Horns blared from passing traffic in the Hugh J. Grant Circle roundabout in Parkchester last Wednesday afternoon. Chants could be heard from a rally across the street.
“What do we want?”
“When do we want it?”
The May 24 rally was put on by members of the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) union, a coalition of New York City Department of Education (DOE) employees who are calling on Mayor Eric Adams to meet their contract negotiation standards. According to the union, their last DOE-UFT contract expired on Sept. 13, 2022.
Mary Atkinson, the UFT Bronx borough representative, said during the rally at Virginia Park that a lot of the issues the team is negotiating comes down to respect. Her post at the UFT Bronx office now is a full-time job, but she said she was previously a teacher in Washington Heights for about 25 years.
“We are looking for the DOE to respect educators, give us autonomy in the work that we need to do,” she said. “Respect teachers and other professionals’ time … they don’t need to micromanage every single minute of our day.”
The UFT started its negotiations with the city back in October 2022 — after the current contract had already expired. According to the union, the terms of the old contract remain in effect until a new agreement is made with the DOE and passed by UFT members.
Atkinson said the UFT has rallied for contract amendments in the past, although it doesn’t happen every negotiation cycle. Earlier this spring, the UFT hosted a citywide contract grade-in, where teachers brought their grading, paperwork and planning work to public spaces to demonstrate how much they do off the clock.
DOE employees at the rally pointed out an array of changes they’re seeking in a new contract — from pay bumps and smaller class sizes, to an increase in school librarians and a decrease in assessment-based merit standards.
Jocelyn Brown, a sixth grade math teacher at Mott Hall III just south of Crotona Park, said she came out to demonstrate for gradual pay increases over time, smaller class sizes and “less tedious” required paperwork.
“We work for peanuts,” she said.
According to the DOE, employee pay is based on prior experience, academic degrees earned and academic coursework completed. The base pay for teachers starting out with a bachelor’s degree is $61,070, with bumps to $63,120 and $66,909 for an additional 30 credits and 60 credits, respectively. The base pay for a teaching starting out with a master’s degree or a bachelor’s degree plus 30 credits, with 36 credits in an area of specialization, is $68,652.
The base pay for an 18-year-tenured teacher, like Brown, is $96,189.
Brown said her career has been rewarding. One of the most fulfilling parts of her job is seeing her former students into adulthood — she said she recently reconnected with a parent of one of her old students who graduated from Columbia University after studying neuroscience.
“You see the fruits of our labor,” she said. “These are the rewards.”
Other educators at the rally like Sandy Wong — a kindergarten teacher at the South Bronx’s PS 30 — said the curriculum places too much emphasis on testing, rather than other forms of learning.
“The teachers would like more time teaching their students how to read instead of wasting time doing duplicitous DOE tests,” she said on the microphone at the rally. “Our students are stressed over testing, they don’t want to come to school. Attendance (is) down across the city. How do we teach students if they’re not at school?”
The 23-year tenured educator said she was also championing for more financial investment in enrichment programming in Bronx schools.
But it wasn’t just teachers who showed up to picket for contract negotiations.
Leni Abraham, a physical therapist, said she’s been with the DOE for 15 years. She said she came out to advocate for equal pay ladders for physical and occupational therapists with advanced degrees.
“We sit at the same table … (we) service the same students,” Abraham said. “It feels like we’re begging for scraps.”
State Sen. Robert Jackson, who represents parts of Manhattan and the West Bronx in the 31st Senatorial District, came to Virginia Park to support the union.
“I drove all the way from Albany to be with you, to say to you: I’m here with you,” Jackson told the crowd on Wednesday. “Let me tell you, you have a lot of people in Albany that want you to get a contract now.”
Bronx Borough President Vanessa Gibson also made an appearance and spoke in support of the UFT.
The Department of Education referred questions to New York City Mayor Eric Adams’ office, which did not respond to requests by the Bronx Times for comment.
The rally in Parkchester was just one of five UFT rallies across the city on Wednesday. Demonstrators also gathered in Downtown Brooklyn, Kew Gardens in Queens, the Franklin D. Roosevelt Boardwalk and Beach in Staten Island, and Harlem in Manhattan.
Reach Camille Botello at [email protected]. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @bronxtimes