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Judge urges city, unions into arbitration in turnaround dispute

The first court appearance in the union lawsuit to halt hiring decisions at 24 turnaround schools ended with the judge telling the city and unions to resolve their dispute out of court.

Manhattan Supreme Court Judge Joan Lobis urged the city and teachers and principals unions to resolve their contractual disputes through arbitration, rather than litigation. If the two sides would agree to let an independent arbitrator hear their case, then she would not need to rule on the unions’ request for an injunction to halt hiring at the schools.

Union and city lawyers both said they wanted to resolve the dispute quickly because schools would be harmed if hiring decisions are not made well before the end of the school year.

“If you’re both saying you need the arbitrator as soon as possible, an injunction would not be necessary,” Lobis said. “If what you’re saying is really sincere, then you’ll get it to the arbitrator as quickly as possible.”

After conferring this afternoon, city and union lawyers accepted Lobis’s suggestion. The two sides are meeting tonight to select an arbitrator and meeting dates, with the goal of resolving the legal questions about teacher and principal staffing at the turnaround schools by early June.

If they agree on an arbitrator, the city plans to continue laying the groundwork for rehiring at the schools. But it would hold back from finalizing any personnel decisions until an arbitrator is agreed upon or the matter returns to court.

Still open for dispute is the question of whether there will be one arbitrator to review both the United Federation of Teachers’s case and the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators case (the unions’ preference), or if two arbitrators will review each case individually (the city’s preference).

The city and teachers union have not had good luck letting a third party referee unrelated disputes in the recent past. After negotiations over teacher evaluations broke down in December, the union asked for a third party to step in. The city has resisted entering mediation even as the state’s labor relations board has twice ordered a mediator to step in.

A teacher from Long Island City High School who listened in on the hearing said the turnaround schools will be harmed regardless of the lawsuit’s outcome. “It’s like they’re pushing Humpty Dumpty off a wall,” the teacher said. “You will have a lot of trouble putting [the schools] back together again.”

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