“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?
- There was no chaos. There was no crisis.
- Not a single UFT member was laid off.
- A new proposed pact was negotiated before the end of the same school year.
- It retained all of the modest gains in the rejected pact.
- It didn’t have any new givebacks. Prep times, sabbaticals and the February recess stayed.
- 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.
Retired Chapter Leader, FDR High School, Brooklyn