April 05, 2014

Delegates denounce dangerous merit pay scheme

Author: Sylvia Saunders
Source: RA Reporter
convention hall

Resolutions also focus on social justice and health and safety issues

Calling it a dangerous, divisive merit pay scheme, RA delegates approved a special order of business opposing a new Teacher Excellence Fund program included in the 2014 New York state budget.

Massapequa Federation of Teachers' Tomia Smith introduced the resolution, explaining the funds would be earmarked as bonuses for educators based on a flawed APPR rating system.

"Competitive compensation leads to union destruction," Smith said. "Any negotiated or non-negotiated means of obtaining these funds would create a competitive atmosphere among our members. The art of education relies heavily on collaboration among colleagues."

Rather than spending millions of dollars to award $20,000 incentives to educators deemed "highly effective," the funding would better be invested in professional development across the state to benefit all teachers and students, said Kenmore Teachers Association's Peter Stuhlmiller.

Monroe-Woodbury TA's Darrell McElroy called the measure "a very clever ploy by the governor" to sneak in a divisive merit pay scheme. Others noted the new program would reinforce the current APPR rating system — which unionists insist must be reworked.

The resolution calls for the union to lobby for the elimination of the divisive program.

Delegates also began acting on a total of 55 other resolutions, setting the union's course for the coming year.

One resolution calls for the union to take part in a day of commemoration for the legacy of Nelson Mandela; another Civil and Human Rights Committee measure urges NYSUT to work with national affiliates to propose that both houses of Congress adopt a Voting Rights Act.

Delegates approved a half-dozen health care and workplace safety resolutions, including a measure identifying the school nurse as the primary caregiver responsible for administration of glucagon to children with diabetes.

"Leave this health care task to nurses," said B.J. Darby of the United Federation of Teachers. "Administration of glucagon is a complex task ... school staff should not be asked to do this."

Other health care resolutions call for a school nurse in every school building; increasing employer penalties for not providing health insurance; seeking coverage for a shingles shot; and support of the continued operation of the St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center.

NYSUT was also directed to assist local affiliates navigating the political, legal and contractual issues involved in representing members who provide Medicaid reimbursable services.

Barbara Bowen, president of the Professional Staff Congress, spoke in favor of a new policy that delegates approved, which requires NYSUT to disclose any statewide union resources or staff support in the rare cases where locals may differ on political endorsements.

"This will foster both local autonomy and a sense of solidarity," Bowen said.

Other resolutions support legislation to create an exemption from the property tax cap limitations for any BOCES services and assure fairness and teacher representation at licensing revocation hearings.

In the name of solidarity, delegates approved measures supporting the organizing campaign for fast food workers and showing solidarity with Philadelphia educators and students hit hard by school closings.

They also approved a measure calling for NYSUT to support programs that educate both adults and children on the care and treatment of animals.

At a time when local unions are facing severe budget constraints, delegates called for NYSUT to work with regional staff directors and labor relations specialists to develop additional training on new negotiating threats like "furloughs," "pension smoothing" and "paybacks."