Sunday, October 28, 2018

Catholic School Teachers of New York Fight For A Fair Contract From The ADNY by Brian Moore

Working without a contract, teachers for the Archdiocese of New York (ADNY) are fighting for a fair wage increase and to protect what they have already earned. The offer made by the ADNY closes the umbrella of fair labor discussion and leaves teachers soaking in the rain.

A recurring problem with Archdiocesan leadership is their fixation on the sacrifice made by Catholic school teachers. In the ADNY, Catholic school teachers make anywhere from 10-50% less than their public school counterparts. Simply deciding to enter Catholic education as a teacher, or becoming a teachers in any system for that matter, requires charity. However, this sacrifice has become expected by leadership, and now it is being exploited. System leaders thank their teachers with empty words and little return when contracts expire, reinforcing that this is normal. They want Catholic school teachers to expect little in return. It has often worked. 

Predictably, this causes numerous problems. The most obvious is the toll it takes on teachers. Most teachers spend personal money on their students and their classrooms in an effort to brighten the days of our children with treats, games, decorations, or even just on necessities like paper and pencils. Some teachers go above and beyond to help families in need of a new backpack, or shoes. Teachers in Catholic schools frequently purchase uniform components for students who cannot afford to have them replaced, because they hate to see these kids suffer in any preventable way. Spending reduces an already diminished income that teachers have to deal with. Many teachers work second jobs in an effort to make ends meet, sometimes unsuccessfully. 

This is all time taken away from other parts of teacher’s lives. Families suffer, and students suffer as teachers are strained to find time to plan lessons and activities suitable for anywhere from 20-40 students per classroom. Now, ADNY Catholic school teachers must deal with a fight for a fair contract. A contract that features a zero percent raise, pension cutbacks, and additional work hours is taking the previously mentioned idea of teacher’s charity and strangling it. It is also hard not to notice the correlation between the current contract offer and the legal issues being faced by the Catholic Church. All of this makes one question whether the church is truly dedicated to education at all. Teachers, however, cannot pay for the sins of those men. 

One other difficulty in this, just as it has been in any number of fights between labor and management, is creating solidarity among workers. Teachers have a difficult time separating their loyalty to their students from the need to battle school leadership. Fortunately, despite the fact that the Federation of Catholic Teachers (FCT) is much smaller than the corresponding unions of local public school teachers, a positive message has been sent. On October 18th, approximately 100 teachers and supporters came together for the first protest during this contract dispute. The protest sends a strong collective message that teachers are willing to band together and support each other during any contract dispute. In fact, the labor fight in America is one that has often been led by teachers. Now, Catholic school teachers have to follow the strong examples set by educators in West Virginia, Oklahoma, Arizona, and others places and continue to set the pace for labor relations in this country.

We are only as strong as the people to our left and right, and we depend on each and every colleague to support one another while we try to make way towards a fairer salary, as well as holding onto the small gains we have made in the past. The labor fight is never over, and we should not allow any officials to use our faith, our love for our students, or our loyalty to schools and each other as leverage to guilt us into anything less than a fair contract.

About the Author: Brian is a middle school educator from The Bronx. He is a second generation teacher, and the husband of a teacher, with a soon to be school aged daughter

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