Friday, November 10, 2006

On Saying "No".

I had come under some criticism from our guests for speaking my opinion to you about the contract. I told them that first of all, you all are adults and capable of making up your own minds, and secondly, that I was elected to chapter leader partially because of my outspokenness on important issues. As you know I also make available to you other perspectives on the contract including the Unity piece I had put in your mailboxes. Indeed, members, as myself, should be at liberty to speak ahead of union staffers.

I feel I got an answer on the Art. 3 question from Randi at the Chapter Leader’s training, that there will continue to be a free health care option available, although it alone probably won’t meet the needs of most of our members. But there still seems to be a general haze about what's coming down the road with regard to health care, especially with the GHI/HIP merger. Our Art. 3 provision, if I read Randi right, won't provide any significant protections. So, one can assume it's likely premium deductions are inevitable.

With the health care issue aside for now, I have four certain problems with the new contract.
1. It institutionalizes the givebacks (loss of seniority transfer, days in August, and grievance of unfair letters in the file), perhaps once and for all.
2. The money doesn’t even keep up with inflation. The social security administration just set the cost of living adjustment for 2006 to 4.1 percent. If we only had that, the two year contract increase would come to 8.2 percent, not just 7.1 percent as this proposal offers. What’s more is that inflation in the New York City area is always higher than the rest of the country.
3. There’s nothing in this contract for our students and to improve working conditions in our school. We all know the primary reason teachers leave the profession is over working conditions NOT salary. We have an opportunity with each new contract to strengthen our relationship with the parents, without whom we could not win a strike, buy showing we care about the kids and not just pensions and salaries. This contract makes us look totally self-serving.
4. We agree with this contract that the DOE can throw in the towel on a thousand of our ATR colleagues. How would you feel if someone said to you, “How much will it take to make you go away and not come back?” It’s voluntary, for now, but the question still hurts. I would be ashamed to authorize it being asked to my colleagues.

Our union lacks a vision for a better future. We have been told repeatedly by supporters of this contract, “The membership won’t strike, so this is the best we can hope for.” But, it doesn’t always take a strike. If necessary we could rise to the occasion given the proper planning, discipline and leadership. But by responding to fear tactics we are being lead down the path to our ultimate demise. With each new contract we lose rights, control over our profession, and suffer worsening working conditions. We are told by the union that you have to stay out on strike “long enough to get the parents from being angry at you to become angry at the city. “ But, that’s NOT true if we are going out for things that will also benefit our students (their children) like an end to overcrowding, smaller class sizes and/or improved safety. Under these demands with proper outreach to the parents, you’ll have their support from the start. Striking for money alone is foolish, but add just and equitable conditions to learn and work and restoring control over our teaching practice, then we have something to believe in and something the public can support.

Forty percent voted against the last contract. You won’t be alone if you vote “no” this time either. Saying “no” to this contract can be the beginning of saying “yes” to a new movement for building a better future and supportive community for ourselves and our students. Let’s send Randi back to the table.

In solidarity,

John Elfrank-DanaChapter Leader
Murry Bergtraum High School

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