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president's perspective

Power tools to get the job done

New York Teacher
UFT President Michael Mulgrew

One of the most important parts of our new DOE-UFT contract will help resolve some of the everyday challenges we face on the job that can impede our ability to provide the best education possible to our students.

Our contract has a strong grievance process, but it’s better for you, the employees we represent, when certain operational issues — such as the lack of curriculum or speech teachers working with students in hallways — can be raised and resolved at the school level. That’s why the UFT and the DOE agreed in the new contract to put in place a new process to ensure basic things are in place to support the work our members do in schools.

As a chapter leader, I always wanted better tools to resolve those kinds of issues without escalating them to a grievance because the grievance process is time-intensive and there is a legitimate fear of retaliation. Now we have them. (And by the way, we’ve added new anti-retaliation language in a different contract clause.)

The new resolution process for operational issues grew out of what we learned from the paperwork reduction process, a mechanism that has worked well for us. Once members realized they could get speedy relief by reporting paperwork issues to the union, the process took off. About 500 schools have successfully used the paperwork reduction process to get relief from excessive or duplicative paperwork, both paper and electronic.

You don’t have to put up with the lack of curriculum or basic supplies like paper and textbooks. The new resolution process in the new DOE-UFT contract zeroes in on the operational issues that can make a huge difference in your day-to-day ability to do your job: curriculum, basic instructional supplies, paperwork and professional development as well as workload and space issues for those who are not teachers and paraprofessionals — school secretaries, school nurses, speech teachers, school counselors and other functional chapter members.

Once you bring the contractual violation to the attention of your chapter leader, they have several ways to notify the principal: through the UFT consultation committee, in a one-on-one conversation or via an email.

The principal has five school days to resolve the issue before it goes to the district paperwork and operational committee, which involves your UFT district representative and the superintendent in coming up with a solution. If they hit a logjam, it goes to a central committee, made up of equal numbers of UFT and DOE representatives. If no solution is achieved at the central committee, the issue will be brought to me and the chancellor.

There are deadlines attached to each step of the process, but we also created flexibility in the process so each school chapter can create the best approach given its relationship with the principal and other administrators in the school.

We know from the paperwork reduction process that the principals were often eager to resolve issues before they reached the next level. So the structure of how the committee process is set up is its own kind of enforcement.

This process empowers school chapters and organizes members to work in concert to get workplace issues addressed so they can get on with the job of teaching and learning.

Use the power of the contract to give yourself a voice.