Welcome to the UFT
Helping Newer Paraprofessionals Survive
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
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
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
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)
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
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
Educational Assistant A-II High school/equivalency diploma plus 30
Educational Assistant B High school/equivalency diploma plus 45 college
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
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
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
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.
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
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:
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.
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
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:
telephone Hotline is revised every day with the latest news of
importance to union members. Dial (212) 777-0190 24 hours a day.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
NOTE TO NEW MEMBERS: To access
all of your health benefits, you must:
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.
both forms within the first few days of employment so you are covered
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
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
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)
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
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:
ability to accrue an additional 55 days of paid sick leave (see page
income if disability forces you to retire early.
for your family if you die.
right to borrow from your retirement account.
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:
pension check every month.
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:
Security payments monthly.
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
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
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
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.
The union's Recreational Activities Department offers members an
ever-growing roster of fun-filled perks:
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.
tickets to extravaganzas, such as the Radio City Music Hall Christmas
show, the circus and Ice Capades.
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
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:
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.
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
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
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
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.