January 01, 1900

One house bill attacks fairness in layoffs - Why is this important?

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In what NYSUT President Dick Iannuzzi called “an attack on collective bargaining,” the state Senate recently passed a bill that would dismantle fairness in layoffs for New York City teachers.

(See press release: NYSUT reacts to Senate bill on layoffs)

The one-house bill has not been taken up in the Assembly. A bill needs approval by both houses and the governor’s signature to become law.

Prior to the bill’s passage, NYSUT released a memo of opposition registering the statewide union’s strong objection to the Senate bill and any attempts to erode collective bargaining rights.


This proposal seeks to do away with civil service seniority rights for teachers employed by the New York City Department of Education.


The provisions of this proposal equate to one thing; union busting. Just as Governor Walker is seeking to destroy public sector collective bargaining rights in Wisconsin, the changes proposed in this bill would drastically and critically alter the face of collective bargaining and public education in this state by ending seniority rights for every teacher employed in the New York City school system. The proposal, under the guise of "retaining quality teachers", would allow career educators to be dismissed from their duties without any consideration for their years of service to the education profession. It would end seniority rules that ensure layoffs, when absolutely necessary, happen in an impartial way. While characterized as layoffs, these would be terminations as teachers and supervisors in the designated groups would have no right to fill subsequent vacancies. The right of return is the difference between lay-offs and terminations, and this proposal is truly about terminations without due process.

Seniority rules governing layoffs were first adopted in the early 1900s and then subsequently revised in the 1940s and 1970s. They were first established and then revised in direct response to abusive practices of basing layoffs on race, age, sex, religion, political affiliation, cronyism, family status, salary level or other non-objective standards. Lawsuits in the 1970’s challenging the criteria used in layoffs led to the State’s adoption of the current seniority law.

While the bill calls for a locally bargained process, it rams through a new and extremely convoluted process riddled with contrived, undefined and subjective rules that gut due process and collective bargaining rights pending negotiations with the union. There is absolutely no incentive for the City of New York to bargain any other process, and legislation does not allow for any seniority based system to exist.

The bill creates nine categories of teachers who are subject to lay-off "before anyone else" and then creates a hierarchy of who would be laid off first. Under present law, DOE can select what licenses are being laid off, deciding to lay off all non-critical licenses, for example, before they reach elementary school classroom teachers. Under the bill they would have no such choice and might well be laying off teachers in core curriculum areas or even shortage areas while not touching those other licenses.

Severe flaws exist within the nine layoff categories including:

(A) - "U" rating within the last five years: this punishes teachers who may have received a "U" rating their first year and have subsequently improved to the point that they ultimately received tenure. This category undermines the idea of improvement.

(B) - Any teacher who has received a penalty related to 3020a charges in the last 5 years: This would add an additional penalty on to any penalty already ordered in a due process proceeding and will drastically change the decision process around settling cases, leading to more full hearings. This flaw also exists for category (E) relating to absenteeism and lateness. (OVER)

(F) - Any teacher who was the subject of an investigation that was substantiated: This would not only create a penalty without any due process but would penalize teachers who were subject to an investigation that was found to be without merit and resulted in no charges being brought against them.

(G) -Any teacher who hasn’t fulfilled criteria for certification: This is the process under current law.

(H) - Any teacher in the bottom third of value added assessments: This will be a deterrent to teachers choosing to work in low performing schools and furthermore at least 60% of educators teacher subjects for which there are no annual standardized tests.

(I) - Teachers on one-year extended probation: These teachers are on probation and can be dismissed at any time making this category extraneous.

Perhaps the most jarring aspect of this legislation is that its provisions run contrary to several other state discrimination laws, the state Taylor Law, contractual and statutory due process procedures and the concept of equitable treatment under the law. The questions of penalties without due process and second penalties all raise serious legal questions about this bill.

The bill also creates the same process for excessing from individual schools when there is no "citywide excessing condition". Every year there are schools that lose enrollment, change program or for other reasons do not need the same number or the same mix of teachers as they presently have. There are long established rules for how these reductions are made and how the teachers moved within the school system; all of which have been collectively bargained.

The bill grants wide layoff latitude to both the Board of Regents and building principals if the staffing reductions imposed by the City reach beyond teachers who fall under the new guidelines. Allowing layoff decisions to be based on the determination of a school principal will only invite the kind of abuse that we saw earlier this year in the Bronx where a school principal forced her assistant principals to give unsatisfactory ratings to teachers whom she simply did not like. This legislation is the first step in stripping all public employees of seniority rights and clearly sets the stage for additional ideological attacks other long established labor laws which have protected both the public and public workforce for decades. It is the tip of the sword in a national war on the labor movement and the middleclass; particularly middleclass woman who make up 70 percent of the states’ teachers. This legislation represents a cynical distraction from the proposed devastating cuts to school staffing and academic programs at a time when class sizes in New York City are soaring and 4500 teaching and support positions have already been eliminated this past year. These same interests pushing layoffs and attacks on seniority rights are fighting to end the current millionaire’s tax, granting a $5 billion dollar windfall to the wealthiest New Yorkers.

State Education Commissioner David Steiner said two weeks ago that the debate about seniority is moot since Albany just adopted a rigorous new teacher evaluation system that beginning next year will help and support all teachers and ensure that ineffective teachers do not remain in the classroom.

This legislation is part of coordinated attack by phony "astroturf" organizations like Education Reform Now. This group is controlled by right-wing Wall Street hedge fund managers dedicated to union busting and the privatization of public education. They are funding multimillion-dollar ads attacking teacher unions using their windfall profits made possible through taxpayer bail-outs of Wall Street.


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