Welcome to the UFT
Helping Newer Paraprofessionals Survive and Succeed
The Paraprofessional's Role

UFT paraprofessionals work in the classroom as part of an educational team providing educational and supportive services to children. The teacher is the team leader and has sole responsibility for introducing new material. The paraprofessional is the reinforcer for the teacher's lessons.
If you're a general education paraprofessional, you work in the school's classrooms, libraries, reading or math labs, resource rooms or with small groups of children, reinforcing the day's lesson.
If you're a special education paraprofessional, in addition you may be involved with feeding students, brushing teeth, toileting, changing diapers, giving wheelchair assistance or performing other tasks specifically listed on a student's individual education program (IEP).
NOTE: UFT paraprofessionals do not do office or administrative work; school aides whom the UFT does not represent do that. Confusingly, there are other people in schools called paraprofessionals - family workers - who are represented by another union. Neither school aides or family workers work in the classroom.

Becoming a Paraprofessional
As a minimum requirement, paraprofessionals must have a high school diploma or GED. These credentials qualify you for the title "teacher aide." You must have six college credits by the end of your first year of employment (anniversary date). Your title then advances to "educational assistant." To qualify, you must file a "Change of Title" form and have your college mail an official copy of your transcript to Board of Education, 65 Court Street, Room 501, Brooklyn, NY 11201.
Getting hired. All paraprofessionals start as substitutes, filling in for absent special education paraprofessionals on a day-to-day basis. The board makes these assignments from its central registry.
Whenever a paraprofessional is ill, he or she is supposed to call the registry so that a substitute can be assigned. Sometimes a principal or district will request someone with a particular skill, such as proficiency in a certain language. Early in the morning when the substitute is needed, the registry calls its list of subs who are willing to work in certain schools or districts until it can fill the vacancy. Some substitute assignments are for a day, others for a few days, a week or even an entire school term.
Paraprofessionals can tell the registry on what days or in what districts or schools they want to work; often they make those requests because of convenience to their home. The registry will honor those requests, but there is a danger with putting limits on your substitute work. When a permanent opening occurs, the registry will fill it based on seniority. That means that the more days you work, the more seniority you will have and the better chance you'll have of getting a full-time job and move up from being a substitute.
After you're hired full-time. In order to keep your full-time job, by the end of your first full-time year you must earn at least six college credits from education courses approved by the board. If you already have secured these credits before your first full-time year, that satisfies the requirement. (See the section on the Career Training Program for information about how the UFT can help you meet this requirement.)

Required Staff Development
New paraprofessionals are required to have four days of staff development, which is provided by the board. If you are a new paraprofessional and you did not complete these four days before you started working, you are still given the opportunity to take advantage of this professional development during your first year of employment. The UFT, in collaboration with the Board of Education, provides this staff development at various times during the year. The board periodically contacts new members about attending these training sessions. You may also call the board's Office of New Teacher and Paraprofessional Staff Development at (718) 935-4463.

Optional Professional Development
In addition to the required staff development, the UFT is dedicated to continued professional development for its members. In addition to the annual Paraprofessional Festival, Spring Conference and scores of other opportunities the union offers for your professional growth, we provide three programs housed at union headquarters.
The UFT/New York City Teacher Centers Consortium, a support system for educators involved in educational improvement, offers courses, events and activities that are all open to paraprofessionals. Teacher Centers also have resource centers in more than 100 schools throughout the city. There, Teacher Centers staff are on hand to provide you with training in the use of computer technology, help in researching information for classes you may be taking or the latest information on your profession - or they'll just welcome you as you browse through the center's resource library. Every year the consortium confers mini-grants up to $1,500 to educators to implement innovative projects. Paraprofessionals are eligible for the competition and have had several winners in past years. For more information on Teacher Centers or the mini-grant program call (212) 475-3737.
