For some New York City children, preschool might not be in session on May 2. “In solidarity with their union’s decision to demonstrate against unfair salaries funded by the City of New York, our employees may not report to work on this day,” Michelle Paige, the associate executive director of University Settlement’s early childhood education division, wrote in a letter to parents on Friday. “Despite University Settlement’s advocacy efforts, the early childhood employees are still fighting for salaries that support their professional dedication to the education and care of our children.”
The potential strike has been in the works for weeks. University Settlement’s letter follows March strike authorization votes by members of AFSCME District Council 1707; the union represents educators employed by community-run day cares and preschools. “They need to be paid what they’re worth,” Kim Medina, the district council’s executive director, told WNYC on April 2.
Though the city doesn’t directly pay these educators, it does provide funding for them in its budget. A strike, then, is a headache Mayor Bill de Blasio doesn’t want. The mayor just brandished his pro-labor credentials on Thursday, when he criticized the management of BuzzFeed News for standing up its staff union at a scheduled meeting.
Universal pre-kindergarten is one of de Blasio’s signature programs, and it has extra significance now, amidst reports that the mayor is seriously considering a run for president. Expanding public access to free pre-k helped the mayor polish his reputation for progressive politics. If he runs for president, the program would likely become a key selling point for his candidacy; not only does he need the program to work, he needs it to work without engendering much controversy. Though the program accomplished the mayor’s basic goal of getting more children in pre-k and now pre-3 education, teachers in community-run preschools say it hasn’t been quite as beneficial for them, and controversy may soon become unavoidable.
DC 1707’s demands center on the issue of pay parity. Teachers employed by community-run preschools and day cares say they’re getting paid less than their peers in public schools, even though they’re part of the same pre-k program. According to WNYC, educators at community-run programs in NYC make $15,000 to $30,000 less than comparably-trained educators in public schools. One teacher told Chalkbeat.org in March that she sometimes skips lunch because she can’t afford to eat, and that despite a decade of work experience, she makes barely over $15 an hour. These low salaries are in keeping with national trends. Though the cost of child care is steadily rising, one state-by-state analysis released in 2018 revealed that 86 percent of infants and toddler teachers make less than $15 an hour, Education Week reported at the time.
The University Settlement letter urges parents to contact city council members and ask them to include pay parity in future budgets.