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NYC teachers start campaign to vote down proposed deal
"This contract has got to go"

By Megan Behrent and Kiersten Greene, United Federation of Teachers | October 21, 2005 | Page 11

NEW YORK--More than 200 teachers participated in a picket outside their union delegate assembly October 11, urging delegates to vote "no" on the proposed contract announced by union President Randi Weingarten and Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Inside the delegate assembly, held at the Brooklyn Marriot Hotel, union delegates and chapter leaders voted by 60 percent to recommend that members approve the deal in an upcoming vote--although union leaders later claimed an 80 percent "yes" vote.

Since the announcement of the proposed contract October 3, anger has been boiling over at many schools. The deal includes massive givebacks, including an extra 10 minutes a day, extra days in the year and massive concessions in work rules. These include the loss of the right to grieve letters in teachers' files, giving principals the right to assign teachers to onerous work assignments such as hall duty and lunch patrol, and eliminating teachers' right to transfer schools without permission.

Weingarten claimed that new teachers' salaries did not get cut, since they would get a 9 percent increase, while all others would receive 15 percent. Yet 9 percent does not even account for cost-of-living increases in New York City and creates a two-tier pay system that will further divide the union membership.

"When you look at the givebacks, it's really not much of a raise," said Melissa Wasserman, a 5th grade teacher who has been teaching for nine years. "When people are told they're getting a raise, are they also made to work more hours to earn it? No, that's not a raise, that's just working more, it's working overtime."

Marie Disilvestro, a third grade teacher who has been teaching for 19 years and has never voted against a contract before, said, "This contract is a total regression, we're going back 20 years."

Members of opposition caucuses such as Teachers for a Just Contract (TJC) and Independent Community of Educators (ICE) have been campaigning for a "no" vote in schools and mobilizing the membership to express their opposition to the contract.

The anger of many teachers was expressed at the picket line outside the delegate assembly, where members rallied for two hours chanting, "Bloomberg says give back, we say fight back," "We deserve a raise, not a trade," and "This giveback contract has got to go." Picketers weren't intimidated by extra security guards, which union officials claimed were necessary to prevent planned "disruptions."

While the delegate assembly is supposed to be open to all members, the massive turnout meant that non-delegates were sent to a separate room to watch the proceedings on closed-circuit television. United Federation of Teachers (UFT) President Randi Weingarten opened the assembly with a drawn-out report on why delegates should support the proposed contract agreement. She went through a number of reasons for why the contract is "good," while whipping up fear that if the deal is voted down, we will face a long strike.

Her talk met with growing numbers of hisses and boos at it went on. In the floor debate on the deal, TJC member Kit Wainer said, "What strikes me is the extraordinary disconnect between the cheering for this contract here at the [delegates' assembly] and the extraordinary anger that is out there among the membership...They're angry because they think their union should be fighting to reduce our workload, not to increase it!"

About 40 percent of the delegates voted against the contract, although Weingarten has recently claimed a victory for her side of 80 percent. A rally has been called for this Friday, October 21, co-sponsored TJC and ICE, at UFT headquarters to call for a "no" vote and to demand a better contract with real raises and no concessions.

These recent developments show the immense potential for organizing in our schools against the logic of concessions. Let's vote this contract down and then begin a real struggle to win the kind of contract we all deserve.

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