The Effective Teaching Program, sponsored by the UFT in cooperation with the union's state affiliate, New York State United Teachers, offers workshops, seminars, and presentations which focus on using practical, tested strategies in the classroom. It also offers career advancement counseling. Paraprofessionals are invited to participate in all ETP activities. The program's future plans include workshops and undergraduate courses designed specifically for paraprofessionals. For more information on the NYSUT Effective Teaching Program call (212) 598-9513.
The UFT Special Educator Support Program provides professional and staff development for special education and general education staff. It offers workshops, lectures, conferences, an annual seminar series and many other opportunities for professional development throughout the year. All SESP events are available to you - and when there's a fee, paraprofessionals pay half price (sorry, that discount does not apply to college credit-bearing courses).
SESP collaborates with the board and Medgar Evers College of the City of New York to offer Pathways to Teaching, a comprehensive coaching/mentoring professional development project designed to help paraprofessionals in the Career Ladder program make the successful transition to special and/or bilingual education teacher. Funding for this project, however, is provided year to year by the Federal Goals 2000 Program and the New York State Education Department and could be dropped at any time. If you're interested, call SESP and ask about the availability of the program. Staff members are always glad to help.
SESP also produces the publication Tips for Teachers and Paraprofessionals, a collection of practical hands-on instructional ideas from educators throughout the city, and Special EDition, a magazine with member-written articles about special education issues. For copies or more information contact SESP at (212) 260-7679.

The Career Ladder
Any UFT paraprofessional who does not have a bachelor's degree at the time of employment may participate in the Career Ladder, (officially known as the Career Training Program) a benefit fought for and won by the UFT. In addition, those paraprofessionals who have bachelor's degrees but need education courses to meet the requirements for a teacher's license may participate in the Career Ladder to meet those qualifications.
By going to college you'll expand your knowledge and become a better paraprofessional - and you'll be able to earn the credits that will increase your salary (see next item). If you participate, you'll receive free tuition - and during the school year if you take five or more college credits per semester, you'll also get 21/2 hours off per week with pay to pursue your studies. And if you take six credits in the summer and do not take a summer job with the board, you'll even receive a stipend.
To join you must obtain a Career Training Program voucher from your school secretary, district office or the board and then apply to one of the participating colleges. For more information, request a copy of the UFT pamphlet, The Career Training Program: The UFT Paraprofessional's Ladder to Success. You can also call the board's Career Training Program at (718) 935-2296.

Increasing Your Income
Through the union's Career Ladder, you can increase your salary with experience and by earning board-approved college credits. Here's an explanation of the titles that appear in the paraprofessional contract. If you don't have a contract, see your school chapter leader.
Teacher Aide High school/equivalency diploma.
Educational Assistant High school/equivalency diploma and six appropriate college credits plus one year of experience in the program.
Educational Assistant A-I High school/equivalency diploma plus 15 college credits.
Educational Assistant A-II High school/equivalency diploma plus 30 college credits.
Educational Assistant B High school/equivalency diploma plus 45 college credits.
Educational Associate High school/equivalency diploma plus 60 college credits plus two years of experience as an educational paraprofessional.
Auxiliary Trainer This title is no longer being used. It remains in our contract in case the work resumes.
Title to be announced (90-credit line) The UFT fought for and won a new paraprofessional rate line in the current contract. It takes effect December 16, 1999. It requires 90 college credits and two years of service.
Bilingual Professional Assistant This title is no longer being used. It remains in the contract in case it is needed again.
Your rate of pay is based on college credits and, in some steps, years of service.

Where to Get Accurate Information
Although many UFT programs are organized at union headquarters, you generally can get the answers to your day-to-day questions at your school from your school's UFT chapter leader or paraprofessional representative. He or she may refer you to your district UFT paraprofessional coordinator or someone at your UFT borough office. Remember that you are not alone. Whether you have questions about salary, benefits, professional development or your rights, there are experts at the UFT to help you.
