Soundings

Sol Stern
UFT Dress Code
Summer 1998

Not long ago, the Board of Education approved a resolution that required students in New York City’s public elementary schools to wear uniforms. Fine, but isn’t it a bit odd to make Johnny wear a shirt and tie to school while Johnny’s teachers continue to dress as if they’ve just been playing Frisbee on the Great Lawn? Seeing the problem, Mayor Giuliani suggested the logical next step: a dress code for teachers. Unfortunately, the mayor seemingly forgot that the city’s labor contract with the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) has little to do with logic. Under it, school principals can’t use personal appearance as part of a teacher’s evaluation.

And sure enough: a UFT newsletter shouted, "Not so fast, Mr. Mayor!" as though teachers were about to lose a hard-won human right. A dress code requires negotiation," warned union president Randi Weingarten. Asking teachers to look minimally presentable in front of their pupils, Weingarten complained, was “a diversion from the real job at hand." In a typical rhetorical dig at the mayor, Weingarten asked, "How about first establishing a building code?”

From Weingarten’s reaction, it’s clear that if a dress code for teachers ever did get to City Hall’s negotiating table, the UFT’s opening statement would run like this: "Mr. Mayor, as long as our members have to teach in decaying, dirty school buildings, you can’t expect them to dress for work like other city employees. But if you really believe that the way teachers present themselves in the classroom is important, that it has something to do with children learning, we’re prepared to deal: an extra week of vacation for a shirt and tie. Jackets will cost you more. By the way, Mr. Mayor, if we do reach an agreement on the dress code, we could jointly announce it as another historic breakthrough for education reform."

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