N.Y.C. Teachers Turn Down 5-Year Contract

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New York City teachers rejected a five-year contract last week that would have frozen their pay for two years and relieved them of many nonprofessional assignments.

Members of the United Federation of Teachers defeated the contract proposal 30,739 to 24,206, a 5-4 ratio. It was the first time in the union's 35-year history that members spurned a contract agreement negotiated by union leaders.

The tentative agreement reached last month with Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani would have boosted pay and benefits for the union's 68,000 members by 13 percent over five years, although there would have been no wage increases during the first two years.

UFT negotiators had also secured an unusual guarantee that members' jobs would be protected for three years.

In a statement released after the vote, UFT President Sandra Feldman said teachers were angry at having to wait two years for a salary increase. Mr. Giuliani's proposed pay increase for himself and his top administrators only made things worse, she added.

Back to the Table

Ms. Feldman said union negotiators would return to the bargaining table, although she acknowledged that "it will be extremely tough to do any better in this economic climate."

That fact was made clear almost immediately: The mayor told reporters after the vote that the city would not resume negotiations and warned that teachers would end up with far less.

Ron Davis, a union spokesman, responded that the mayor had no choice but to negotiate. "We are demanding an immediate resumption of negotiations, and the mayor will have to return, as distasteful as that might be to him," he said.

Mr. Davis added that because teachers were not legally bound to go to arbitration, the mayor would have to come to the table before that could happen.

Luis O. Reyes, who represents Manhattan on the city's school board, had predicted before the vote that if teachers were to defeat the contract, all bets would be off. "There is the potential for chaos as far as all of the economic agreements," he said.

Welfare Recipients' Role

Prior to the vote, most of the talk about the proposed contract had centered on Mr. Giuliani's proposal to place welfare recipients in nonteaching jobs such as lunchroom and recess monitoring

Even though city officials had not released details of such a plan, critics had already raised a host of concerns.

A spokesman for a union representing principals and adminis-trators had expressed questions about the screening and training of potential participants.

"We simply are concerned that principals and supervisors have the needed support staff to ensure that children are well provided for," said John Gentile, a vice president of the city's Council of Supervisors and Administrators. "Safety is a priority."

Mr. Davis said his group would insist that participants receive proper training and assurances that such positions would create a career path.

"We don't want people simply performing these duties without it leading to something more," said Mr. Davis.

But a leader of one parents' group said the logistics of introducing a large number of outsiders to the school system's rules and communications policies would be daunting.

Ayo Harrington, the president of United Parents Associations of NYC Inc., who also works at a job-placement center for women, said she was skeptical that a participant would gain marketable skills or land a paying job as a result of such a position.

"It's being presented to us as if there will be made some opportunities for some of the participants in the program," Ms. Harrington said last week, "and I don't buy it."

Vol. 15, Issue 15

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