The Paraprofessional Chapter
The chapter - that is, all UFT paraprofessionals across the city - is headed by the Paraprofessional Chapter chairperson, who represents all New York City paraprofessionals in collective bargaining and in other dealings with the city and state. Your chairperson conducts the chapter's monthly steering committee, executive board and paraprofessional representative meetings during the school year and directs the business of the chapter. Other officers of your chapter are the first and second vice chairs, secretary, assistant secretary, treasurer, assistant treasurer and 15 paraprofessional executive board members.
There is a paraprofessional borough coordinator for each of the five boroughs. The borough coordinator organizes boroughwide conferences and works with district coordinators.
There are 32 district coordinators, each serving you in a community school district. They coordinate paraprofessional issues with the UFT's district representatives. The chapter also has paraprofessional representatives at some schools or sites to represent you.
Chapter elections are held in even-numbered years. Chapter members elect officers every two years. All officers, executive board members, borough coordinators and district coordinators serve as delegates to your union's Delegate Assembly, the union's highest policy-making body.
School Chapters
The UFT chapter, made up of all UFT members in your school - including you - is the basic building block of the union. Many decisions that affect you directly are made at the school level. Your best chance of having a say in those decisions or understanding what they are is to get to know your chapter leader and become involved in the life of your chapter.
One of the most important things you can do is make a wise choice when electing your UFT school chapter leader. Elections are by secret ballot every even-numbered year. Your chapter leader is not only the key person in organizing union activities at your school, but also your prime intermediary with the school administration.
Here are the responsibilities of your school's chapter leader:
      .      Advises you about your rights and represents you in any grievances with the administration. He or she is the first person you should contact for help about a problem or when you need information about contractual rights and other matters.
      .      Represents the chapter at consultation meetings with the principal. By contract, the principal must meet with your chapter's representatives at least once a month to discuss issues of importance to the chapter - and the members set the agenda. As much as possible, the chapter leader tries to resolve school-based problems during these discussions. As the union has expanded the rights of the chapter, it has given members a greater voice in decisions affecting school safety, hiring, school assignments, budget and schoolwide educational decisions.
      .      Keeps members up to date about union issues and activities. Chapter leaders attend monthly meetings with their district representatives and, together with the chapter's elected delegates, attend monthly meetings of the Delegate Assembly, the union's highest decision-making body. Chapter leaders may disseminate information through chapter meetings, postings on a UFT bulletin board, a chapter newsletter or occasional notices in your school mailbox.
      .      Organizes the life of the chapter by working with member volunteers to promote a sense of collegiality among the staff. Some chapters hold social get-togethers; others have discussion groups; and many provide informal support through a buddy system. Virtually all chapters pull together when the union needs their support at rallies, demonstrations or letter-writing campaigns.
You can and should get involved in the life of your chapter. Quite a few paraprofessionals have become their school's chapter leaders. Some have joined the chapter's executive committee (which assists and advises the chapter leader) or consultation committee (which meets with the principal). Others have volunteered to handle social events, write a chapter newsletter (a good way to get to know people), or maintain the UFT bulletin board.
UFT Borough Offices
You'll find another source of information and support at your UFT borough office, where knowledgeable staff is available, particularly between 4 and 6 p.m., to handle any problems that your chapter leader can't resolve. This is also where you will find your paraprofessional borough coordinator.
Each borough office fields a team of PM staffers - members employed by the UFT after school as specially trained experts. This is where you can get accurate answers about everything from salary and seniority to grievances, pensions and educational issues. UFT courses and workshops are often held at the borough offices.
The district representatives (DR) - one each for every community school district and high school district - also work out of the borough offices. They handle any problems or grievances that cannot be settled at the school level, as well as matters of districtwide significance, by meeting with community school boards, superintendents and, when necessary, central board staff. There also is a DR for District 75 (citywide special education programs for the most severely handicapped students) who works out of UFT headquarters.
A full-time borough representative appointed by the UFT president heads each borough office. In addition to coordinating borough activities, part of the borough rep's job is to act as the union's chief political representative in the borough, lobbying elected officials and other decision-makers on behalf of the public schools.
