September 26, 2013
By Marc Bussanich

Paul George Hlava works as an ESL teacher with Kaplan
Paul George Hlava works as an ESL teacher with Kaplan

New York, NY—Almost 100 ESL teachers at Kaplan teaching centers in the city voted in June of 2012 to join the Newspaper Guild by a two-thirds majority. But after contract negotiations began in earnest with Kaplan last November, the teachers are still without a contract because they say Kaplan is stalling. Watch Video

It was the first time teachers at Kaplan International, a private language school that teaches English language courses to students from around the world, voted to join a union.

Emily Lessem has been an ESL teacher with Kaplan for five years; she and her colleagues celebrated after they won union recognition. But Kaplan’s stalling tactics to avoid signing a union contract is taking a toll on the teachers. She noted that a few colleagues who played pivotal roles during the unionization campaign have left Kaplan because they can’t survive on their salaries.

Ms. Lessem noted that her colleagues on the negotiating team haven’t been able to discuss, let alone, resolve some of the big ticket items such as wages and healthcare benefits. Instead, Kaplan negotiators insist on talking about secondary issues.

“They’ve made little to no movement on wage increases but insist on random drug testing for teachers. We’ve asked for some small things such as a couple of bereavement days but they keep stalling,” said Lessem.

Teachers earn about $20,000 to start and for both starting and veteran teachers they work without paid sick time (although the new paid sick time law passed in June by the City Council will grant five paid sick days to the teachers starting in April 2014) and inadequate health benefits.

Ms. Lessem sits in during contract negotiations and was shocked to hear from Kaplan officials that preparation time is optional and therefore doesn’t necessitate a pay raise.

“A teacher can’t walk into a classroom without being prepared,” she said.

Lessem said she can’t help but feel that the negotiations are deadpan because the Kaplan negotiators don’t talk about people but just exchange proposals.

“They show no emotions. It feels very cold.”  

Another ESL teacher, Paul George Hlava, has been teaching at Kaplan for four years and he’s seen his share of ups and downs. He has a master’s degree but he said he has nothing to show after four years as an ESL teacher at Kaplan.

“I was putting in 30 or more hours per week teaching but I have zero in my savings, no healthcare, no sick days and no vacation days,” said Hlava.

The union and Kaplan met on Friday, but rather than negotiating for the whole day, Kaplan ended the negotiating session by midday.

“The progress is real slow at each negotiation,” said Hlava.

He noted the two sides don’t meet again until October. Hlava believes that Kaplan is stalling because they hope the teachers grow tired, become demoralized and leave for another job.

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