April 18, 2014
By Marc Bussanich
New York, NY—After nearly two years when about 100 teachers working at Kaplan decided to join The Newspaper Guild of New York in June 2012, they voted to approve the first-ever contract with the for-profit education company on Thursday, April 16. Video
It’s been a long road for the mostly part-time teachers who reached out to the Guild to prevent what they say were unfair terminations and to improve benefits. For example, many of the teachers have advanced degrees but were earning sometimes less than the city’s minimum wage.
Last year, according to the Guild, which is part of Local 31003 of the Communications Workers of America, it seemed the teachers and Kaplan were on the verge of signing a contract, but the company wasn’t willing to resolve some outstanding differences.
But the union announced on Tuesday that it reached a tentative agreement with Kaplan that calls for raises and workplace protections. Some of the improved benefits include an increase in the rate for class prep time to $12 an hour from $8 an hour, a company-paid subsidy of $20.33 per pay period toward the cost of health insurance and a 401(k) matching contribution.
Emily Lessem has been teaching at Kaplan for the past three years and is the chair of the Guild unit at the school. She said it’s been a long and difficult battle as numerous negotiations last year with Kaplan didn’t yield a deal.
“There was a lapse in talks and some frustration across the table, but this year we were finally able to speak more candidly about what each side could live with,” said Lessem.
Although the teachers feel they didn’t get the contract they had hoped for, nonetheless they’re glad to have a contract that affords some basic protections at the workplace.
“It’s bitter sweet. I’m really happy that we’re getting a contract and getting some important things like job security,” Lessem said.
Bill O’Meara, the Guild’s president, said in the video interview that while it’s difficult to organize a new unit, that looks easy compared to signing the first contract.
“Getting a first contract is a big accomplishment these days and these folks understood that going in that it was going to be a hard road to hoe,” said O’Meara.
Some of the other benefits stipulated in the contract include paid bereavement leave for all employees, a minimum hourly rate and protections from subcontracting of work.
Regarding the 401(k) contribution, the company will match 1 percent for part-time employees (prior to the agreement, part-timers weren’t eligible to participate) and match 2 percent for full-time employees, with an increase to a match of 3 percent after five years of service.
The contract is set to expire in two years on April 16, 2016.
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