Problems that can't be resolved at the school or borough level are referred to staff at UFT headquarters at 260 Park Avenue South. For more information about decision-making at that level, see page 37.
UFT Keeps You Informed
The UFT works hard to keep its members informed and get the word out on matters that are important to you. This list starts with the two services that are updated daily:
      .      Our telephone Hotline is revised every day with the latest news of importance to union members. Dial (212) 777-0190 24 hours a day.
      .      UFT Online gives members with a computer and a modem easy access to a wealth of union and work-related information. You can log on both via America Online (keyword AFT, then click the UFT Online button) and the World Wide Web (http://www.uft.org). You'll find a fully searchable version of the contract and new features are being added all the time, so check in frequently.
      .      Our biweekly newspaper, the New York Teacher, updates you on union developments and other issues that affect schools. Whether it's privatization, school budgets, school conditions, special education, pension legislation or any other concern, you'll know where the UFT stands and what the union is doing by reading this award-winning newspaper. Newer members will find several features of particular interest: listings and advertisements of workshops, conferences and courses; "It Pays to Read the New York Teacher," that lists grants for which you can apply; "Know Your Rights," which describes various contractual protections you have; the meetings and activities of UFT professional committees (see page 35); and entertainment options.
      .      Paraprofessionals receive ParaScope, a newsletter designed specifically to keep you informed on issues that affect your profession. It is mailed to your home approximately four times a year. Watch for it! There are also specialized newsletters on pension and other matters, as well as those geared to groups such as District 75 special educators and educators who have disabilities.
      .      The union produces booklets and other publications on topics of interest to members. To order these or other UFT publications, watch for the New York Teacher ad with order form, see if your school has a UFT publications poster, order through UFT Online (see above), or phone (212) 598-9523 for a listing and order form (sorry, no phone orders accepted).
UFT members have one of the best benefit packages around. At a time when many employers are cutting worker benefits or imposing higher member costs, the UFT has been able to protect its member benefits from such erosion and actually has improved many benefits.
Health Plans
The UFT has negotiated a variety of health plans for you to choose from. Each offers different costs and approaches to medical care. You can change your health plan during the transfer period each fall, usually in October (the specific period is announced in the New York Teacher). Each plan has its benefits and drawbacks, so you should consider your family needs, access to the physicians or hospitals you want and the cost when making your choice. There are three types of plans:
PPO/Indemnity Plan - A preferred provider organization (PPO) provides an independent panel of participating physicians.
HMO - A health maintenance organization (HMO) is an organized system that provides medical and hospital services. Participants are limited to physicians and services from within the HMO's network of providers.
POS - A point of service (POS) plan allows members to choose either a participating network panel provider or a non-network panel provider.
Detailed information is available from two main sources:
      .      To make comparisons easier, each fall the union publishes a chart in the New York Teacher that lists the services that each plan provides, ranging from allergies to office visits to visiting nurse service. This chart, which runs before the annual transfer period, should also be posted on the UFT bulletin board in your school.
      .      You can check the city's summary plan booklet, which the city mails to all employees. It is also available at the Board of Education's Health and Welfare office, Room 502, 65 Court St., Brooklyn, NY 11201.
For more information, read the UFT's booklet, Health Plans: Before You Choose, Know, which gives an overview of each of the plans and provides answers to common questions about health coverage.
UFT Welfare Fund
The UFT Welfare Fund provides benefits to you and your covered dependents in addition to those benefits provided by the city's basic health insurance plans. Your UFT Welfare Fund benefits include:
      .      Prescription drug plan.
      .      Dental plan.
      .      Optical plan.
      .      Hearing aid plan.
      .      Disability benefits.
      .      Life insurance.
      .      Death benefit.
      .      Various benefits that supplement the city health plans.
