrators altered students’ IEPs to justify the curtailment of needed services.
“Everyone was afraid — terrified — so the major challenge when contract breaches continued unheeded was to organize staff to bring our grievances to the UFT and get them on record,” Shapiro said.
Brooklyn Borough Representative Elizabeth Perez remembers the five members she was expecting at that May meeting turned out to be 25, representing a cross-section of senior and untenured teachers, paraprofessionals and support staff.
The UFT members who gathered that day in May 2018 learned there was a way forward. “The meeting empowered us all and brought us together,” Shapiro said. “It made us see that there is strength in numbers.”
Members did not remain silent the following month when the principal again violated the contract by excessing seven senior teachers, including Shapiro.
The chapter worked with the union to protest the excessing. Shapiro, a teacher at the school for 16 years, was reinstated and later elected chapter leader.
In September, the school had a new principal. Now the PS 116 chapter is thriving. A revitalized UFT consultation committee meets monthly with the new principal. Chapter meetings are well-attended, and members are kept informed via weekly chapter emails. COPE contributions have jumped: 84 percent of members contribute to COPE today, up from 48 percent a year ago.
“Our working environment had become so hostile we had to do something, and Adam encouraged us and convinced us to go to the UFT for help,” said PS 116 teacher Danielle O’Connell. “It feels good to be in a respectful workplace where our principal listens to us.”