Striking Arizona teachers. Photo: bigeducationape.blogspot.com.

The following is a statement from New York City teachers who are members of the Party of Socialism and Liberation and urge the 200,000 teachers in the United Federation of Teachers to reject the proposed contract and fight for a better one that would benefit the city’s teachers, students and communities.

If there is anything we can learn from the teacher strikes of Oklahoma and West Virginia is that if we demand more – if we fight in unity for more – we can get more, and improve the quality of living of all workers in New York City. All across the country, teachers are braving very difficult political conditions, with few protections, to take collective action. They are winning by working together, demanding more, and rallying the support of parents, students, other unions and the public at large. Teachers are rightfully in a fighting mood after decades of concessions and privatization efforts that have gutted public education. How is it that in New York City, a union town, with a mayor who claims to support teachers, the country’s largest teachers’ union could settle?

We, the teachers within the Party of Socialism and Liberation, are voting NO on the tentative UFT contract. We support the demands of the MORE Caucus and their recommendation to reject the City’s offer and mobilize the membership to fight for a better contract.

The UFT leadership is selling this new contract as the best option that we have, but it is not. The City is rushing the voting of this contract and giving UFT members less than two weeks to make a decision regarding their livelihoods and terms of employment for years to come. Ludicrous. If the City really wanted us to make the decision that was best for us, they would give us more time.

Not a real raise

The UFT leadership emphasizes that we are getting a raise, but it is really a pay cut. The first thing emphasized is that we will be getting a 7% raise over the next three years. But what they fail to mention is that the raise fails to keep up with the rate of inflation. The average raise of 2.09% falls just under the national rate of inflation of 2.2%. We will always be playing financial catch up. Not to mention that this past June the Municipal Labor Committee and the City agreed to $1.1 billion in health care cuts by 2021, an agreement upon which teachers did not get to vote, and many of us have no knowledge about. In reality, we will actually be paying for our own wage increases as our co-payments continue to increase. If we add to that the rising housing costs, which increase at an annual pace of 3.9%, the increase of 7% over three years is definitely not enough to keep us living in the same city we work in.

The longevity guaranteed to paraprofessionals under the contract is still not enough to lift them out of poverty. The 200,000 members of the UFT, deserve better. We deserve a contract that reflects that New York City is one of the most expensive cities to live in. We deserve a contract that seeks a fair raise for all of its members, paraprofessionals and teachers alike.

Overcrowded classrooms not addressed

The UFT leaderships says a big reason to vote “yes” is that under the new contract, grievances for class sizes will be addressed more quickly. But even if the grievance gets expedited, that does not change the issue at hand: overcrowded classrooms. In fact classrooms have remained overcrowded for the past 50 years, and the contract offers no class-size reduction. De Blasio champions himself as a friend of teachers, a close friend of the new chancellor, Richard Carranza, yet he’d rather sell public city land plots at a rate of $1 a piece to corporations building luxury condos than to use those plots for building more classrooms and schools with more space.

The UFT leadership is handing over De Blasio’s Bronx Collaborative Schools Plan, and says it is what we need to retain teachers and save struggling schools. But actually this plan only tries to cover up the problem with money and committees. The Bronx Plan offers a financial incentive for teachers who commit to teaching in the city’s “neediest” borough and will be open to other borough schools struggling with teacher retention and low student achievement in high poverty areas. Michael Mulgrew, UFT president, praised the new plan calling it a chance at stabilizing schools by empowering teachers who work in the most challenging school districts. However, the plan neither empowers teachers nor stabilizes schools. The plan does not address the reasons why teachers feel burned out or why teachers leave. It is a band-aid over a gaping wound.

Why teachers burn out

Teachers burn out because they have to deal with overcrowded classrooms, with harassment from administrators rather than support and development, with scarce resources, and with little to no help with the issues that affect students, such as homelessness, mental health and poverty. A recent article reported that one-in-ten New York City student are homeless, and that there is roughly one social worker for every 1,660 students. And since we know that this system is inequitable, we know that not all schools have even one social worker, while some have them in abundance. If the city was really concerned with keeping teachers, they would have provided better support for new teachers, they would have reduced class sizes, expanded after-school programs, offered more social workers, and done something about student homelessness and poverty. For every family that is homeless, there are three vacant apartments in the city, but because there is no profit to be made in housing the homeless,  De Blasio and the City would rather keep our families homeless.

The UFT leadership and the City are marketing this contract as the “best thing we are going to get.” They are using the fear of a potential Republican mayor after De Blasio to pressure us into voting “yes.” In the months after the Supreme Court Janus ruling, they want us to show that we are “Union Proud” by standing behind this contract. But the best way to be Union Proud is to demand a better one.

A better and improved contract can preserve the positive provisions of this tentative contract, such as reduced teacher evaluations, but also provide a fair raise, reduces class sizes, and demands resources, and better services for students. Mobilizing the membership for such demands can change the relationship of forces in the negotiations; they can be won!