A full description of these benefits is included in The Red Apple brochure, which is availed to members. If you don't have a copy, phone the Welfare Fund Forms Hotline (see below) or search UFT Online for the full text. NOTE: UFT Online also allows you to find participating health care providers by zip code.
The UFT Welfare Fund, located at the union's central office, is staffed with trained professionals who can assist you with any health insurance related problem.
To contact the Welfare Fund: Phone (212) 539-0500 weekdays from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
To obtain Welfare Fund forms: Either call the Welfare Fund weekdays from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. at (212) 539-0500 or dial the Forms Hotline at (212) 539-0539.
NOTE TO NEW MEMBERS: To access all of your health benefits, you must:
      .      Complete the ERB 97 form, which is available from your school's payroll secretary. It provides for the selection of a health insurance plan.
      .      File a UFT Welfare Fund enrollment card, which is available either from your school's chapter leader or by calling the fund.
      .      File both forms within the first few days of employment so you are covered right away.
      .      When adding or dropping a dependent, you must attach a copy of the appropriate documentation (such as birth certificate, marriage license, etc.). Failing to provide the Welfare Fund and the city health plans with documentation will delay coverage.
Flexible Spending Accounts
As a UFT member, you can participate in three "flexible spending accounts" that enable you to pay for eligible expenses on a pre-tax basis, thereby reducing your federal and Social Security taxes. They are:
Medical Spending Conversion Plan. This allows you to pay for optional health benefits in a way that saves you money. It is available if you have chosen the GHI high optional rider or any other extra-cost health plan except HIP. Enrollment is automatic unless you file a form to opt out, and it is almost always beneficial to participate.
Health Care Flexible Spending Account. You can draw on this account to pay for any medical expense (such as dental, optical or hearing) that is not covered by your insurance, including copayments and amounts applied to meeting deductibles. This applies to expenses for you, your spouse and eligible dependents. Money not claimed in this account is lost, so you should be conservative in your planning. You can choose to contribute a set amount of money on a calendar-year basis to this account. The minimum amount is $260 and the maximum is $2,600. This kind of account is particularly helpful to those who can anticipate medical expenses, such as those who require treatments for a chronic condition.
Dependent Care Assistance Program (DeCAP). You can use it to pay to care for eligible dependents inside or outside your home. Examples of such care include ordinary day care for a dependent child; summer camp for a child if both you and your spouse work full time; chronic care for a physically or mentally incapacitated dependent; or care for yourself if you're anticipating a major health expense such as surgery. You can contribute a minimum of $500 and a maximum of $5,000 per calendar year in set amounts to this account (the maximum is $2,500 if you are married and file a separate federal income tax return, unless you are legally separated). Other rules apply if your spouse also contributes to a DeCAP account. The same "use it or lose it" rules applies, so be conservative in your choices.
For more information about these three options, including a city brochure on the Health Care and DeCAP programs, contact the UFT Welfare Fund at (212) 539-0500. The Health Care and DeCAP programs are administered by the city's Flexible Spending Account Program at (212) 306-7760.
The UFT fought for pension rights for paraprofessionals for many years. Victory finally came in 1983, when Albany passed a UFT-sponsored law over the city's vehement objections. Most paraprofessionals today take advantage of this valuable benefit.
Your pension contribution, if you choose to participate, will equal 3 percent of your gross pay. It is federally tax-deferred, and 3 percent buys you a lot of protection.
You may think it's too early to plan for retirement, but if you are like most UFT members, your pension will be your greatest financial asset. The sooner you start contributing, the bigger your pension will be. Paraprofessionals who have a permanent position are eligible to belong to the Teachers' Retirement System (TRS). Substitute paraprofessionals can join the Board of Education Retirement System (BERS).
When substitutes get full-time jobs or move on to become teachers, secretaries or other board employees, they can shift their pension credit from BERS to TRS.
