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“In ‘No Major City Do OTs And PTs Receive Less Pay Than Their Colleagues In Special Education’” - New York City School Occupational & Physical Therapists ‘Demand’ Parity, Resources & Respect

Published Wednesday, June 15, 2022
by Steve Wishnia/LaborPress
“In ‘No Major City Do OTs And PTs Receive Less Pay Than Their Colleagues In Special Education’” - New York City School Occupational & Physical Therapists ‘Demand’ Parity, Resources & Respect

(NEW YORK CITY) - “Last year, I worked in a vestibule,” Elementary School Occupational Therapist Hannah Fleury tells LaborPress.  When she complained, she says, the school found a space for her in the cafeteria.

Fleury, a Member of the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) Executive Board, was among about 25 to 30 Occupational Therapists (OTs) and Physical Therapists (PTs) who rallied outside the city Department of Education’s Manhattan offices on Monday (June 13th), demanding “pay parity, resources, and respect,” in the contract the UFT is now negotiating with New York City.

The Union represents about 2,700 Occupational and Physical Therapists in city schools.

Their job is to help children with disabilities become more independent and function better in the school environment.

That might include hand-strengthening exercises to help them write, says long-time Physical Therapist Chris Griffin, who’s worked for the Department of Education for 13 years.

Or, it might be helping children who have difficulties with fine motor skills, organizational skills or adjusting to classroom routines and transitions, says Fleury.

“In no major city do OTs and PTs receive less pay than their colleagues in special education,” Occupational Therapist Marilena Marchetti, a UFT Delegate, said.

“It’s time to end the pay and resource disparity OTs and PTs endure and prove to parents that disabled students’ needs matter,” she said.

Occupational and Physical Therapists get a higher starting salary than Teachers, School Psychologists, Guidance Counselors and Social Workers, but it rises at a much slower rate.

An experienced Therapist can start out as high as $86,000 a year, $10,000 more than the maximum for a teacher or a Speech Language Pathologist, but Social Workers and Psychologists, Guidance Counselors and Teachers can reach $100,000 after six to 10 years on the job, while Therapists need at least 15 years.

After 20 years, the difference is more than $15,000.

The actual disparities are higher, the therapists say, because those numbers represent the absolute maximum salary possible and are “probably higher than any OT/PT actually gets paid.”

There are other discrepancies, they add.

Teachers and other Special Education Professionals get a 50-minute paid lunch break.

Occupational and Physical Therapists get 30 minutes - unpaid.

They get a $2,322 for earning a Master’s Degree, while teachers get $7,040.

They aren’t eligible for “line of duty” coverage if injured on the job and they don’t get “per session” pay for working outside of school hours

That includes the five hours of training to detect “implicit bias” now required by the City, says Occupational Therapist Melissa Williams, leader of the UFT’s OT/PT Chapter and annual meetings of the team that handles a child’s Individualized Education Program. 

“It’s a team process,” says Griffin. “We want to support the goals that they’re highlighting.”

But not getting paid, she says, means either volunteering or not going.

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