Monday, September 26, 2005

NY Times On Teachers Contract Impasse

The NY Times almost gets the UFT contract negotiations infighting story right. Yet they still manage a major fuck-up in the story that will mislead readers unfamiliar with the details. Imagine that! Here's the article in full, emphasis mine:

At a contentious meeting on Tuesday, New York City teachers and their union president, Randi Weingarten, gave Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg a deadline of early October to offer them a fair new contract. If he fails to do so, they threatened, they may strike, endorse his Democratic rival, Fernando Ferrer, or maybe both.

A walkout is considered unlikely. It is illegal for teachers to strike, and they would face jail, the loss of two days' pay for each day out of work and the likelihood of public sentiment turning against them. But behind the threatening exchange is a complex, bitter and increasingly unpredictable labor dispute.

There is wide and deepening anger among many of the city's 83,000 teachers whose most recent contract expired on May 31, 2003, leaving them without raises as the cost of living has jumped.

This summer, Mr. Bloomberg predicted a generous deal by the start of school. Instead, teachers are fuming over a blitz of campaign ads in which the mayor takes credit for improved test scores that they regard as a result of their hard work.

The union, the United Federation of Teachers, and the Bloomberg administration are to resume formal negotiations today. On the table is a compromise proposed by a panel of arbitrators. It calls for 11 percent raises over 37 months tied to lengthening the school day by 10 minutes, adding three teacher training days, eliminating some highly prized seniority rights, and other concessions.

Although the panel sided with Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein on some issues, especially on seniority rights, the Bloomberg administration has moved slowly to hammer out a deal based on the arbitrators' recommendations, perhaps to buy the union's neutrality in the mayoral race as long as possible or perhaps because the pact would cost about $200 million more than City Hall expected.

In an interview, Ms. Weingarten said teachers were so furious that the first teachers' strike since 1975 was a possibility even though state law prohibits it. "The teachers always made the kids the first priority, and the mayor is running on that record and turns his back on the teachers," she said. "You have people who are really angry, who feel really betrayed."

"Nobody wants to go to jail," she added, "but I understand the consequences of being a union leader."

In recent days, the acrimony has worsened. When the former president of the teachers' union, Sandra Feldman, died last Monday, City Hall did not issue a statement expressing condolence. The union took that silence as an insult.

Opponents of Ms. Weingarten within the union suggest that the talk of a strike is intended not to pressure Mr. Bloomberg but to scare teachers into accepting a deal that includes smaller gains and larger concessions than they wanted. "There are two angles that the union plays," said Norm Scott, a critic of the union leadership. "P.R. with the members and P.R. with the public."

Mr. Bloomberg's aides said that he was unmoved by talk of a strike. "We don't believe teachers or union leaders would break the law," his spokesman, Edward Skyler, said. "The mayor wants to reach another agreement which gives teachers a well-deserved raise and provides real reforms so we can continue the historic progress of our schools."

The mayor's aides indicated that Mr. Bloomberg was far more annoyed by the union's threat to endorse Mr. Ferrer. "You introduce politics in the conversation, you lose him," one City Hall official said.

Privately, however, some advisers to Mr. Bloomberg have expressed concern about how a teachers' strike would affect the campaign.

Many experts on the school system believe the union is in a bind. "Randi's in a very difficult position," said Diane Ravitch, a writer and historian of the schools. "She's got a very angry membership, and she really wants a contract, and Bloomberg really has no incentive to do anything."

Some concessions that the arbitrators proposed are particularly thorny. For instance, they urged that teachers in middle school and high school be required to cover for absent colleagues for 12 class periods a year, up from 2 periods, but asked no similar concession of teachers in elementary schools.

In interviews, several teachers said that the only gain they could see in the proposed deal was money and that the raises were paltry given the added work, including two training days before Labor Day, shortening summer vacation.

If the administration tries to reduce the raises, teachers and union officials said, the deal will stand little chance. Starting city teachers now earn $39,000; the maximum base pay is more than $81,000 - generally 10 to 15 percent lower than in surrounding suburbs.

And depending on how Ms. Weingarten and the Bloomberg administration structure central components of the deal - like the proposed 10 extra minutes - she may not be able to sell it. Teachers could refuse to ratify the contract, as they did in 1995, stunning the union and City Hall.

"The fact is we have extreme commuters: we have people coming from Pennsylvania, we have people coming from Orange and Rockland," said Mark Nichik, a veteran teacher. "This extra time is no joke because you can't afford to live in the city."

"I don't know if she could sell it," said Mr. Nichik, who lives in Manhattan. "Ten minutes doesn't seem like much. But if you are going upstate it gets dark 10 or 15 minutes earlier."

I have one major problem with the Times article. When they talk of lengthening the school day by10 minutes, they make it seem like the 10 minutes is just added to the day, not added to the 20 minutes from the last contract to create a sixth class of "small group instruction".

There is a huge difference between adding 10 minutes to create a six hour and 50 minutes day with five classes taught or adding the 10 minutes to create a six hour and 50 minute day where six classes are taught.

Can't the NY Times get any story right?

Seriously, whenever I read an article about something I am familiar with, whether it be the teachers contract impasse or a building fire around the corner from me, I always catch inaccuracies.

Makes me wonder what inaccuracies I am missing in the articles that I am not familiar with.

More on the Times story later.

Comments: Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?