Back to school looks a lot different in the Big Apple this year. It’s usually a time when teachers are excitedly putting up classroom decorations and making name tags for desks, but Covid-19 put a stop to all that this year.
Instead, teachers are worried about their health and how massive budget holes might impact their jobs.
Last week, the Department of Education for New York City narrowly avoided an illegal teacher strike by agreeing to concessions put forward by the teachers union, United Federation of Teachers (UFT).
A quick scroll through social media will tell you that while the union leadership may have felt this deal was adequate, many teachers felt UFT folded to the politicians. Demands like testing everyone entering school buildings, ensuring every school has a nurse on site, and fixing ventilation systems in classrooms seemed to have been forgotten by UFT president, Michel Mulgrew.
What was the one concession he agreed to? Postponing in-person instruction by 2 weeks.
Despite having since March to fix many of these issues, the NYC DOE is now scrambling to make schools safe for teachers and students. Teachers going back to their classrooms on Tuesday were met with layers of dust and evidence of rodents living in classrooms for the last six months. Teachers and staff felt the DOE was sending a clear message that their health and safety were not a priority, and the union’s half-hearted attempt at protecting them fell far from the mark.
Fixes to ventilation looked like this:
Not my school but – my friend was forced to report in-person today and they're sitting in a room with a window that needs a binder to stay open. @NYCMayor & @UFT ya'll signed off on this? This is a ventilation system? This is what we deserve? No. pic.twitter.com/TIFSOoYBqH— Almonte (@ronniealmonte) September 8, 2020
As one teacher on Twitter wrote, “….I can not believe how UFT sold us out and still takes in deductions.”
How much is the union taking in deductions despite not advocating for members in this time of need? In 2017, UFT had about $173 million in revenue from members who are now begging UFT to use the union’s influence and power to support teachers and ensure they are safe.
But perhaps the balance of power has finally shifted. Teachers now have the right to stop paying the union. They keep their benefits, pension and seniority, but they can stop paying the union if it’s placating to the politicians and not the workers. The teachers now have the power, and they need to use that power to make the changes they are demanding.