Friday, February 18, 2005

Randi Weingarten Shatters Myths

The ultra-conservative right has achieved many of its goals during the Bush administation, even in New York where the union-busting process is still very much alive. In less than ten years the number of unionized in the US workers has fallen 13%. Congress has just passed legislation making it more difficult to make a class action suit. The most notorious anti-union business in the world is preparing to set up shop in New York (Wal-Mart intends to settle in Queens.) The "estate" tax was renamed the "Death Tax"by the Republicans as they convinced the masses to make it possible that when the wealthy die none of their "wealth" can go to the government but remain in their already wealthy family. In this "Right IS right world" there is little or no room for wage increases for the middle class.
New York's largest union 1199 under the leadership of Daniel Rivera has made a deal with
Mayor Bloomberg leaving the other major unions (Police, Fire Department, Teachers) out
in the cold. New York City is part of a state that had to be sued into order to distribute
badly needed educational funds to minority areas. A New York State Judge said that all
minority students need is an eighth grade education. Allegedly Governor Pataki concurred
with that statement, but the Governor vehemently denies it. We are being told that there
just isn't any money available for any salary increases but somehow the city is expected to
pay for the new New York Jets stadium in Manhattan. New York's billionaires and millionaires
are all beneficiaries of George Bush's tax cuts for the wealthy, while middle and lower income
New York City residents have a hard time finding affordable housing. In this atmosphere
the United Federation of Teachers' president Randi Weingarten battles a right-wing friendly
media to try to expose all the lies heard in the press, on radio and on television that unnecessarily malign teachers.
This is what Randi Weingarten said in a January 25, 2005 article in the New York Daily
News, entitled "UFT to city: Get real"
As the city and the United Federation of Teachers have been trying to reach a new contract to replace the one that expired more than a year and a half ago, a number of myths about the current agreement are surfacing, distractions from the real problems. Let me shatter a few.
Myth 1: Because of "the union" it takes forever to dismiss incompetent teachers.
Reality: Reforms in the 2002 contract cut the time it takes to handle discipline cases once they are filed. Last year, more than half the cases were concluded in less than three months. The UFT has proposed help for struggling teachers and counseling out of the profession if the assistance fails.
Myth 2: Seniority rules permit teachers with experience to constantly move to new and easier assignment, while new teachers are concentrated in the toughest schools.
Reality: Less than 1% of the teaching force transferred last year under seniority rules. But the departmend had to find more than 7,000 teachers to replace those who retired of left. Futthermore, all new teachers do not end up inh the toughest districts. Department figures show that at the beginning of the last school year, three of the highest performing districts received 462 new teachers, while 375 new teachers went to three of the most struggling districts.
Myth 3: The union insists on lockstep pay with no recognition of spcial needs and circumstances.
Reality: This year we negotiated a project in the Bronx that gives additional compensation to "master teachers" the union also assisted Chancellor Rudy Crew in creating the Chancellor's District for struggling schools, where teachers worked longer hours for higher salaries. scores went up dramatically, but despite national recognition this experiment was one of the first casualties of the new administration. This year, the union suggested that along with providing competitive salaries for all city teachers, an Enterprise Zone be set up, where teachers a 200
hard to staff schools would receive a 15% differential.
Myth 4: "Work rules" make it impossible for schools to be managed.
Reality: Which work rule? The one that prevents more than 34 students in a high school class and 28 in a fouth grade class? Other work rules include allowing teachers to have lunch or have a break after teaching three classes in a row. While we have discussed many of these proposals with the Department of Education, so far we have had no substantive response. Meanwhile, the critical truth about our schools is that teachers here have the largest classes in the state, teach some of the most challenging students, work in overcrowded and sometimes unsaf building without proper equipment and supplies, and still make $10,000 to $15,000 less than their colleagues. Educators choose teaching to make a difference in children's lives. They wond be successful at helping all kids learn as long as people subscribe to the myth that the ral problems in our schools can be solved by making teahcing in New York City even less attractive than it is now.

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