In the early contracts, in the 1960’s, the union negotiated class size limits.
- Pre kindergarten: 18 students with a teacher and a paraprofessional
- Kindergarten: 25 students
- Grades 1-6: 32 students, Junior High/Middle School: 33 students in non-Title I schools; 30 in Title I schools.
- High School: 34 students; 50 in Physical Education/Gym.
Suburban and private school have class sizes far below the limits in the UFT contract.
As negotiations became more formalized, the negotiations moved from the union and the board of education to the union and the city; the bean counters played a
major role. Class size was considered a” budget item” and was counted as part of the union package – the union was faced with trading salary increases for class size. A Hobson’s Choice: the union changed strategy.
The union moved the fight for lower class size from the bargaining table to the
corridors of City Hall. Depending on the politics du jour the City Council
provided funding targeting specific grades.
Class size grievances, especially in high schools, became an annual dance. After the contractual time limit – ten days – the union filed class size grievances,
frequently thousands of grievances The grievances perked through Steps 1, 2 and
3 and occasionally on to arbitration. By the time the grievance reached
arbitration, in November or December, most schools had “resolved” the
grievance: kids dropped out, or were “long term” absences. In some
cases the arbitrator sustained the grievance – the board dragged their heels
and the term ended.
In response the union negotiated an expedited calendar – the grievance gets before an arbitrator quickly with a rapid decision.
- The arbitrator shall issue an award within five (5) school days of the arbitration hearing …. The award shall include the following information:(1) Sustained or denied.(2) If sustained, the guidelines for compliance (e.g., equalization, new class or monetary penalty).(3) If denied, the basis for the denial.Arbitrators shall not issue written opinions unless jointly requested by the parties … All sustained awards shall be
implemented within five (5) school days of issuance….
- The arbitrator shall retain jurisdiction over his or her decision. If a sustained award is not mplemented within five (5) school days, the arbitrator shall convene a conference between the Board’s Office of Labor Relations and Collective Bargaining and the UFT’s Grievance/Arbitration Department within five (5) school days, but no earlier than October 1st in the case of class size grievances.
- If the Board asserts that it cannot comply with the arbitrator’s award, it must set forth a plan of action to remedy the class size or group size violation. If the Board has acted in good faith, and the plan of action is not unreasonable, it will be accepted by the arbitrator.
- If the arbitrator concludes that the Board’s plan of action is not appropriate, he or she shall be empowered, on a non-precedential basis, to issue a supplemental award within five (5) school days, as follows: For elementary schools, the school may be directed to add one additional paraprofessional for every two oversized classes in a grade, or at the school’s option, one teacher for every four classes, with a minimum of one hour teacher coverage per oversize class. For all other school organizations, the school may be directed to implement a comparable remedy appropriate to the level. In the
case of group size awards, the arbitrator may impose a monetary penalty.
The department prevaricates, delays, squirms, defers, promises, and the term ends without any resolution.
This attitude has spread from class size grievances to all grievances and
unsatisfactory hearings. The union rarely wins, regardless of the merits of the
The Office of Labor Relations, the labor-management arm of Tweed has no interest in resolving cases, no interest in determining “right” or “wrong,” they are the arm of the chancellor and as such they view their role as sustaining management, regardless of the facts of the individual case.
In the pre-Klein years, superintendents and union district representative had
mature relationships. It was commonplace to “resolve” a grievance. (example: the district and the union agree to “freeze dry” a letter in the file – postpone the grievance conference for three months – tempers cooled – sometimes the letter was removed from the file).
Today other than class size and reorganization, grievances are routinely denied by the chancellor and teachers wait a year or two, or more, to get before an
arbitrator. Roughly half the cases are “resolved” at the arbitration session. If the case deals with dollars the union and the department may agree upon an amount, or, the department basically capitulates, on a non-precedential
The failure to resolve a case in a timely manner eats up one of the contractual
annual 140 arbitration dates – the more dates scheduled for cases that will be
resolved the greater the delay for other cases.
Teachers lose interest, witnesses disappear, delay is a prime Tweed
The department delay strategy angers teachers and, ironically, fuels union
Other unions utilize an expedited calendar for virtually all grievances. Whether an accident is “in the line of duty,” or whether an after school job met
posting requirements, or whether a teacher holds retention rights for an after
school job should not take a couple of years, the issue should be resolved in a
couple of months.
The seemingly intractable rubber room disappeared because both sides were willing to negotiate a reasonable solution that was a win-win for both the department and the union. An expedited grievance procedure would be a win-win and a major step towards healing the open sores of the Klein years.