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Frequently Asked Questions

What is tenure?

From NYSUT United, February 18, 2011:

Tenure is about due process, not about guaranteeing jobs for life. In New York, new teachers serve a three-year probationary period, during which school officials have an obligation to evaluate those teachers' job performance. If, after three years, the local school board votes to grant a teacher tenure, it simply means the teacher is entitled to a fair hearing before a neutral third party if there are allegations of incompetence or wrongdoing. During the first three years, teachers and teaching assistants generally can be dismissed at any time for any reason.

Due process, a right enjoyed by all Americans, includes a presumption of innocence and the right to a fair hearing. Tenure is not unique to teaching. School building administrators have it, too. State and local workers, including police and firefighters, as well as private-sector union members, have due-process protections similar to tenure. And, they earn those protections in less time than teachers.

Unions don't grant tenure — administrators do. Too many school boards and superintendents attack tenure rather than hold their own managers accountable for hiring and supervising teachers and, if necessary, removing those who don't make the grade. Tenure is granted by the board of education on recommendation of the superintendent — but many schools do a poor job of evaluating and supporting teachers. That's why NYSUT's Innovation Initiative is piloting a comprehensive teacher evaluation system built by five joint labor-management teams. The model is designed to evaluate teachers comprehensively and fairly — and provide support to those who need it.

Tenure's not about protecting "bad" teachers; it's about protecting good teachers. What would happen to teachers without tenure? They could — and would — be fired for virtually any reason.

What is the Taylor Law ?

From Member Center:

Its provisions include:

  • The right of public employees to organize and bargain collectively with their employers;
  • The right to representation by employee organizations (unions) of their own choosing; The requirement that public employers (including school districts) negotiate with their employees and enter into written agreements (contracts) with their employees' chosen representatives;
  • Procedures for resolution of contract disputes (impasses);
  • Prohibition of improper labor practices by either side;
  • Creation of the Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) to administer the law; and
  • The requirement that bargaining unit members who choose not to join a union pay an agency fee, and that use of the fee for political and ideological purposes only incidentally related to bargaining to which the agency fee payer objects is subject to a rebate procedure.

While the Taylor Law grants public employees the right to collective bargaining, it denies them the right to strike. The penalties for striking are loss of pay for each day the employee is on strike, plus a fine of an additional day's pay for every day on strike and potential discipline for misconduct.


What is the Triborough Amendment?

From NYSUT United, February 18, 2011:

In its 1972 Triborough Bridge & Tunnel Authority decision, the Public Employee Relations Board (PERB) interpreted the Taylor Law to prohibit employers from changing terms and conditions of employment while a successor agreement was being negotiated. This principle became known as the Triborough Doctrine.

The doctrine, however, did not protect all contract provisions, only those dealing with mandatory subjects of bargaining, such as salary and hours. Salary schedules and increments were excluded. Further, when a contract expired, public employers were free to alter contract provisions that dealt with permissive subjects of bargaining, such as retiree benefits, class size and staffing levels, among others.

Binding arbitration provisions also lapsed when the contract expired. This meant that once the contract expired, the union was still powerless to strike, but the employer could diminish or discontinue important contract benefits at will.

To address this imbalance, the legislature in 1982 enacted the Triborough Amendment, which had strong support from labor and management. The governor's office, in fact, issued a supporting memo, noting the amendment would guarantee that labor and management came to the table as equals.

The amendment expanded the Triborough Doctrine by making it an improper practice for an employer "to refuse to continue all the terms of an expired agreement until a new agreement is negotiated," unless the union violated the no-strike provision. This meant that all provisions of the contract, except those specifically intended by the parties to sunset on a certain date, would continue until a successor agreement was negotiated — unless, of course, the union engaged in a strike.

 It's not hard to imagine teachers being dismissed because they failed the daughter of an influential businessman or because the school board president's nephew needed a job.

In these fiscally troubled times, what would stop a school board from replacing a veteran teacher at the top of the pay scale with a first-year teacher — simply to save money?

Tenure is the first line of defense against attacks on academic freedom. Teachers can engage their students in a free exchange of ideas only if they are protected from arbitrary dismissal for doing so. Tenure prevents school boards from arbitrarily dismissing teachers for holding political, religious or social views with which they disagree.

It protects academic freedom the way the First Amendment protects freedom of the press.

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