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Teachers on leave won't get $1,000 contract signing bonus

Members of the UFT's Delegate Assembly voted to send the proposed contract to the full union membership in 2014.
Members of the UFT's Delegate Assembly voted to send the proposed contract to the full union membership in 2014.
Twitter/UFT

Thousands of teachers taking a break from the classroom to raise a child or recover from a serious illness will be shut out of a $1,000 cash bonus that could come to members of the city teachers union as early as next week, the union confirmed Tuesday.

UFT members who are on unpaid leave are not included in a city-union deal that provides for bonus checks as soon as the proposed contract is ratified—a stipulation that has some teachers upset.

“It feels a little bit like a slight not to receive that,” said Mollie Bruhn, an elementary school teacher in Brooklyn who is taking a multi-year leave after having a child last spring.

The signing bonus is one of the few financial perks that most of the union’s 100,000 members will receive right away if the proposed $8.97 billion contract is ratified. To afford the nine-year deal — which stretches back to 2009 and forward to 2018—the city arranged for the largest cash payouts to be spread out in smaller sums over six years and not to start for another 16 months.

Bruhn, who started teaching in city schools in 2006, said she found it hard to believe that excluding teachers on leave would truly benefit taxpayers.

“There can’t be that many people who are on leave to exclude us in order to save money,” she said.

In fact, Bruhn is one of about 3,600 UFT members currently on unpaid leave, according to city officials, meaning the deal will save the city about $3.6 million this year.

A city spokesperson said the practice was consistent with contract terms negotiated under former Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Teachers on leave won’t be penalized if they’re out of the classroom when the retroactive payments kick in beginning in 2015. If a person is on unpaid leave at the time of a lump sum payout, they will receive it when they return to work.

Teacher and other school staff members go on unpaid leave for a variety of reasons. They include military service, personal health issues, taking care of an ailing family member, or teaching in a city charter school. Some UFT members are on leave for years and never return.

But a more common reason is related to giving birth and raising a child, though officials wouldn’t provide an exact breakdown of why UFT members were on unpaid leave.

Under city policy, teachers receive at least six weeks of unpaid maternity leave with a guarantee that their jobs will be there when they return. Union officials said that most of these teachers use sick days that they’ve either accrued from previous years or “borrowed” from future years in order to keep receiving paychecks.

Once the maternity leave period ends, many teachers and school staff extend their unpaid leave to continue raising their children. That period can last for up to four years, after which teachers are no longer guaranteed jobs if and when they want to return.

Though critical of being excluded from the bonus, Bruhn praised the flexibility of the city’s leave policy for teachers because it has allowed her to spend time with her son in his formative years.

“It’s kind of a rare thing where you have a job that says, yeah, go ahead and take a year, or four years off,” Bruhn said.

Union officials said they expect to announce result of the voting process as early as June 3.

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