Why does the UFT leadership negotiate contracts that don’t respond to our or our students’ needs?

The explanation most often given by the opposition in the UFT has been: the UFT leadership is out of touch, they’ve been out of the classroom too long, so they make the wrong demands, and are willing to accept givebacks.  This is a good start for an explanation, but there are important parts missing in this.

For one thing, this explanation implies DOE would give us what we need if our leaders would only ask for it, and if our leaders merely said, “No,” would withdraw demands for givebacks.  Clearly, that’s not true.

The DOE and the City Administration will resist any demands that spend more revenue on needs of working families and poor families, whether its own employees or most of city’s students: raises, benefits, class size, workloads, supplies and so on.  For complex political reasons, as well as fiscal concerns, it will resist giving employees more control over work.

So, the union needs a strategy to overcome this resistance to win enough to keep the union and its current leadership viable.

The strategy the UFT has adopted for over forty years has been to cultivate relationships with “friendly politicians,” mayor, state legislators, governor, city council, and so forth. Mainly these relationships are with Democrats, but sometimes also Republicans.

UFT leaders make “friends” with politicians most obviously by giving them support in election campaigns support: the UFT’s default policy is to support incumbents.  This is especially true of legislators. UFT leaders also lobby on behalf of political leaders, supporting legislation the latter want, such as funding for projects they want, or mayoral control.

But there is another “service” the UFT leadership offer in exchange for sufficient contract gains to remain viable, that is less obvious but equally, if not more, important.  It manages the membership to limit its demands on the DOE and the state. It does this by lowering members’ expectations, by instilling fear of fighting or striking, or of even rejecting a contract, and channeling membership anger and demands into limited safe, and harmless, activities, such as fighting to save their own school instead of fighting against the policy of school closings.  It sells “reforms” politicians want, like ratings based on student performance, to the membership. So, bad contracts are “baked into” this strategy: it can’t be used to get better contracts

The most important politician for the contract is the mayor.  UFT has tried to develop this relationship with every Mayor from Dinkins in 1990. The UFT and Democratic mayors have publicly portrayed each other as “friends”. UFT has “helped out” these mayors at members’ expense: In 1991, the UFT managed a delay of raises negotiated the previous year when there was a shortfall in the city’s budget.  The 2014 contract helped De Blasio by setting a low pattern for other city contracts, and giving up any real retro pay, postponing both receiving the supposed “retro” raises and the back pay to future times in the contract. The UFT and Republican Mayors have publicly treated each other as “foes.” But the UFT still managed the membership, seeking in return just enough to make that management successful by forestalling rank and file revolt.    

This did not protect the members from a two year pay freeze under Giuliani, the worst giveback contract ever in 2005 and then a 5 year pay freeze from 2009 to 2014 under Bloomberg.  So, members pay a price when the mayor is “friendly,” and do even worse when mayor is hostile.

To get better contracts, we need more than leaders recently in classroom, who are “in touch.”  We need a different strategy.

It isn’t difficult to imagine a strategy that would be more successful than the one the UFT is currently pursuing.  For the past half dozen years teachers around the United States have engaged in protests, job actions, and strikes. They have won victories in Chicago, West Virginia, Oklahoma, and in several school districts in the Pacific Northwest.

Unity/UFT leaders contend that our union members are unwilling to engage in that kind of activism. But that claim is hollow. UFT leaders have made no real effort to activate the membership or convince them that a confrontational strategy could work. They have no way of judging how far our members are willing to go.

The UFT can prepare our members for higher levels of activism. One or two years before the expiration of the new contract the union can launch a member-driven campaign to set contract goals and decide on a course of action to win those goals. The campaign could begin with multi-school membership meetings in which members can share experiences and determine what goals they have in common. The union could encourage joint actions such as color days, and “honor pickets” in which members rehearse for a strike by picketing outside school until a few minutes before start time and then entering the building together. Borough and city-wide protests can develop a sense of union solidarity and collective purpose. Finally, as a union we can appeal to various community organizations through joint actions which link our contract campaign to a collective effort to fund our schools and make our city livable again.  

