Where is our union?
Late Thursday, President Michael Mulgrew informed members of another outrage dropped down on teachers from City Hall: Mayor de Blasio would seek to delay final retroactive payments to teachers and UFT members. The mayor, less than a week from when the payments would arrive to teachers bank accounts and only a day before the checks needed to be cut, tried to back out on a commitment he made to city teachers in our 2014 contract.
We are glad the emergency arbitration decision, announced Friday evening, affirmed the teachers’ right to wages we earned. At the same time, teachers’ wages and livelihoods are not a game, particularly when we are forced to risk our health and our communities’ health for an irresponsible reopening of school buildings.
This theft of teachers’ wages, at a time when we are constantly asked to make up for the many failures of City Hall, is unconscionable and cannot go unanswered.
We need a union that not only reacts and plays defense against dangerous austerity budgets, but fights to ensure we are never put in these impossible situations.
In the 2014 contract, UFT Leadership agreed to give the City of New York a decade long interest free loan on the backs of teachers and other school-based staff. Many teachers are owed upwards of $10,000 in unpaid wages.
The UFT already made an unacceptable concession when they loaned teachers’ money to the city for ten years (which now the UFT has agreed to delay for another 9 months) with zero interest. We have said it in the past and we will say it again: the money being paid through these retroactive payments is only a fraction of what we earned.
For context, a teacher who expected $10,000 of her seized wages on October 15, if she had been able to invest that money in 2010 and made a modest annual return of 5% since then, she would have over $16,000 today.
Any teacher asked to accept an additional 9 month delay on her final payment should also ask the UFT leadership, Mayor Bill de Blasio, and the City Council: Where is her other $6000?
This arbitration order does nothing for the thousands of teachers who changed their retirement contributions (as advised by the Teacher Retirement Service of NYC) so that much of this payment would be withheld. Now, many teachers will have to make due with far less this month, scrambling to pay for childcare, housing, and necessities during a pandemic because of the mayor’s capricious budgeting decisions.
Further the mayor and UFT leadership claim this delay protects school communities from teacher layoffs this year, but it is legally questionable whether layoffs would even be possible at this stage of the school year. We refuse to let the city, and disturbingly our own union leadership, try to divide teachers when layoffs and wage theft are never acceptable.
The mayor knows he can find “labor savings” from school based staff because our union lets him. No other municipal union signed a contract as nonsensical as ours that includes these retroactive payments, and no other municipal union has been forced to play sudden defence days before our partial wages were to be repaid.
New Yorkers of all backgrounds stood up this summer and demanded the city defund the police and invest in our communities, but, unfortunately, the mayor has decided he would rather do the exact opposite: cuts from our schools while the NYPD continues to receive blank checks for hundreds of millions of dollars of overtime.
We need city leadership willing to actually invest public funds into our communities as New Yorkers demand and we need union leadership that empowers rank and file educators to hold those city leaders accountable when they waver.
Teachers, students, and families are watching and we are ready to elect new leadership.
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