After more than eight years without a contract, administrative law judges represented by the UFT have ratified their first collective-bargaining agreement with the city.
The roughly 350 judges, who joined the union in February 2007, overwhelmingly voted to approve the contract in a May 13 ratification vote held at the union’s Manhattan headquarters. Ninety-seven percent of the judges voted for the agreement.
“It took years of negotiations, hearings, litigation and mediation, but we now have a first contract that will greatly improve the lives of our members,” said Howard Schoor, the union’s Bronx borough representative, who spearheaded the effort with assistance from UFT Special Representative Ilene Weinerman.
“We always said that our union would commit whatever resources were necessary to win a first contract and we did,” Schoor said.
Over the course of the 11-year contract, which runs from Sept. 25, 2007, through Nov. 30, 2018, judges’ pay will increase by 36 percent, bringing their wages into line with those of workers who do similar work elsewhere.
Incumbents will see an immediate bump in pay to $47.29 per hour, while new hires will now begin at $43.86 per hour. By June 2018, hourly rates will reach $53.85 for incumbents and $49.94 for new hires.
The judges are employed at three different city tribunals, where they hear cases on taxi, environmental and health violations. In the past, they worked at the dictate of management, with hours sometimes reduced or inequitably distributed.
A new four-step appeals process for reduction in work hours, ending in impartial arbitration, will now allow them to combat this unfair treatment.
The new contract also establishes a four-step grievance procedure, including impartial arbitration at the fourth step. It grants members the right to inspect their personnel files up to three times each year and respond in writing to material related to work performance or conduct.
The contract also creates a joint labor-management committee to review working conditions. In addition, it preserves past rights won through litigation such as paid time for blood donation and jury duty.
Prior to the contract, the city had enforced a 1,000-hour annual cap on total hours for judges working in two or more tribunals. As a result of litigation initiated by the UFT, the city’s Office of Collective Bargaining ordered that this cap be rescinded, enabling judges to work up to 1,000 hours per year at each tribunal. The new contract requires the city to abide by this decision for those judges who continue to work and were employed by more than one tribunal at the time of the order, although new hires are not covered.
Negotiating committee member Neil Tolciss said he voted for the agreement because it will not only help judges economically but also will “send a message to the city, the bar and the public that we will fight to maintain administrative judicial integrity and impartiality and the integrity and impartiality of the tribunals on which we sit.”
Laura Fieber, who also served on the negotiating committee, explained her “yes” vote.
“This is our first contract. It puts us in a position of having certain rights and benefits that we’d never had put to paper before,” Fieber said. “It’s a big win for our unit to get the things that we needed.”