Even the Unity/UFT leadership has led activities like this in the past. For example, prior to the 2005 contract the union encouraged chapters to organize pickets to demand a fair contract. There were UFT rallies at borough offices, honor pickets, color days, all of which culminated in a 20,000-strong gathering at Madison Square Garden in June 2005. Members demonstrated that they could be responsive to a leadership that wanted to organize them. Unfortunately, the following fall the UFT dropped the mobilization campaign and instead settled for a contract loaded with givebacks. Since then the union has negotiated three contracts: one beginning in 2007, one in 2009, and one in 2019.  But it did not prepare an active contract campaign for any of them, which is probably why we have not won back anything that we gave up in 2005.

Following the victories of teacher activism and teacher strikes in so many parts of the country it should be easier for a teacher union to point to successful strikes as examples to follow. So why won’t the Unity/UFT leadership do this? Why do they continue with a business-as-usual approach? Unfortunately, the answer is that the UFT, like most unions in the United States, is run by people whose principal interest is to maintain the stability of the union as an organization. Since its founding in 1962 the UFT has evolved into a massive institution which collects more than ten million dollars per month in dues. This revenue stream sustains a vast bureaucracy of hundreds of office staff, district and special representatives, and union officers. For the most part they are paid more than we rank and file members are and have better working conditions. They make and carry out policies whose purpose is to maintain the stability of the UFT as an organization because that is the best guarantor of their higher salaries, better working conditions and their jobs themselves. They have little interest in mobilizing for the best contract we can achieve. Strike preparation is risky activity.   It raises members’ expectations, which makes us less likely to vote to approve contracts with givebacks and inadequate raises. It creates rank and file leaders, who could potentially effectively challenge incumbent UFT tops for office.

Strikes themselves are even riskier.  In New York public sector unions can face financial penalties along with the loss of collaborative relationships with elected officials. Union leaders avoid those risks because they threaten the bureaucracy’s ability to maintain itself at present levels.  Although as rank and file members we also face risks in a strike, it is also the only effective way for us to make significant gains. The union bureaucracy can raise dues and improve their conditions in safer and comfortable ways. And as long as the rank and file keep re-electing the bureaucracy’s candidates and approving their contracts by wide margins, they have no incentive to move outside their comfort zone.

The Unity caucus is the political arm of that bureaucracy.  Caucus membership is a necessary qualification for anyone interested full-time or even part-time employment with the union. And caucus membership requires unconditional support for the union’s leaders, its policies, and whatever contract it negotiates.

The Supreme Court’s Janus decision, which struck down state laws requiring all public employees to contribute at least agency fees to their union, could have been a wake-up call.  In fact, in 2017 it appeared that the union intended to prepare for the eventual court ruling by activating its membership. It sent “door-knockers” to the homes of tens of thousands of UFT members with talking points that urged members both to stay union and to get more involved in their chapters. These doorway conversations often lasted fifteen minutes or more. However, by late spring the UFT changed the focus. The conversations were moved into the schools, and were cut to 30-60 seconds.  Members were now only asked to commit to continue paying union dues. The UFT leadership showed that it is more committed to maintaining its income stream than in developing a more inspiring and activist vision of unionism.

Unity/UFT leaders believe they can sustain the union by maintaining close and collaborative relations with politicians. However, the 2019 contract shows the limits of that strategy. We just ratified a deal in which our wages will fail to keep pace with inflation and new teachers will receive an inferior health care plan. This deal was negotiated at a time in which New York had a Democratic governor and the most liberal Democratic mayor we have seen in decades. The 2019 contract, therefore, likely represents the upper limit of what our current union leadership can achieve.

Frighteningly, in the post-Janus world, a public sector union that cannot inspire members, risks losing them. In September 2018 UFT President Michael Mulgrew reported that no more than five active members had dropped out of the union so far. However, only 2600 out of 4000 new hires had joined the union. A union that mobilizes and energizes them can convince them that dues are worth paying. A union that cuts their health care benefits will have a tougher sell.

We can turn things around. Teachers around the United States are showing that another model of unionism is realistic and effective. We, the rank and file, must insist that, and pressure, our union to prepare for the next contract battle by engaging members to more actively protest around issues such as over-sized classes, abusive administrators, or unsafe and unsanitary building conditions. Concrete victories can demonstrate that union activism is worthwhile and prepare our members for bigger battles in the future.

