Unusual bedfellows in the Big Apple

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Randi Weingarten, both the head of the national AFT and the local president of the New York teachers' union, the UFT, is the unexpected heroine for nearly 90 alternative certification teachers hired through the New York City Teaching Fellows program. Less than 24 hours before these teachers--all newly hired but still unplaced in any school--were to be terminated, Weingarten filed a lawsuit to prevent them from losing their salaries. Accordingly, a judge granted an injunction, keeping the teachers on the payroll until an arbitrator can rule on the merits of the case.

These new teachers were supplied under a contract between the district and The New Teacher Project (TNTP) with the stipulation that they would be terminated if they failed to secure a job by December 5 of this school year. In past years, only a handful or two of teaching fellows were unable to secure jobs, but the figures this year proved much higher, mostly because principals were more cautious about hiring in the face of looming budget cuts.

Embracing these orphan teachers, the UFT's Weingarten argued that the separate contract between teachers hired through the Teaching Fellows program and the district still constituted a violation of the UFT's own bargaining agreement. That contract makes layoffs nearly impossible in "all but the most extreme circumstances." In the eyes of Weingarten and the UFT, having teachers kept on the payroll who aren't actually teaching apparently doesn't constitute such a circumstance.

This seemingly gracious move by Weingarten adds a new twist to a long standing tense relationship between The New Teacher Project and the UFT. In its policy work, TNTP has been the fiercest critic of the union's insistence on maintaining the salaries of regular hires who had lost their placements.