May 19, 2009

Social justice, property tax reform, Tier 5 top agenda

Author: Clarisse Butler Banks & Betsy Sandberg
Source: New York Teacher
Caption: More than 600 retired and in-service NYSUT. Photo by Steve Jacobs.

When Jeffrey Zuckerman retired from teaching high school math in Bronxville schools at age 59, the district replaced him with a new teacher at half his pay rate.

"I could have stayed and gotten more in my pension," Zuckerman told Sen. Suzi Oppenheimer, D-Mamaroneck.

If a proposed Tier 5 retirement plan had been in place, Zuckerman would not have been able to retire before age 62.

"How does that save a district money?"

Zuckerman was one of more than 600 NYSUT activists posing that question to lawmakers at the union's Committee of 100 lobby day.

The lobbyists-for-a-day were referring to just one of the onerous requirements in a proposed Tier 5 retirement plan that would generate no real savings for at least 10 years.

Leon Packman of the Niagara Falls Teachers said the plan would make the profession less attractive and worsen already difficult recruitment efforts.

"Half of New York's physics teachers are not certified," Packman said. "When they graduate with a physics major, the world is their oyster."

Tier 5, circuit-breaker property-tax reform, social justice and unemployment protection topped the agenda at the union's third lobby day this year.

"We've faced unprecedented challenges this year," NYSUT Executive Vice President Alan Lubin said. "And there is still work to be done."

That includes enacting circuit-breaker legislation instead of harmful property tax caps.

An income-based circuit breaker, NYSUT President Dick Iannuzzi said, is a "far better solution to reforming property taxes than destructive tax caps, which are merely a gimmick, offering only the illusion of relief."

Social justice

Anti-bullying legislation — and the training that would accompany it — is long overdue, said Art Rohe of the Byron Bergen Faculty Association. "Those of us in education know how students are harassed or bullied for different reasons," he said.

Democratic Assemblywoman Susan John told Rochester-area members she could not understand the delay in passing the Dignity for All Students Act.

The statewide union's social justice agenda includes support for marriage equality and the Fair Pay Act.

Unemployment injustice

With nearly 5,000 NYSUT members facing layoff, unemployment insurance was a pressing topic. It's also an issue for adjunct faculty in higher education.

"The shameful exploitation of part-time higher education professionals must be stopped," Lubin said.

Ellen Schuler Mauk, president of the Faculty Association of Suffolk Community College, agreed.

"We have adjuncts who are given a 'reasonable assurance' of employment, but it's contingent on budget and enrollment," she said. "That's not really a reasonable assurance."

Under current law, adjuncts cannot collect unemployment insurance if the college or university gives them a reasonable assurance of employment.

They are forced to go months without pay, in many cases, only to find out later they will not have a job once the new semester starts.

Other workers who have irregular or periodic work are not subject to that language.

The union's grassroots activists spoke with lawmakers about legislation to keep employees safe at the state's 13 Special Act schools and touted legislation aimed at fixing the outdated funding methodology for Special Act and 853 Schools.

Members also supported legislation requiring New York's school buildings to meet green building standards.