-Kit Wainer, Chapter Leader Goldstein H.S., and Marian Swerdlow, former CL FDR H.S., retired

We should be organizing members and parents at the school, district, borough, and citywide level to demonstrate to elected officials that we have many concerns that have lone gone unmet – overcrowded classrooms, deteriorating school conditions, the disappearance of educators of color, and punitive discipline programs just to name a few.

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The new UFT-DOE contract makes no change in the 50-year wait for lower class sizes, a fair grievance procedure, and a rational job security process, among other issues. Newer teachers will still have to endure 4 or more years of harassment and hundreds of pages of tenure application paperwork, the DOE and administrators will still have the same ability to skirt the contract while chapter leaders and union members are held accountable for small offenses, and the general class size limits of 34 students in high schools will not budge a bit.

While the UFT should be applauded for negotiating minor improvements in the number of observations, the overall agreement is a readymade rhetorical exercise in the “students first” claims of education “reform” advocates who really just want to cut resources and spending from public schools. Press releases by both the De Blasio administration and the UFT leadership of Michael Mulgrew proclaimed that the tentative collective bargaining agreement goes beyond teachers and workers and instead focuses on improving the work of students in schools.

I, and many other teachers, care equally about learning conditions as we do about working conditions, because we have come to the conclusion that the two, at their core, are symbiotic, if not essentially the same. However, the details of the agreement seem to indicate this potential contract would be a continuing disaster for students, parents, and educators alike. While there are steps towards a more rigorous arbitration process over class size violations, it is unclear how much on-the-ground conditions will change, as administrators are already able to ignore legal limits during pivotal periods early in the year, and all the contract does is shift around some numbers and add more bureaucratic committees of UFT-DOE collaboration.

Notably, there are no reductions in the class size caps for K-12 courses, which run as high as 34 students in general education high school classes and 50 students in music and physical education high school classes. This is despite many assurances to teachers from   UFT leaders that class size was indeed a priority in these contract negotiations. As the Movement of Rank-and-File Educators has predicted for the past year, there was never any real commitment to lowering class size. Union leaders have admitted as much, saying that the city made it clear it wouldn’t be on the bargaining table.

Unfortunately, this is the type of position from which our union decided to bargain, instead of organizing the membership of educators to publicly demand a better contract, as has happened in states all over the country with teacher strikes, or at least strike readiness. The decision was to cave on core issues and assume that the allegedly progressive mayor would give a good deal. Instead, it is a deal riddled with givebacks such as a pay “raise” that doesn’t match inflation, second-tier healthcare for new teachers, prescreening psychological “stress” tests for new teachers, and an increase in remote education programming.

Hard TO Swallow uft contract (1)

While class size reductions would be a broad programmatic change that could benefit all students, the tentative contract instead includes more of the band-aid measures that have marked the warm 5-year marriage between the UFT and De Blasio, a marriage with a parsimonious attitude towards effective spending on education.  

In 2014, the De Blasio administration announced the beginning of the Renewal Schools project, which focused on funneling massive amounts of money, sometimes carelessly, into schools which the city had identified as low-performing. At the time, the UFT applauded the administration as rational and just, as if anything other than big Bloomberg-era austerity cuts and overt charter expansion was a blessing.

In 2018, the UFT and DOE have now announced the so-called “Bronx Plan”, which is similarly a band-aid measure. It focuses on certain struggling schools, claiming to give workers higher pay and more control, but also involving vaguely worded parallel structures to the main collective bargaining agreement,  leaving open threats to the security and solidarity of workers. Further, it does nothing to address the 100,000 NYC school children who are homeless, many of whom live in the Bronx. Nor does it address the 595,000 NYC students who attend overcrowded schools

The UFT, meanwhile, announced on October 11 that it wanted to convene an emergency session of its Delegate Assembly the next day, in order to recommend this agreement be presented to the overall membership for approval. However, the document was  over 60 pages and most DA members did not have time to adequately review this, let alone work the “emergency” assembly meeting into their schedules. [Why was it an emergency? That’s unclear. The current contract wasn’t going to expire for months.]

