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Delegates approve sending contract to members for vote

New York Teacher
Miller Photography

An overwhelming number of delegates raise their cards to vote for allowing the rank and file to decide the fate of the agreement.

The UFT’s Delegate Assembly on May 7 overwhelmingly approved sending the proposed new Department of Education contract to the union’s members.

The decision by the delegates means that the 106,000 members who work for the DOE will now vote on whether to ratify the contract. Ballots are expected to reach schools by around May 19. Members will have until about May 30 to return their ballots to their chapter leader. The independent American Arbitration Association will then count the ballots. Results are expected to be announced on June 3.

UFT President Michael Mulgrew began the meeting of about 2,800 delegates at the New York Hilton by describing highlights of the proposed contract.

“Our goal was to get the money our members are entitled to with an education package that we believed in,” said Mulgrew. “We succeeded.”

He said that the UFT negotiating committee agreed to stretch out the retroactive lump-sum payments and the two 4 percent rate increases from the first years of the contract because it was the only way to ensure that union members would receive both full retroactive pay plus new raises. He explained that Mayor Bloomberg had drained the city’s labor reserve during his last few years in office purposely to prevent UFT members from receiving the two 4 percent raises that other city workers received in 2009 and 2010.

“If we ratify this contract, once again we beat Michael Bloomberg because he’s not going to get away with it,” Mulgrew said.

Mulgrew underscored that all retired and in-service members would receive every dollar they were entitled to, back to Nov. 1, 2009, by 2020. A teacher who started work in September 2013 would be entitled to a total of about $13,000 in retroactive payments, while a veteran teacher might be looking at more than $40,000 in additional payments in addition to their regular paychecks, Mulgrew said.

Delegates rose to their feet applauding Mulgrew at the end of his presentation.

Prior to the vote, the Delegate Assembly included an extended question period and a debate.

Ken Achiron, the chapter leader of Long Island City HS, spoke in support of the pay increases in the contract. “The people who are in the trenches are going to see the money,” Achiron said.

A couple of delegates raised concerns that UFT members in the Absent Teacher Reserve would lose their due-process rights under the contract. Mulgrew assured them that ATRs would continue to have the right to a hearing like any other member.

The contract, he said, helps ATRs by giving them greater access to permanent placements in schools. It also contains provisions to ensure that veteran teachers in the ATR pool are no longer passed over by principals because of their higher salaries.

“These are people who are valuable assets to our school system,” Mulgrew said.

Mulgrew also announced that the union and the DOE had agreed to set aside $20 million in a salary schedule equity fund to be used to adjust the salaries of certain smaller chapters including occupational and physical therapists. In answer to a question from a therapist, Mulgrew said that the negotiations on those adjustments would be finalized by the time ballots reach schools.

Mulgrew said he was particularly proud of a provision of the proposed contract that will allow up to 200 schools to put into place teacher-led innovations through modifications to certain Chancellor’s Regulations and UFT contract provisions. At least 65 percent of each school’s UFT members plus UFT leaders and DOE officials would have to approve any such modifications.

“It’s about giving power to the educators in the schools so you can innovate and do what you think is best for the children,” Mulgrew said. “This provision is the one that allows us to show how great we are at education.”

UFT Welfare Fund Director Arthur Pepper reassured delegates that the $3.4 billion in health care savings that the municipal unions negotiated with the city will be achieved by delivering health care more efficiently and streamlining the administration of benefits for all city workers. Members will have the same insurance, the same co-pays and the same drug plan, and they will continue to pay no premiums, Pepper said.