Joining a pension system guarantees that you are on a path toward providing for your retirement - and that you're building financial protection for yourself and your beneficiaries against unexpected death or disability. To join, get an application at your school, at your UFT borough office, or by contacting the Teachers' Retirement System, 40 Worth St., New York, NY 10013, (212) 442-5570, or the Board of Education, 65 Court St., Brooklyn, NY 11201, (718) 935-5400.
Membership in TRS or BERS assures you:
      .      The ability to accrue an additional 55 days of paid sick leave (see page 29).
      .      An income if disability forces you to retire early.
      .      Benefits for your family if you die.
      .      The right to borrow from your retirement account.
      .      The right to participate in the retirement tax-deferred annuity program. This allows you to contribute money from your paycheck for additional retirement savings above your pension. You are not taxed now on the money you contribute. You pay taxes only when you withdraw the funds at retirement. By then you're likely to be in a lower tax bracket.
After you retire, you get:
      .      A pension check every month.
      .      Medical, dental and optical benefits to protect you and your eligible dependents.
      .      If you choose, at retirement you can elect what's called an "optional benefit" to provide money for a beneficiary after your death. You would pay for this by collecting a smaller retirement allowance.
And from the Social Security system - to which you belong automatically whether you join a pension system or not - you get:
      .      Social Security payments monthly.
      .      Social Security payments to eligible dependents after you die.
For all of these reasons, the UFT strongly recommends that you immediately join the retirement system even if money is tight.
If you are a full-time employee and decide to join the retirement system, you will be eligible to buy back certain prior service with the City and/or State of New York. The pension system will calculate the exact cost of this buy-back, but it's based upon 3 percent of the wages you earned during the time you rendered service, plus 5 percent compounded interest. You can pay in a lump sum, in deductions from your paycheck over four years, or in deductions over ten years. Although buying back past service can be costly, you'll more than make up that cost in pension benefits. Credit for this prior service will be given after you have worked and been a member of the retirement system for five full years.
NOTE: This is just a brief outline. Some restrictions may apply. The UFT Pension Handbook for Tier IV members, which includes all full-time paraprofessionals, is your best source of information concerning the pension plan. Ask your chapter leader or paraprofessional representative to borrow a copy or buy one of your own for $7 from the UFT.
You may call your UFT borough office with any pension question. And as a paraprofessional you have the same right as all other UFT members to a confidential pension consultation as you near retirement. To find out more about your individual situation, make an appointment to talk with an expert.
The UFT holds special pension workshops for newer members to explain the many advantages of joining early. Each UFT borough office has pension consultants who will be glad to meet with you individually by appointment. In addition, the UFT publishes PensioNews, a newsletter you should receive periodically in your school mailbox; a Pensions and the Paraprofessional brochure; and a retirement-related column in each issue of the New York Teacher.
Social Services Program
In addition to help with the day-to-day demands of the job, the union has a full-time social work operation to offer you expert assistance with problems you may experience outside the classroom.
Our Paraprofessional Social Services Program, developed in 1992 to provide counseling, information and referrals, offers free and confidential assistance. For example, the program helps members obtain health care and legal services, find affordable housing, resolve landlord-tenant disputes and arrange marital counseling. Referrals include assistance with matters such as alcoholism and drug abuse, mental illness, debt and budget problems or public assistance, to name a few.
The program is housed at UFT headquarters. It also schedules regular monthly visits to UFT borough offices for members who find it difficult to get to Manhattan during regular office hours. Call your borough office to find out when services are available in your borough. No appointment is necessary.
There is also an outreach program for visiting members who are homebound on medical leaves of absence or are in hospitals for extended stays. The chapter also arranges school visits, to tell members about the service and answer questions. If you're interested in a school visit, ask your chapter leader to call the office to arrange an appointment.
For more information ask your chapter leader for a copy of the pamphlet, The UFT Paraprofessional Social Services Program. You can also call the Social Services Program at (212) 598-9507.
Fun-Filled Perks
The union's Recreational Activities Department offers members an ever-growing roster of fun-filled perks:
      .      Discount tickets to a number of area movie theater chains.
