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City-Funded Preschool Workers Approve New Contract

By Amy Zimmer | September 28, 2016 6:06pm
 After 10 years without a wage increase, day care workers will get one, but it's not enough, many say.
After 10 years without a wage increase, day care workers will get one, but it's not enough, many say.
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DNAinfo/Nigel Chiwaya

MANHATTAN — After 10 years without a raise, workers at hundreds of city-funded preschools serving low-income families ratified a new contract on Tuesday that will increase their salaries, make health care more affordable and provide some stability for their pensions, labor officials said.

But it doesn’t go far enough, said some workers, noting that it still did not close the salary gap between early childhood staff in community-based organizations versus those teaching pre-K through the Department of Education. 

“The contract does not solve the salary disparity issue,” said Betty Mendez, an assistant teacher for 11 years in East Harlem, who sits on the board of Day Care Local 205 of the DC 1707 union.

A teacher with a bachelor’s degree currently earning $37,456 will earn $40,456 in December 2016 and $44,000 by September 2020, under the new four-year contract.

That still pales in comparison to a first-year teacher with the same credentials in the DOE, who will earn $51,560 this year.

Because of the lower salaries at these city-funded programs serving the city’s highest needs, communities are losing their most experienced teachers, many programs have said.

The union first voted on a new contract earlier this month. Members voted “no,” but there was a paltry turnout — the “no” voters represented only about 7 percent of the roughly 3,200 members. After making some tweaks to the contract, the union called for another vote, and for the first time did the ballot by mail.

This time it passed, but Mendez criticized the method, noting that the 765 “yes” votes of the roughly 920 that were counted represented less than a quarter of the ballots mailed out. She worries that many workers received their ballots late or not at all.

“Many members were calling the board saying they did not receive their ballots,” Mendez said. “A lot of members were upset and felt they were denied the vote.”

Some workers were especially critical that support staff at centers, like book keepers, cooks and custodians, who will earn the legally-required minimum wage starting in 2018 — which they would have gotten regardless — will not see much more than that. Many of these workers have been relying on public assistance because of their low wages.

“Why would a head cook, who cooks from scratch, plans menus, washes dishes, stay when at McDonald’s all they have to do is flip burgers and put them on a rack. Unfortunately, a lot of people are planning to leave day care now because of this contract,” said Mendez.

She said the health care plan would require her to pay for diagnostic tests, which would pose a burden to her as someone with asthma, who is often required to take chest X-rays when she has breathing issues.

“If I’m paying more because of my medical condition, I may have to move on as much as I like working in day care,” she said.

Others acknowledged that the contract is not a cure-all.

“The labor contract for teachers and support staff in more than 300 child care programs represents the city’s acknowledgement that the survival of community-based early childhood education is important,” Andrea Anthony, executive director of the Day Care Council of New York — which represents the centers’ management — said in a statement. “We know there’s still more left to be done. We will continue to bring the issues of fair and comparable compensation to the city’s administration attention.”