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Non-unionized Pre-K teachers say new pay raise leaves them in the cold


Aimee Pomaro, 31, a nine-year veteran teacher at Tiny Tots Playhouse in Bay Ridge, is one of the non-unionized, Pre-K teachers left out of last week's mayoral announcement on Pre-k pay parity. Brooklyn, New York, July 19, 2019. (Jesse Ward/for New York Daily News)

When Mayor Bill de Blasio touted a long-awaited pay bump for certified Pre-K teachers at city-funded private programs, Aimee Pomaro thought she was a shoe-in for the raise.

Pomaro has taught for nine years at a nearly century-old family run daycare in Bay Ridge that contracts with the city. She holds a Masters degree and state teaching certification, and got such high scores on her evaluations that the Mayor’s communications team asked to feature her in a promotional video. Like other community-based teachers, she made tens of thousands less than her colleagues at public schools.

But Pomaro lacked one qualification: she, like two thirds of local childcare workers, doesn’t belong to a union. At least for now, the pay raise City Council Speaker Corey Johnson heralded as a “historic” only applies to about 300 certified, unionized teachers. Another 1500 non-unionized educators with identical credentials, according to city estimates, are still waiting to hear if and when they’ll be included.

“When I realized (the pay raise) was only going to be for unionized schools, it seemed like they didn’t really care,” Pomaro said. “They’re only going to make it work for schools willing to fight them on this.”

De Blasio introduced his Universal Pre-K plan in 2014, and has relied on community-based nonprofits to educate a majority of students in the program. A long-standing pay gap has separated the community providers, a historically non-unionized workforce operating through a patchwork of small businesses, from teachers at city schools, who belong to the powerful United Federation of Teachers, and benefit from the same contract negotiations as K-12 teachers.

Pomaro makes just over $50,000 now, but says she would be making more than $80,000 with her qualifications and experience at a public school.

About one third of teachers at community-based programs belong to chapters of District Council 1707, the union that won the raise in the contract negotiations de Blasio announced last week. But most teachers have never belonged to a union, and know little about joining one.

“Early childhood in New York for a century has been served by small community based operations, churches, neighborhood centers, in family daycares,” said Alice Mulligan, who runs a private program in Brooklyn. “Unions have come about for many good reasons, but the majority of us have been operating for decades and have not been part of unions.”

Pomaro said she’s interested in joining a union, but has never been a member and doesn’t know “how the process works.”

City officials promised last week that the new contract with DC 1707's Local 205 would set a “pattern” for negotiations with other union chapters, and that it would create a “pathway” to raising the pay of non-unionized workers.

“This historic deal lays the groundwork for all our providers to recruit, develop, and retain a talented workforce,” said Laura Feyer, Deputy Press Secretary in the Mayor’s Office.

City Hall has not provided details on how and when that will happen.

Until it does, Mulligan said, the Mayor shouldn’t use the term “pay parity.”

“They’re bandying this word around,” she said. “But if parity is only given to some, choose another word.”