The union leadership is attempting to fast-track an agreement that its members are not even familiar with yet, and which lacks any progress on issues such as class size, which is demanded by and benefits teachers, parents, and students alike. At a time when New York’s mayor is a self-proclaimed progressive in the largest city in the country, we should be pushing for a bold contract. The UFT needs to mobilize membership to demand the DOE make a contract that doesn’t include more meager raises and band-aid programmatic changes. Of course, with ballots rushed and due by the end of the month, chances are this conversation and mobilization won’t happen. However, as more rank-and-file members become aware of the lack of democracy and the lack of any real progress in our bargaining agreements with the city, the tides could shift and this wave of apathy could wash away, along with many of our union and city government leaders who lack vision and bold ideas.

 

Andrew Worthington is an English and special education teacher and the chapter leader at PACE HS in Manhattan.

Throughout the entire rushed process of ratifying this contract deal, the UFT leadership has insisted that there are no givebacks and that the process is transparent and open.

However, the contract MOA clearly states that the raises are contingent on the union’s acceptance of an agreement between the city and the Municipal Labor Committee (MLC), an umbrella group of public employee unions, on $1.1 billion dollars of health care savings.  Where is this money coming from? It’s completely unclear, whether from the city Office of Labor Relations, the UFT information, or the letter of agreement between the MLC and city.

However, we have obtained a detailed list of the proposed savings areas and the cost of each, which for the first time is publicly detailed below. Take a look and ask yourself if this is really a giveback free contract.

Some highlights for a memo summarizing the June 18th meeting of the MLC Steering Committee:



Year 1:  $200 Million

1) $131 million in residual savings from the 2014 City and MLC health savings agreement

2) $40 million in savings from changes to the Empire health plan that include three basic components:

  • Site of Service Redirection – Empire will implement a program to shift outpatient services from hospital based sites (which charge higher rates) to office based sites (which charge less); the program will not be obligatory, but will encourage members to use lower cost office based services when they are available and appropriate;
  • Engaging the “WinFertility” care management company to reduce the costs associated with multiple premature births that require high cost neonatal ICU stays. WinFertility provides intensive genetic screenings and counseling to reduce the incidence of these outcomes for parents who are receiving fertility treatments;
  • Tighter control of length-of-stay standards for hospital providers, including aggressive review and claw-backs of unnecessary or excessive expenses charged by hospital providers;
  • None of these programs to generate services would entail any added costs to members in the form of increased co-pays or out-of-pocket costs, though more details about the Site of Service Redirection are needed.

3) $25 million in savings from changes to the Emblem Rx Formulary list and emphasis on “Smart 90” program to expand the mail order of medications in 90 day batches; the formulary changes are mostly related to shifting to more generics, but more details need to be provided.

4) $10 million in savings by implementing various Emblem Health Plan HMO updates to generate cost reductions of a technical nature with no impact on members;

Year 2: $300 Million

1) $40 million in recurring savings from the 2014 health care agreement;

2) $50 million in savings from the various Empire Plan changes discussed above, including site of service, WinFertility and length of stay claw backs from provider hospitals. In the first year, these savings were prorated at $40 million because they would not be in place for a full year;

3) $40 million in savings on the basic GHI CPB plan, stemming from implementation of a Centers of Excellence Plan under which the plan will contract with high quality and low cost providers for certain specified services; this will begin with oncology and orthopedic hospital centers and expand to other services over time;

4) $31 million in Emblem Rx formulary savings; this is the full year cost savings discussed above;

5) $213 million in Emblem HMO savings; this savings is being generated entirely by a written commitment by Emblem HMO to limit its increased charges to the City to 3.5% in FY2020; Emblem was budgeted for a 6.5% increase in FY2020; Emblem is thus passing 3% in savings to the City and assuming the costs out of its pocket by guaranteeing the savings to the city regardless of actual costs that it incurs;

6) Emblem health expects to generate the savings it has guaranteed to the city from the implementation of a Wellness Program which will provide incentives (not mandatory) for employees to sign up and participate in care management programs involving screenings to diagnose nascent health issues and assignment of nurses to engage members in care management; Sites of Service plans; Centers of Excellence for orthopedic and oncology, expanding to cardiology and other areas; Rx savings (formulary and Smart90).

