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What NYC’s preschool teachers deserve: Unionization would cement their salary parity gains


Mayor de Blasio’s July announcement of a salary parity agreement with Local 205 AFSCME District Council 1707 was historic in committing the city to equalize starting salaries for certified teachers in community-based early childhood education organizations with their public school counterparts. While Local 205 members are not municipal employees, city contracts fund the nonprofits operating neighborhood centers serving kids from low-income communities, and the city is on the hook to ensure that the labor contracts are funded.

The agreement is potentially precedent-setting not only locally, but nationally, because it marks a public commitment to greater investment in quality early childhood education as well as a commitment to reach salary parity between teachers in community based organizations and public schools. Nationally, five out of every six preschool teachers work in private settings, most for nonprofit community-based organizations. Only one in six is a public employee.

The new agreement means that certified early childhood teachers in nonprofits will see salary increases ranging from 40%-43% over the next two years, providing starting pay parity with public school preschool teachers. These increases come in response to high turnover and severe teacher recruitment and retention problems among organizations that provide the bulk of New York City pre-kindergarten programs and all center-based early childhood education programs for children 0-3 years of age.

While serious salary disparities have persisted for many years, the recent breakthrough agreement resulted from concerted pressure by the Campaign for Children led by the Citizens Committee for Children, United Neighborhood Houses, FPWA and UJA together with reinvigorated mobilization by members of Local 205 of AFSCME District Council 1707 and their employer counterparts at the Day Care Council of New York. Strong City Council support was also key but the clincher occurred when 1707 joined forces with District Council 37, and Henry Garrido, executive director of the 125,000-member municipal labor powerhouse, got involved in the negotiations.

Garrido’s mastery of municipal bargaining was key in making the numbers work through a contract extension that achieved salary parity for certified teachers as well as health insurance improvements, and an $1,800 ratification bonus and 2.75% future increase for all other workers covered by the Local 205 contract.

While the new agreement is a watershed in many respects, much still remains to be done. The 0-3 early childhood landscape is diverse with agreements still to be worked out for executive directors and teachers in Head Start programs, programs for special needs children, and for other non-Local 205 bargaining units. Much of the heavy lifting has been done since city and union negotiators now have a framework contract pattern.

Two larger challenges remain. The first one, which is front and center right now, is to ensure that the new round of city contracts that fund nonprofit early childhood education programs are smartly crafted and appropriately funded as the Department of Education assumes control in this area for the first time from the Administration for Children’s Services. The other big challenge is to reward teachers for their years of experience and compensate for the longer school year in neighborhood centers.

A more unified early childhood education sector would give workers a stronger voice and nonprofits more clout in negotiating with the city. Service-focused nonprofit human services organizations are the backbone of the local safety net in serving children and communities in need. But collectively they have never wielded the kind of influence that it takes to ensure that their programs are fully funded and their workers are appropriately compensated.

The surest way to bolster bargaining power is for more nonprofits to voluntarily recognize the union, and for the workers themselves to organize to ensure that the union truly reflects their interests. A number of nonprofits have started down this path in the wake of the Local 205 agreement

Unionization would mean that all nonprofit workers would have family health insurance and better retirement security, access to career advancement training, and receive regular pay increases on a par with municipal workers. And provided that unionization entails mobilizing rank-and-file workers as it should, nonprofits would have built-in grass-roots power when it comes to seeking adequate funding for their bread-and-butter service contracts.

The city and taxpayers would win, too, since higher quality early childhood education programs have been shown to be an effective means to boost student educational performance over the long term and a better-compensated workforce helps reduce poverty and income inequality.

Parrott is director of economic and fiscal policies at The New School’s Center for New York City Affairs.