UFT members showed up at five simultaneous contract rallies — one in each borough — on May 24 to turn up the pressure on the city and the Department of Education to agree to a fair contract that meets their demands by the end of the school year.
“It’s important that the city sees all of us and sees that we are united in our message that we need and deserve a fair contract now,” said Christina Rizzo, a pre-K teacher at PS 200 in Manhattan. “I would like the mayor to see that we care about our students, and we would like for the city to care about us.”
UFT members have been working under an expired contract since Sept. 13, 2022. The union has been negotiating with the city since October. The after-school rallies — the latest action in a year-long contract campaign — sought to give the talks the push they need to arrive at a settlement so changes can be implemented when the new school year begins in September.
While UFT negotiators have been working at the bargaining table to maximize the financial pattern set by the District Council 37 contract in April, union members have been highlighting the need for working-condition changes, such as fewer DOE mandates, less paperwork, more teacher autonomy and fewer student assessments.
“We give an assessment, and then we give an assessment on the assessment, and then we give an assessment to check the assessment on the assessment,” UFT President Michael Mulgrew said to union members clad in blue T-shirts on the steps of Brooklyn Borough Hall. “Is that helping children? Who is that helping? I have no idea.”
Celeste Aguilar, a social worker at PS 94 and PS 676 in Brooklyn, said the contract changes educators are fighting for will allow them to focus more on what their students need.
“When we come together as a union, we show that we’re strong together and that we’re serious, because we work hard for our children,” she said. “We’re here for the kids. We want what’s best for them.”
Sal Delmonte, an English as a New Language teacher at PS/IS 226 in Brooklyn, spoke about the morale boost a fair contract would provide.
“If teachers feel respected and feel like they’re given what they deserve, their outlook and their way of working will be more joyful,” he said.
At the rally in Virginia Park, across from the Parkchester Station in the Bronx, UFT members held up signs and encouraged passing cars, trucks and buses at the busy traffic circle to honk in support. Some of the train operators on the 6 subway line also sounded their horns as they drove by on the elevated tracks.
Sandy Wong, the chapter leader at PS 30 in the Bronx, said she was speaking both on behalf of her fellow union members and as the parent of students attending New York City public schools.
“We need a fair contract so that we can continue supporting our students,” she said. To the mayor, Wong said, “Take care of us so we can take care of them.”
Jennifer Brancaccio, a 2nd-grade teacher and UFT delegate at the Michael J. Petrides School on Staten Island, said it felt empowering to gather on the South Beach boardwalk with other UFT members from the borough.
“It feels very different being in person and seeing people face to face instead of hearing things second or third hand on social media,” Brancaccio said. “You can really feel that people do care and they are concerned, and we are all in this together.”
Margaret Dalton-Diakite, a paraprofessional at PS 154 in Manhattan and the school’s para representative, remarked on the commitment of educators to their students as she joined the throng outside the Adam Clayton Powell Jr. State Office Building.
“Paraprofessionals are the first person students see and the last person they see at the end of the day,” she said. “Sometimes our kids are not picked up on time and we stay with our kids. We put all our heart into our students.”
At the rally in front of Queens Borough Hall, PS 85 teacher Leah Lin said teachers should have the freedom to spend their time on the things they know will benefit their students the most.
“We are so sick and tired of the DOE telling us what to test, what to assess,” she said. “Enough is enough. Let us teach.”
Fifth-grade teacher Cathy Fontanilles of PS 155 in Queens noted that educators didn’t skip a beat when schools suddenly went remote at the start of the pandemic.
“We were first responders during the pandemic, and we held the city together,” Fontanilles said. “We’re watching other unions receiving raises, and we deserve the same.”
Leigh Anderson, Hannah Brown, Anna Haynes, Mike LoVerde and Cara Matthews contributed to this story.