7) In addition, in exchange for the commitment to cap its increase in premium costs to the city at 3.5%, Emblem is asking for an agreement that all new hires will have to enroll in the HMO plan for the first year of employment; this requirement would be only for the first year, after which employees will be free to switch to any plan they wish; this requirement would not apply to existing employees or employees who transfer from one agency to another or who receive promotions to a higher title.

Year 3: $600 million

1) $40 million in recurring savings from the last healthcare agreement;

2) $50 million in ongoing savings from the Empire plan (discussed above);

3) $45 million in ongoing GHI CPB savings (discussed above);

4) $31 million in ongoing Rx savings (discussed above);

5) $435 million in Emblem HMO savings with Emblem agreeing to cap the increase in its premium charges to the city at 3% (versus the budgeted increase in premiums for FY2021 of 6%); again, Emblem will guarantee these savings out of its own pocket and if the target is not met, it will eat the loss;

6) To help offset its lost revenue, Emblem health is again asking that the agreement require new hires to enroll in the HMO plan for the first year of their employment for the second year.

The best way to get laughed out of the UFT Delegate Assembly is to ask about lowering class size limits. “The City will never buy it”, “it’s that or your raises, nobody is willing to give anything up to achieve that” etc… I certainly know teachers who would be willing to make some trades for lower class size limits, but more to the point, there’s no reason they should have to; we CAN demand more, we just have to be willing to back up our demands with action. At those same Delegate Assemblies, we frequently hear about the heroic Founders of the union, and how they went out on strike (illegally) to win the rights we currently enjoy. That we have class size limits at all is testament to the power of the militancy of the UFT Founders who were willing to take risks and picket, agitate, and strike for the good of the union, their students, and public education as a whole. Suggest that we do the same today to lower those limits for the first time in 50+ years and you will be dismissed as a deluded radical.

Which brings us to the contract. There seems to be a misunderstanding about what MORE means when we say that this is not the contract UFT members or NYC schools deserve. Some UFTers jump to the “defense” of the negotiating committee, arguing that they did they best they could under the circumstances, take it easy on them. Others places have it worse, they say, stop complaining. The city was never going to give us anything more, and they are going to be annoyed with us if we reject this contract, we might as well approve it. I am personally grateful that UFT members gave up so much of their own time to work on negotiating this contract, and I have no reason to think they did anything other than the best they could under the circumstances.

The problem runs much deeper than anything the negotiation committee could address: it was as though those +/- 400 people were out there on their own, with no support from their hundreds of thousands of colleagues.  No rally, no march, no occupation of City Hall, no credible strike threat much less a strike certification vote. The power of workers like us lies in our labor, and if our employer is completely sure that our leadership will not leverage the potential withholding of that labor and the people power of 200,000 members, why WOULD the city cut us a better deal, regardless of how big the city’s surplus is? You can’t blame someone you’re negotiating with for trying to get the best deal possible from their end- if we want a better result, we’re going to have to apply more pressure.

The core issue here is conciliatory bargaining- it is taken as a given by UFT leadership and their very cozy counterparts in the NYCDOE that the slice of pie we got in the 60’s is all the pie we’re going to get, and contracts are just a question of how we want that slice of pie apportioned; in fact, we are frequently reminded that if we make a fuss, we’re liable to lose the slice of pie we already have. It’s rarely discussed at the Delegate Assembly, at district meetings, or in official UFT communications that militancy was how our slice of pie was achieved in the first place, and if we want more, that’s how we’re going to have to get it. Continue Reading…

The general thrust of this tentative agreement (TA)  is to move from enforcing members’ rights and toward greater collaboration with management.

Part of this is the large number of joint UFT – DOE committees it sets up.

Two of these joint UFT – DOE committees are being set up to formulate “standards,” which are very similar to contract provisions.  Like all the committees set up in this TA, they have the following characteristics: (1) an equal number of members appointed by the UFT president and the Chancellor.  (2) The UFT appointees are unelected, and not directly accountable to the membership. (3) Their meetings are not open to members. Only the Chancellor and UFT President have the power to approve or reject these standards, not the members or even the Delegate Assembly. If Chancellor and UFT President cannot agree, a neutral can be called as mediator. If that is unsuccessful, the TA calls for that neutral to “issue a binding decision,” i.e. binding arbitration.