      .      Discounts to theme parks, including Universal Studios, Sea World, Cypress Gardens, Sesame Place, Action Park, Busch Gardens, the Walt Disney Magic Kingdom and Six Flags Great Adventure.
      .      Reduced-price tickets to selected Broadway and off-Broadway shows.
      .      Day and weekend bus trips to fun spots like Atlantic City, Colonial Williamsburg, Cape Cod, Amish country and ski resorts.
      .      Discount tickets to extravaganzas, such as the Radio City Music Hall Christmas show, the circus and Ice Capades.
      .      Discount tickets to professional sports events.
Watch the "Just for Fun" column and coupon in each issue of the New York Teacher for current offerings.
How to Join the UFT
It may surprise you to learn that you're not automatically a UFT member just because you work for the Board of Education. Membership in the union is voluntary, and we're happy to note that approximately 95 percent of those eligible do choose to join. (Those who do not join pay what's called an "agency fee" - equal to union dues - to cover the costs of negotiating and administering the contract and providing other services.) Check the bottom of your pay stub under "description." If next to "UFT" there is a U, you are a member. If there is nothing, that means you are not a member.
UFT members elect the union officers and vote on contract proposals; agency fee-payers do not have the right to vote. In other words, joining the union means having a say in your own destiny.
It may also surprise you to learn that paraprofessionals were not always members of the UFT. That opportunity came in 1969, when paraprofessionals voted to have the UFT be the union to represent them. The first paraprofessional contract came in 1970. It nearly tripled paraprofessional wages and included the Career Training Program. Today, paraprofessionals enjoy all the privileges of membership.
To join, simply fill out a membership card, which you can get from your school chapter leader or paraprofessional representative. Fill it out and return it to either one of them immediately. The UFT will mail you a postcard acknowledging your enrollment.
Protecting Your Rights
Although the union is there to protect your rights, paraprofessionals as well as other members may suffer needlessly because they are not aware of their professional rights, don't know how to find out what their rights are or are worried about what will happen if they exercise their rights.
The union is developing more ways to keep you informed about your rights. Every member gets a copy of the contract, the document that spells out all contractual rights; other rights are conferred by laws, grievances and court decisions, or Board of Education regulations. Of course, the technical language of the contract is not light reading and many members need help deciphering it. Here are some sources of help:
      .      Your chapter leader can answer your questions. Any time you wonder, "Can they make me do that?" check with your chapter leader or paraprofessional representative. Just remember that if you are given an assignment, you must perform it until any question about its legitimacy is resolved. Otherwise you risk being considered "insubordinate."
      .      The New York Teacher runs a regular column called "Know Your Rights," which alerts you to timely issues.
      .      The ParaScope, the UFT newsletter especially for paraprofessionals, frequently alerts you to your rights.
Here are just a few examples of the kinds of rights you should be aware of:
Job security. Paraprofessionals have seniority rights within the district. Your district office maintains a seniority list. The list should be posted at every school within the district as stated in your contract under Article 26 B, Information at the School. You are entitled to be retained at your school or work site in accordance with your districtwide seniority in your community school district, high school district or special education District 75. In the event of layoffs due to lack of work or budget cuts, those with the least districtwide seniority will be laid off first, unless an employee possesses special competence as mandated in a particular program.
Recall. This gain gives paraprofessionals who have been laid off for reasons including budget cuts, shrinking enrollment or lack of work the right to be recalled according to your district seniority, as positions become available in any of the districts.
Harassment by supervisors. Sad to say, school staffers sometimes report that supervisors harass them in all kinds of ways. If you believe you are the victim of supervisory harassment, immediately tell your chapter leader. The contract provides for a special and expedited complaint process to protect you from coercion and intimidation by administrators.
Letters in the file. You are supposed to receive a copy of any written evaluation of your work performance or conduct that a supervisor places in your permanent personnel folder. You have the right to answer any such statements and your written response should be attached to the evaluation.
