Archives For UFT Contract Negotiations

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

NEW UFT CONTRACT: RETRO DELAYED = RETRO DENIED WHILE ABSENT TEACHER RESERVES HAVE TENURE WEAKENED

By James Eterno

Four members of the Movement of Rank and File Educators (MORE) sat through a propaganda love fest this afternoon as UFT Chief Financial Officer Dave Hickey, Staff Director Leroy Barr and then President Michael Mulgrew explained our new contract to rousing applause from the Unity/New Action faithful on the negotiating committee. Now that the contract is done there is no need to be confidential.

I asked the President to show us a copy of the Memorandum of Agreement but there was none.  However, the UFT machine is spinning faster than any Wascomat washing machine.

UFT members in the new contract will get the 4 % + 4% salary increases that other city workers unions received back in 2009 and 2010, but we won’t see the money until 2015-2020.

For the seven years from 2011 to 2018, where the UFT will set the pattern for raises that other city unions will now follow, we will be getting a total of 10% in raises for seven years plus a $1,000 signing bonus.  That works out to less than 1.5% per year.

Specifically, this is how the CFO crunched the numbers:

2009-2010 = 4% raise
2010-2011 = 4% raise
2011-2012 = 0% raise but we will get a $1,000 signing bonus if we ratify the contract.
Nov 2012- April 2013 = 0% raise
May 1, 2013 = 1% raise
May 1, 2014 = 1% raise
May 1, 2015 = 1% raise
May 1, 2016 = 1% raise
May 1, 2017 = 2.5% raise
May 1, 2018 = 3.0% raise
Total: 18% (compounded it will be a little more)

For those of you expecting to go back in the fall and at least have the 4%+4% added to your pay, forget it.

The 4 % + 4% that other unions received in 2009-10 will not be added to our salary schedules until the increases kick in one year at a time starting in 2015.  Here is how the 8% will be added in:

May 1, 2015 = 2%
May 1, 2016 = 2%
May 1, 2017 = 2%
May 1, 2018 = 2%

All we get added to our salaries now if we ratify is 1% for 2013 followed by 1% for 2014 and the $1,000 bonus.

The 8% won’t be added to our salary schedule fully until 2018 and the retroactive money the city owes us since 2009 won’t be coming soon either.  Here is the schedule for the retroactive payments:

October 1, 2015- 12.5% lump sum
October 1, 2016 – Nothing
October 1, 2017 – 12.5% lump sum
October 1, 2018 – 25% lump sum
October 1, 2019 – 25% lump sum
October 1, 2020 – 25% lump sum

We will not be made “whole” for Bloomberg denying us the raises that other city unions got 5 years ago until 2020.

Retro delayed is really Retro denied!

Anyone who Retires Before July 1, 2015 Wins Big
The winners in this deal are anyone who retired from 2009 through now and anyone else who retires between July 1, 2014 and June 30, 2015.  They will get all of their retro pay calculated and get it at once.  People who already retired will have their pensions recalculated as well as receiving retro payments for the time they worked.

Anyone who retires July 1, 2015 or after will get the deferred payments the same way as active personnel and will be waiting until 2020 to be made “whole”.

Only people who resigned or were terminated won’t get retro.

Top salary now $100,049 will crawl up to $119,565 by May of 2018.

President Mulgrew arrived at around 5:20 pm after hanging around at the mayor’s press conference and here are some of the other details he let out.

Some union had to settle first and it was us.

Here is a breakdown of some of the non-economic issues.

Evaluations:
We will go down from being rated on 22 Danielson components to 8.  (No word on the number of observations.)  Artifacts are out.

On Measures of Students Learning if we want, we will only be graded based on students we teach.

Paperwork:
The DOE and UFT agreed to set up (yet another) Committee on excessive paperwork.  This one will be half UFT and half DOE with a mediator.  Cases can also be taken to arbitration.

Extended Time
No additional time added to the day. The extended time, faculty, grade/department conferences, open school night time will be reconfigured.  We will work two extra open school evenings which will go from 2.5 to 3 hours.

There will be a default schedule on how to use the extended time each week and preapproved School Based Options.

Multi session, District 75 and 79 schools will keep their current time schedules.

Curriculum
Each core subject will have a curriculum that we must use.  Unit plans will be no longer than a page.

Merit Pay
There will be a career ladder i.e. merit pay.
Ambassador teachers will earn $7,500 more to visit other schools.
Model teachers will earn $7,500 more to be model teachers at their own schools.
Master teachers will earn $20,000 to help other teachers.

PROSE Innovative Schools
Schools can opt in with a 65% vote to cancel major parts of the contract.  This can be up to 200 schools.