One of these joint committees, the “Central Committee,” (CC)  will set standards governing “reduction and elimination of unnecessary paperwork, defining a curriculum and when it must be provided to teachers, professional development, the requirement to provide basic instructional supplies. [Item 6]  Furthermore, “Nothing precludes the parties from agreeing to the addition of new System Wide Standards with respect to operational issues.” [Item 6]. Another will set system-wide standards for school safety, positive school culture and climate. [Item 7]

These committees will be, in effect, making contract.  If they cannot, these standards in most cases can be established by arbitration.  So, members are now voting on a TA that will have, in effect, many provisions they cannot possibly know.

Just as alarming, members do not have the power to grieve violations of any of these standards.  Instead, the TA states: “Employees . . . may request that their Chapter Leader raise school-specific Operational Issues with the principal, the employee’s direct supervisor, and/or in a  . . . [consultation meeting]” But this is only a request: the Chapter Leader (CL) has no obligation to honor it. In place of the member filing a grievance, the CL can “raise” the issue. “If the issue is not resolved within five school days . . . the appropriate UFT District Representative (DR) may raise it before the District Committee.”(DC)    If the DC reaches a resolution, it is “subject to approval by the Chancellor.” It the DC cannot resolve it, it “shall refer the issue to the Central Committee for review.” There is no time limit for this last step. If the CC reaches a resolution, it too is “subject to approval by the Chancellor.”

An important difference from the current grievance process is that in the latter,  a neutral arbitrator whose award is not “subject to approval by the Chancellor” comes in at the “third step”   In this new process of committees, the chancellor has final say over even the third step. This delays the introduction of a neutral party.

After the third step, “[f]or alleged violations of the System-wide Standards, the UFT [not the member] may file a grievance . . . [but] it is understood that, PRIOR TO [emphasis added] a grievance being filed, the issue must go through the committee process as described above.  Such grievances shall be filed directly with the DOE’s OLR [Office of Labor Relations] . . . ” So, even at the end of the process of committees, it is still not in the individual member’s power to initiate a grievance.

The TA also specifies that the arbitrator’s written award will be “brief.”  Long awards have often established important rights for members. This would seem to discourage that.  It also says, “The parties shall negotiate pre-arbitration hearing procedures so each party is aware of the allegations and defenses being raised at the arbitration . . . ”  The current contract doesn’t seem to have a provision like this. If this is a new provision, it also signals additional cooperation between the union and the DOE.

So, to summarize, these changes will (1) force members to vote on a TA whose provisions they do not know, because these provisions, called “standards” in the TA, are to be determined in the future by joint committees;  (2) delay arbitration by channeling the adjudication of complaints about violations of these standards through a hierarchy of joint committees before they can be grieved. (3) Completely deny members any right to grieve over these standards.

Other similarly structured joint committees that are not establishing standards but will have a bearing on working conditions and even salary include: a Joint Labor Management Committee “to review and discuss programming in the schools . . . ” [Item 19]; a “Professional Learning Team . . . charged with the planning of an annual training session schedule . . . regarding the implementation of the observation cycle,” [Item 10] a Joint Accreditation Committee (JAC) to take part in the revision of the criteria for courses that will count toward the second differential.  Even “[t]he posting for these deans positions shall be jointly created by the UFT and the Board (DOE)” The training of Deans “shall be jointly developed by the UFT and the Board (DOE) [Item 7]. Another joint committee will “design and implement” the Remote Teaching Pilot Program.” [Item 16] In this last example, if the committee cannot reach a consensus, “the UFT President and Chancellor shall jointly make the final decision,” rather than an arbitrator as with most of the committees.

The TA’s way to handle class size violations likewise delays the grievance process, channeling complaints through a hierarchy of joint committees.  The UFT leaders call this an “expedited” process, but, as others have pointed out, it will actually take longer for grievances of over-sized classes to reach binding arbitration this new way.  

