UFT, city OK job security for paras

by Natalie Bell

Oct 5, 2006 3:25 PM

After long delays by the city Department of Education combatted by the persistence and never-give-up attitude of union representatives, the UFT has reached an agreement with DOE negotiators on final language in the contract for paraprofessionals. The new agreement makes explicit the expanded job rights and protections for paras that were intended in the contract that was ratified last October — including, for the first time ever, permanent job security.

In addition, the department agreed to make applications for the new bachelor’s degree salary line available by Oct. 1. Payroll secretaries will have the applications.

The new job rights for paraprofessionals, effective Sept. 1, 2006, represent a major step forward in the union’s drive to bring paras’ job security in line with that of teachers.

Now, with the exception of a major fiscal crisis in the city, paras whose positions have been cut will not be laid off. This new job security is linked to two more rights: citywide seniority and the right to transfer to other schools.

“Our negotiations were never the same after the city laid off 900 paras at one time three years ago and we filed a discrimination suit,” UFT President Randi Weingarten told paraprofessional representatives at a meeting held Sept. 26 at union headquarters to inform them of the agreement.

“Although we were successful in recalling all the laid-off paras who wanted to continue working for the DOE, we said then we wanted paras to have the same right to open-market transfers, and the job security that entailed, that teachers have,” she said, prompting hearty applause from the para reps.

The expanded job rights are the most sweeping improvements in protections the UFT has ever negotiated for any group of members in a single contract, Weingarten said.

Paraprofessionals Chapter Leader Shelvy Abrams said it was Weingarten’s dogged persistence, as DOE negotiators “dragged their feet,” that finally secured a deal on the language.

“She lit a fire under their feet,” said Abrams of Weingarten. “As long as paras have been working in classrooms, we have felt we deserved the same rights and protections as teachers.”

Glenna Flournoy, a para representative who has worked for 22 years at Alfred E. Smith HS, said she doesn’t want to transfer to another school, but she’s glad she can now count on keeping her job.

“It punishes the kids when a para leaves,” she said of turnover caused by frequent layoffs. “They get used to working with you,” she said, “and it’s difficult to get them to learn after they’ve grown accustomed to working with another para or teacher.”

The new right of citywide seniority will add years of service to the records of many paras who have changed districts over the years. Until now, they lost whatever seniority they had in one district if they were excessed from one district and had to work in another.

While service credit after July 1, 1994, will be granted automatically, paras who were employed as paras before that date will have to make special application for that credit. The details for doing that have not yet been worked out, but the union will be prepared to help members complete the application process when it begins on Oct. 15.

“There are paras who have lost 10, 15, 20 years of seniority,” said Reginald Colvin, para coordinator for Brooklyn. He called the new and expanded rights “long overdue.” He said he has talked to dozens of members who are, like him, “excited” and “ecstatic.”

“We really see that when the leaders of the UFT say ‘We are a union of professionals,’ they mean everybody,” he said.

Under the new protections, if paras are excessed, they will have the right to be placed in a vacancy, or look for a job on their own at any school. If either of those options prove unsuccessful, they can serve in an Absent Para Reserve in their school, or in another school in their district. If they are placed in another school, they will have the right, if they so choose, to return to their original school if a vacancy opens there within a year.

Dusha Kameraj, a para for 14 years at PS 34 on the Lower East Side, has been excessed three times. Fortunately, her principal has always pulled her back. But having experienced getting excessed under the old rules, when she had to apply for unemployment insurance, Kameraj said the new rules will be less disruptive and save money for everyone, including the DOE. Some paras already have the APR status in Kameraj’s school and she said they’re being placed in classrooms to work with students who need extra help or who have special needs. “They’re not sitting around twiddling their thumbs,” she said.

The bottom line ...

Paraprofessionals now have:

Job security
Citywide seniority
Transfer rights like teachers
Salary increase for a B.A.

Summary of new provisions in paraprofessionals contract

After hard negotiations and long delays by the DOE, the union and the department finally have worked out all the language of the paraprofessional contract (2003-07).

This language is a big step in the union’s drive to expand paras’ job rights and protections and to bring them into line with those that teachers have. For the first time ever paraprofessionals have a meaningful, long-term job security clause, systemwide seniority and the right to transfer.

