New Contract Gets Green Light Amid Shaky Voting Procedure

By Elliot Chen August 31, 2023

School therapists ratify disputed contract in a second vote under criticisms of the procedure being undemocratic.

A controversial second vote on a contract has led to its ratification, sparking criticism and accusations of the process being undemocratic. The agreement between the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) and the city was endorsed by 89% of the over 2,000 occupational and physical therapists who voted, as per the independent American Arbitration Association’s recount.

UFT President Michael Mulgrew thanked the "occupational and physical therapists who participated in the union meetings this summer to discuss your contract,” through a Wednesday email to supporters. He continued to state that "The challenge we faced helped build a stronger union."

It’s important to remember that the same contract had previously been rejected during the summer by occupational and physical therapists along with other professional groups, with two-thirds voicing objections largely due to pay issues. However, other parties within the bargaining unit, such as nurses and audiologists, were in favor.

Rather than returning to negotiate, the UFT decided to isolate the therapists from the rest of the unit and directed them to revote – a move that was not required by any other members. This decision brought swift criticism and resulted in the resignation of three key chapter executive board members, among them chapter leader Melissa Williams.

After the ballots were sent and received in August, the counting showed 450 more votes cast in the second session than the original. The opposition votes had also significantly reduced from 1,074 in the first vote to 229 in the second round.

This is not the first time therapists have resisted an initial city contract offer. They rejected the city's first offer in 2018, which led to further negotiation sessions, an outcome many therapists hoped would occur again this time round.

Relief tinged with disappointment followed the ratification process. Vice Chair of physical therapists, Aideen Kwan Dela Cruz shared her feelings about the contract, “I understand why people ratified this contract as they do not see how they can change the union leadership’s stance on not supporting our chapter’s demands,” she stated. “It is disillusioning that we contribute dues to a union that aligns with the employer rather than its members.”

The ratified contract will increase remuneration by 17.58% to 20.42% over its five-year duration, according to UFT. The agreement is retroactive to the previous September. Moreover, it incorporates retroactive payments and a $3,000 ratification bonus. However, critics argue that despite these increases, therapists could still earn approximately $20,000 less per year than a teacher with the same qualifications and service years by the contract's end.

Many members are believed to maintain part-time jobs or contracts to supplement their full-time school therapist work, and the option to voluntarily extend working hours was largely unpopular. Opposition also arises from the hefty student loans that therapists have to shoulder due to their required degrees and certifications in the city’s public school system.