Under the current contract, school administrations have the first ten days of classes to get classes down to legal size.  The union can file for arbitration two days after that, and arbitration must begin no later than five days after that. So class size violations can begin to be arbitrated 17 school days after classes begin.  

In the TA’s so-called “Expedited Procedure for Class Size”  it isn’t until the 21st day that the violations go to yet another joint UFT – DOE committee, the Class Size Labor Management Committee (CLMC).    The CLMC will “attempt” to resolve the violations. (Only for schools “chronically out of compliance” does the CLMC start to attempt a resolution earlier, on the tenth day.  But even for those schools, the CLMC only “attempts” a resolution.)

Only when the CLMC fails to reach a resolution may the UFT, in 2 days, file for arbitration, and then arbitration must begin in 5 days.  So, this change actually delays for at least eleven school days the violations reaching a neutral party whose decision is binding. It appears that the grievance process, which already functioned poorly, will be increasingly delayed by a journey through a series of joint union-DOE committees, operating by consensus, whose decisions are non-binding and can, in almost all instances, be vetoed by the DOE.

These changes are part of a turn away from an adversarial model of labor management relations, which was based on enforcing the contract through grievance and arbitration, and toward management by consensus and joint-ness.  This was already the direction in practice and to some extent in the last contracts, but this new agreement codifies and consolidates it.

The most glaring danger is that at some future date, a hostile city administration along the lines of a Giuliani, Bloomberg or Emanuel, comes to office, and this regime could use this collaborative model very powerfully against the union.  

But even with a “friendly” administration, this turn gives members less control over working conditions.  They cannot vote on the “standards” which will govern many of them. Their ability to protect their rights will be limited and delayed, making it more likely that school administrations will violate these rights.  This weakens the union at the chapter level at a time when the loss of the right to collect agency fees has made the union more vulnerable than ever.

Its role in speeding up this ongoing shift in the general orientation of the union is another reason why this TA should be rejected.  

-Marian Swerdlow, retired
Former Chapter Leader, FDR High School, Brooklyn

“What happens if we vote it down?”
“What will happen if we don’t approve the contract?”

People ask and want to know the answer.  Whatever happens, experience says it won’t be the “doom and gloom” scenario that UFT leaders threaten it will be.

In fall, 1995, UFT leaders unveiled a tentative agreement with no raises in the first two years, and givebacks in pay, benefits and working conditions.  As the membership ratification vote proceeded, it was obviously in danger of rejection. Then-president Feldman wrote in a letter to the membership dated November 12, 1995:

“What would happen if the members reject this agreement and send us back to the bargaining table?  I believe we would be faced with chaos and crisis. Job security would be gone and massive layoffs could begin as early as February.  By next year, between the city, state and federal cuts, the layoffs of teachers and paraprofessionals could reach into the thousands.

“In addition, if we reject this settlement, we probably would lose some of the very positive gains we won in the agreement such as longevity on eligibility date and electronic deposit.  And all those givebacks we successfully fought off such as loss of prep times, sabbaticals and the mid-winter recess – would go back on the bargaining table. Nor is there much of chance that a rejection of this contract would result in a better agreement . . .”

These scare tactics failed, and the contract was voted down.  How did the results compare with Feldman’s fearmongering?

  1. There was no chaos.  There was no crisis.
  2. Not a single UFT member was laid off.
  3. A new proposed pact was negotiated before the end of the same school year.  
  4. It retained all of the modest gains in the rejected pact.
  5. It didn’t have any new givebacks.  Prep times, sabbaticals and the February recess stayed.
  6. It was a better agreement, if only slightly.  The worst givebacks were axed: a provision to hold back 5% of the salary of new teachers was removed.  Instead of 25 years to top pay, it was reduced to 22 years. A few small sweeteners were added.

The takeaway is that union leaders will use threats to get a contract approved, but in the one case where a contract was rejected, all those threats proved baseless.

But the second proposal, which the membership accepted, still had no raises in the first two years. Although the union went back to the negotiating table, it did not organize the members to fight and pressure the city for a better deal.  So, it takes more than just voting “no” to get a significant improvement in a contract. It takes a struggle by the rank and file and allies.

-Marian Swerdlow,
Retired 
Chapter Leader, FDR High School, Brooklyn