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UFT applies pressure to a charter school balking at pay raises

Frustrated by two years of contract negotiations, the city’s teachers union is pressuring a unionized Queens charter school to make a deal.

United Federation of Teachers president Michael Mulgrew and other union officials held a news conference in front of Merrick Academy-Queens Public Charter School today to protest the school’s contract with a for-profit educational management organization. According to the UFT, over the last four years Merrick Academy’s board has paid over $8 million to Victory Schools, a figure that Mulgrew said was “astronomical.”

At the center of the UFT’s rally today is its ongoing contract talks with the school. Union officials said the school’s board has been dragging its feet on negotiations.

In 2007, an overwhelming majority of teachers at Merrick Academy voted to make the UFT their exclusive bargaining agent, but since then the UFT and school’s board have yet to reach a contract agreement.

Merrick Academy board chair Gerald Karikari said the union is pushing for the school to pay teachers the same salary that regular public schools offer, something he says the school can’t afford to do given the freeze in state aid. Two years ago, the school did pay roughly what districts schools pay, but since then teachers have been without a contract and without raises.

“The union is well aware that charter schools aren’t getting the same per-pupil rate,” Karikari said. “So it’s difficult for me to understand why they would tell their members this is something they’re definitely entitled to and it’s completely unfair if you’re not making what UFT members are making.”

Mulgrew said the school could afford to increase teachers’ salaries if it wasn’t overpaying its management organization.

“They’re telling us they don’t have money so we started looking through their books and they don’t have money because the Victory charter management company is taking all of it,” he said.

Karikari said the issue of payments to Victory Schools was “somewhat of a red herring.”

“The company didn’t stop teachers from receiving raises,” he said. “We couldn’t increase teacher salaries because we’re in the middle of negotiations.”

Merrick signed a contract with Victory Schools before Karikari joined the board, but he said he would reconsider the school’s contract with the organization when it expires next year.

“I have promised them a very very serious review of the management agreement and will definitely address those costs and look at other options in terms of the management of the school,” he said.

The union is also accusing Merrick’s board of hiring an anti-union law firm to represent them in the contract talks.

Mulgrew said that if negotiations don’t move at a faster pace, the union would declare an impasse and move on to state arbitration.

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