Kaplan Inc., which is owned by The Washington Post Company, which itself sold the actual Washington Post to billionaire Jeff Bezos, has a union problem on its hands.
Last year, 90 Kaplan employees in New York City who teach English as second language (ESL) opted to unionize in the hope of obtaining more benefits and higher pay, reports CNN.
The nascent union wants an hourly rate of about $22 for actual teaching time and at least $13 for time spent checking students’ work and planning lessons. Currently, Kaplan’s ESL teachers make $7.25 an hour — New York’s minimum wage — for this non-classroom work.
As for benefits, instructors typically work only 30 hours each week. Consequently, they are considered part time and are eligible for little in the way of benefits. The union wants some kind of health insurance option — current there isn’t one — and paid time off.
The for-profit education giant — best known for standardized test prep — has rebuffed demands for higher hourly wages in New York City. Seventeen months after negotiations began, Kaplan’s unionized employees are exactly zero percent better off.
The Newspaper Guild of New York is the union representing the Kaplan teachers.
“These are people who have master’s degrees, who bring in a ton of money for Kaplan because the ESL courses are so expensive, and yet they’re getting minimum wage to grade essays and no benefits,” Guild president Bill O’Meara told CNN.
An unidentified Kaplan spokesman blamed labor laws for preventing the company from changing wages and benefits while it is in the midst of negotiations with a union.
Meanwhile, Kaplan employees in other cities have seen an increase in prep-time pay from the minimum wage to $12 per hour.
“We think they were trying to set an example and stop other Kaplan centers from organizing,” O’Meara said.
Emily Lessem, a Kaplan ESL teacher in New York, told CNN that she brings home about $23,000 annually.
“I’ve been really cheated out of a lot of money and benefits,” Lessem complained to CNN.
According to Bankrate.com, a person making $23,000 who lives in the New York City borough of Brooklyn earns the equivalent of a person making about $12,000 per year in St. Louis, Mo. and about $15,000 in Portland, Ore.
The next round of negotiations between Kaplan and its unionized ESL teachers is set for Oct. 25.
Kaplan, which operates a large number of online and traditional brick-and-mortar programs, has come under withering Congressional scrutiny for many questionable practices including sleazy recruiting tactics.
“Internal Kaplan documents indicate that Kaplan recruiters were expected to enroll as many students as possible, and that they were trained in high-pressure sales tactics to do so,” reads a typical quote from a 2012 Senate report. “An email from the president of Kaplan’s Davenport campus instructed, ‘Every lead is to be called a minimum of 3 times per day! Every day until contact is made!’ Kaplan especially encouraged contacting ‘impulse’ leads because ‘they may lose interest and move on to something else.’”
“Documents show that during sales calls or interviews, recruiters were told to find prospective students’ ‘pain and fears’ and to use those areas to convince them that a degree was the best way to alleviate them. A rubric given to recruiters told them to ask: ‘If you don’t make this change, how do you think your future looks?’”
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