In a last-minute reversal, union representing thousands of NYC pre-K teachers calls off strike — for now

The union representing thousands of pre-K teachers has called off a planned strike after the city agreed to begin meeting next week with District Council 1707 and management representatives.

The about-face came less than 48 hours before teachers had been set to walk off the job on Thursday and rally at City Hall to demand higher pay. In many cases, centers had already decided to close their doors, advising parents to make other childcare plans.

“District Council 1707 has agreed to call off the strike and rally scheduled for Thursday May 2 and agreed to refrain from striking while the discussions are ongoing,” officials said in a statement tweeted Tuesday night.

The announcement was just the latest unusual turn in a fight to pay pre-K teachers working in community-run centers the same as their peers in public school classrooms. The union had called a work stoppage even though some of its members had a valid contract, which also included a no-strike clause.

It was unclear immediately after the union’s surprise announcement exactly what led to its apparent truce, or what the parties involved had agreed to. The union declined to comment further.

“The City of New York will commit to convene meetings starting next week with DC 1707 and their respective employers to discuss the union demands on compensation issues and the potential effect on the city’s contracts,” the statement read.

Mayor Bill de Blasio recently suggested the city was already in discussions on the issue and he thought it would be enough to avert a strike.

“We are in dialogue and we are trying to get to a long term outcome that could work for everybody,” he said at a press conference on Thursday.  

Though teachers in community centers technically aren’t city employees, their salaries are dependent on public dollars, funded through contracts awarded by the city to pre-K providers. Teachers in community-run programs earn salaries starting around $42,000, while those in traditional public schools, who are represented by the United Federation of Teachers, start around $59,000. Regardless of the setting they work in, teachers are ultimately required to earn the same credentials and perform the same work.

Operators say the salary gap creates a constant churn of teachers who leave for the bigger paychecks available in city-run classrooms. As a result, many operators agree their employees are underpaid and, although ostensibly management, had tacitly supported the walkout.

“I’m very committed to having happy students, and that entails having happy teachers,” said Margarycel Nuñez, who had planned to shut down the two Brooklyn preschool centers she runs during the strike. “And nobody can be happy if they can’t put food on the table or pay their rent.”

DC 1707 represents two locals who work in publicly funded centers, Local 205 and Local 95. Both voted last month to go on strike. The move was uncommon because many members of Local 205, representing the bulk of the union’s 7,500 members, still have a current contract that runs through 2020.

But advocates sought to seize a unique moment: The city is in the midst of overhauling its early childhood education system by shifting its daycare and preschool service contracts to the education department from their current home in the Administration for Children’s Services. Providers and teachers argued that it was an opportune time for the city to build salary parity into the new arrangement.

Further complicating the union’s position, however, was the fact that Local 205’s contract prohibited a strike. DC 1707 had hoped that the Day Care Council of New York, which represents nonprofit providers, would agree to reopen the contract to address pay. The union believed that would afford their members some level of protection during a work stoppage — but the Day Care Council has said it had to refuse.

“We cannot enable disruption of essential child care services for families and their providers,” Nilesh Patel, an attorney for the council, previously told Chalkbeat in an email.

So the union on Friday dialed back its protest, calling only on members who weren’t governed by a no-strike clause to join the planned walk-out.

Then the union changed tactics again Tuesday night, calling off the strike altogether — at least for now — as it engages in talks with the city and management representatives.