NYC Rubber Rooms Still Packed

Just three years ago, New York City Mayor Bloomberg and the United Federation of Teachers publicly heralded a deal to end “rubber rooms,” the reassignment centers that hold suspended teachers accused of incompetence or misconduct, where they collect full salaries and do no work. reports that in 2010, “the city estimated it was spending $30 million a year to pay 550 teachers who were removed from the classroom and who languished — sometimes for years — in reassignment centers known as rubber rooms while they awaited a hearing.”

Yet, on September 26, Mayor Bloomberg announced that his administration is suing the UFT, charging it of welching on the agreement that would end the use of rubber rooms. At issue are provisions calling for the increase in the amount of arbitrators that hear cases, which were intended to shorten the lengthy disciplinary process. Specifically, upping the amount of arbitrators to 39 from 23.

But the Bloomberg administration’s lawsuit alleges the union is holding up the arbitrator selection process. At no time since the parties entered into the agreement has there been a full panel of 39 arbitrators. In addition, “three years after the reforms were scheduled to take place, that number has actually fallen to 19 — while the number of teachers facing trials stands at over 400.”

Not surprisingly, Michael Mulgrew, UFT President, blames the city. He argues that the school system is not proposing qualified candidates for the arbitrator positions. And this is the reason the union has failed to adhere to the 2010 agreement.

Yet, the real problem is compulsory public sector collective bargaining laws that give government unions undue influence in determining the size, scope, cost and effectiveness of public services.