Termination. Everybody worries about keeping his or her job. The union has fought hard to see to it that you have the right to be advised of the reason you are being discharged and to challenge it with a grievance. If you are discharged, it must be based on good and sufficient reason, as your contract clearly states, not simply because your supervisor doesn't like you. If you request, you must be given an opportunity for a prompt and careful appeal of your discharge. If you believe you have been unduly terminated, speak to your chapter leader.
Freedom from involuntary administrative duties. You are not responsible for administrative duties such as lunchroom and hall patrol unless you volunteer for them and your school has adopted a school-based option to allow you to do so. Special education paraprofessionals may be responsible for feeding children and bus duty only if eating and getting on and off the bus are essential parts of the learning day and are part of the student's IEP. If you have any questions about what you are or are not responsible for, talk to your paraprofessional representative or school chapter leader.
Sick leave. You are granted one day's sick leave with pay for each month of work during the regular school year. You can accumulate sick leave from month to month during the school year and from year to year up to a maximum of 145 days. However, if you are a member of the pension system, you can accrue 200 days. You may use up to three sick days a year for personal business.
You also have the right to apply to the Division of Human Resources to borrow against the accumulation of future sick leave if you have exhausted your sick leave allowance. You can borrow up to 10 days for serious illness, but they are a debt you owe the board and must repay. You can (1) apply against this debt future sick days you earn but do not use, (2) instruct your school secretary to deduct a day's pay to restore a day to your sick bank or (3) deduct the days from any money owed you when you resign or retire. You should be given information on your accumulated sick leave in writing once a year.
The UFT's Many Roles
Beyond providing professional assistance and benefits, the United Federation of Teachers carries out the meat-and-potatoes work that is the essence of a trade union. And, because we are a union of educators, the UFT also serves as an advocate for educational change.
Here's a brief look at some of the UFT's major activities:
Negotiates a Contract
The union's bedrock mission is to hammer out a contract with the board that spells out your basic working conditions, job protections, rights, salary and benefits. Without a contract, all members would stand alone and be vulnerable to the whims of management. The contract protects you from arbitrary and unfair actions and supports your professional judgment in the classroom.
Each time a contract expires, changes are made through the process of collective bargaining. Today, New York State law guarantees public employees the right to unionize and bargain collectively, but city educators actually had to strike to choose a collective bargaining agent and win the first contract. (For more on union history, see Appendix 2, page 43.)
In collective bargaining, all parties make demands for changes that they want in the contract. The union always demands expansion of salaries, rights and benefits. But the city and the board often seek to take away some rights and benefits that we previously won.
As you can imagine, reaching an agreement is not usually a neat process with people sitting down at a table to reason out their differences. At times it has been a bruising 15-rounder involving marches, protests and even strikes by UFT members. In recent years, the union has also used radio, TV and print advertising to enlist public opinion on our behalf.
Neither side ever gets everything that it wants, but in the end both sides agree to a document that all can live with and agree to implement. (Every proposed contract is put to a membership vote by secret ballot before it can be adopted.)
Enforces the Contract
Just because a contract exists doesn't mean it will be properly implemented. One of the union's biggest jobs is to continuously monitor and enforce the contract. That's where you come in, because in most cases the union's ability to enforce the contract depends on members who are willing to insist on their rights when a problem arises.
Of course, not all school-related problems involve a violation of contractual rights. Often your UFT chapter leader can resolve the matter informally by discussing it with the principal, but if that doesn't work and you believe the administration has violated a contract provision, you may find it necessary to file a "grievance."
You're not alone when you grieve, because your UFT chapter leader or another trained representative will be by your side.
Chances are you may lose a grievance at the school level, since you are protesting the actions of the school administration. You have the right to appeal to your superintendent. If you lose there, the union decides whether to appeal further to the chancellor or even to binding arbitration.
In some cases, your school's UFT chapter leader can file a grievance on behalf of members. And when there's a situation that affects many members, the UFT itself can file a union-initiated grievance.