Here are the three long-sought new rights:

Permanent job security — Except in the case of a fiscal crisis, paras cannot be laid off. If you are excessed, you will have the right to be placed in a vacancy (with the same right of return as teachers have) or to serve as an Absent Para Reserve in your school or a school in your district.
Citywide seniority — You will accrue seniority wherever in the city you work, and take it with you if you change districts. And you will receive seniority credit for your prior work as a paraprofessional anywhere in the school system. (See * on page 33 for further info on credit for prior work.)
Ability to transfer — Each year you will be able to apply for a para vacancy anywhere in the school system. If you move or are excessed, in fact, for any reason at all, you will have this right.
The old contract

As you know, since paras joined the UFT in 1969, they have had job rights only in their district. If there had to be job cutbacks in a district (because of budget or enrollment declines), the most recently hired paras in that district were laid off.

Often hundreds of paras lost their jobs across the city, sometimes even when there were vacancies in other parts of the city. But paras had no rights to vacancies outside their districts. And if they applied for them and were hired, they started from zero seniority again in the new district, so they would be the first to be excessed or laid off again.

The union would fight layoffs every year, including filing a discrimination suit one year. If you were laid off, the union would help you to be recalled later in the year. Even so, you lost a lot of pay in the meantime. Many laid-off paras took jobs in District 75 (which usually had vacancies) even if they didn’t want to, because they couldn’t afford to be out of a job.

The current contract

The UFT/DOE Memorandum of Agreement signed last year sought to create substantial new rights for paras that were much like those that teachers have. In fighting over the actual language of the contract, that effort came to fruition.

Under this contract, paras, like teachers, will have citywide seniority (Art. 37C). That means that, if there are job cutbacks in a school and a para is excessed, her options are not limited, as they were before, to: a) a position in the district, if there’s one available, or b) layoff.

Here’s the change: Now if you are excessed, there will be three options open to you. Layoff is not one of them!

First option: a placement. If there are no vacancies in the district, you will have a right to be placed in a vacancy anywhere in the region, and if there are no vacancies there, then anywhere in the borough, and then anywhere in the city (Art. 12D).

That must be a real vacancy; there will be no more bumping of junior paras. But it is much more likely that you will get a placement if you can go borough- or citywide. And remember, you take your seniority with you!

The only reason you might not get one of those vacancies is if the principal, after interviewing you, does not want to hire you. That, too, is just like the teachers contract. No one has an absolute right to a particular position; the principal has to want you.

And here’s another new right: the Right of Return. If you are excessed to another school, and a vacancy opens up in your old school any time within the next year, you can go back to your old school (Art. 12D, last paragraph).

What if you don’t want to travel to another region or borough? Or maybe, if there are no vacancies in the region, they want to place you at a District 75 site, and you don’t want to work with disabled children? (You are eligible for a District 75 placement once you move beyond your region. But keep in mind, the District 75 site may be in your neighborhood or even right in your school.)

If you don’t want a DOE placement, you have the second option — a transfer.

Just like teachers, if you don’t want the DOE to place you in a position, you can look for a position on your own and, if you get it, transfer to that school.

In fact, the right to transfer from one school to another is a new right for all paraprofessionals, whether you are excessed or just want to change schools (Art. 14). And with citywide seniority, you don’t have to stay in your district just to maintain your seniority — another new right.

Every spring and summer, when vacancies are posted, you can apply for any job. All new schools will post vacancies, too. You can even apply to a school that has no posted vacancies but you want the school to keep you in mind if a vacancy should occur.

You’ll probably have to go for an interview or a job fair, but if the principal wants to hire you, you are free to go. (If you are hired after Aug. 7, you have to get your current principal’s permission.)

So that’s two ways to get a job: accept a placement, or get a transfer.

But even in the unlikely case that there are no vacancies in the city, or no principal wants you, you will still be guaranteed a job!

That’s the third option. If nothing else is available, you will be placed in an Alternative Paraprofessional Reserve in your home school or in another school in the same district or superintendency. That means you are on the staff of that school and will fill in for an absent para or do other paraprofessional work. (You cannot be sent to another school as a substitute para.) You will also have priority for a placement as they open up.

*Citywide seniority credit — Paras will automatically be credited with service after July 1, 1994 (because the DOE has that information). Service prior to that date will be credited if paras provide proof of that service by Feb. 15, 2007. A list of acceptable proof is being developed. 1