ALBANY, N.Y. September 3, 2009 - Despite difficult economic times, school boards and unions representing teachers and school support staff are finding common ground, increasingly reaching agreement on new contracts in order to focus their efforts on boosting student learning and ending the achievement gap, New York State United Teachers said today.
As New York celebrates the Labor Day holiday and schools prepare to open next week, NYSUT said nearly 60 contract settlements had been reached in the spring and summer months, despite a deep recession that triggered the elimination of 5,000 to 7,000 teaching and support staff positions statewide.
"We are seeing what labor and management can accomplish when they work together on behalf of the state's students," said NYSUT President Richard C. Iannuzzi. "It's encouraging to see unions and managers - in schools and on college campuses - reach new labor agreements that reflect both the needs of taxpayers and the needs of workers to earn competitive salaries and health benefits to protect their families.
"At the same time, the loss of so many education professionals will hurt schools - and students - deeply," Iannuzzi added.
On the labor front, Iannuzzi noted that 192,000 NYSUT members in 455 local unions are expected to be working under the terms of expired labor agreements by October, when the contract of the United Federation of Teachers - representing teachers and paraprofessionals in New York City - expires.
Of the 455 unsettled contracts, 293 expired on June 30. On Labor Day 2008, school boards and unions had failed to reach new agreements on 586 contracts. According to the Public Employment Relations Board, 53 locals are currently at impasse.
Iannuzzi said salary, health benefits and how best to deliver academic programs continue to be major sticking points at the bargaining table. "Vigorous discussion about pocketbook issues is, of course, expected," he said. "What we are seeing more of, frankly, is a focus by labor and management on how both sides can collaborate better to create programs to improve student achievement and end the achievement gap. That's a positive development."
"While many school boards and unions are working collaboratively, unfortunately we still see school boards whose No. 1 priority seems to be driving down salaries and cutting benefits for hard-working teachers and support staff," Iannuzzi said. "We believe these school boards do not represent the majority of New Yorkers, who understand that investing in education - paying teachers and support staff fairly - is the best way to serve students and their communities."
NYSUT, the state's largest union, represents some 600,000 classroom teachers and other school employees; faculty and other professionals at the state's community colleges, State University of New York and City University of New York, and other education and health professionals. NYSUT is affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers, National Education Association and AFL-CIO.