ATRs
Absent Teacher Reserves must show up for interviews.  ATRs will sent to vacancies in schools.  There will be no termination for time in the ATR pool but there is an offer of a severance package.

If two principals document unprofessional behavior, the documentation can be used for a special 3020A process just for ATRS.  This will not be for performance and it will be a one day hearing which could lead to termination.

Schools will be forgiven for ATR salaries.

Bonus
$5,000 will go to teachers who go to a hard to staff school.

Healthcare
There is a healthcare cost savings plan from the Municipal Labor Committee that must be approved. (We don’t know how the cost savings will be achieved but we will keep our basic plans for free.)

Validators
For teachers rated ineffective, the validators sent in the second year to validate an ineffective rating will now be educators: teachers and administrators.

Where is the Memorandum of Agreement?
I asked the president when we would be seeing the full Memorandum of Agreement in writing.  He said he didn’t know but Staff Director Leroy Barr said it would be out soon.  Mulgrew asked for a motion to recommend the contract for approval.  I abstained as I would never vote on something I haven’t seen.  The Unity faithful followed their caucus obligatons and all voted in the affirmative while the New Action people went along with Unity too.  The other MORE members abstained silently during the vote but I screamed out for my abstention to be counted.

VERY BRIEF ANALYSIS
I leave it to you to decide what we should do.  I tried to keep the adjectives to a minimum in this piece and just report what was said.

We couldn’t lose on the 4% + 4% because of pattern bargaining (one city union settles on a percentage salary increase and all the unions follow that pattern) but allowing the city stretch it out so that money we were owed since 2009 won’t be fully paid back until 2020 really lets the city off the hook.

As for setting the pattern of 10% over 7 years, this is an abysmally low pattern to establish (we did better monetarily under the anti union Mayors Bloomberg and Guilliani).  I can understand why other labor unions in the city are angry with Mulgrew, particularly when it is considered how much surplus revenue the city has.  We should have been able to achieve non monetary gains for loaning the city our money and setting a very low pattern but instead we surrendered as usual.

The devil will be in the details on the ATR agreement but I see this contract as a real missed opportunity.  Here’s hoping the members will ignore the Unity spin cycle and see through it.

This is our list of demands that the UFT ought to be mobilizing the rank and file to fight for:

Please find the flier for distribution here and an explanation of the process for ratifying a new contract here

  • Improve Our Students’ Learning Conditions: Funding must be made available for Creative Arts (Music, Art, Drama, Digital Arts), Physical Education, Technology, Social Studies, English Language Arts, Science, Math, and electives. Every school shall be equipped with working computers, interactive boards, internet, heat, air conditioning, and have a fully staffed library and media center. Class size limits should be reduced by at least 10%, with no exceptions. Research has proven that students learn better with individualized attention.

  • Pay Raises: They reflect the importance of the work teachers do, & include full retroactive pay consistent with pattern bargaining. We shall receive 4% retroactive back-pay for the 2008/09 and 2009/10 rounds as other NYC municipal workers did, as well as a 3% raise in each subsequent year to adjust for inflation and cost of living. The money IS in the DOE budget!

  • Teacher Evaluation: With its unscientific use of test scores, increased testing, and additional paperwork, the new evaluation system is a disaster. This contract shall eliminate the use of test scores for teacher evaluations and reduce the amount of evaluation paperwork.

  • Due Process: Restore the principle of innocent until proven guilty in all reassignments with faster and fairer investigations in 3020-a hearings.  An independent arbitrator jointly selected and paid for by the DOE and UFT shall  judge all grievances and removals.

  • Equity for All Students: All schools and students should receive the same amount of services and resources regardless of the socio-economic class of the neighborhood. Public schools should not be funded by outside sources such as corporations. We must support schools in high poverty neighborhoods in order to equalize some of the advantages enjoyed by students with more financial resources. Every school shall be fully staffed with a nurse, a social worker, services available to parents, as well as afterschool and weekend programs. Each child, regardless of economic status, must be offered free breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

  • Fair Student Assessment: Standardized tests should be only one tool used for assessing student learning and growth. Portfolios, written assignments, verbal presentations, digital presentations, and projects shall all be available options.

  • Salary Equity: Teachers at the bottom of the pay scale are being paid substantially less than veteran teachers. This gap is being used against senior teachers. There shall be additional pay increases for new teachers to close this tremendous difference, without an effect on the raises of veteran teachers.

  • Right to Grieve Letters in the File and Ratings: All employees shall have the right to respond to accusations and demonstrate that they are inaccurate or unfair. Disciplinary red flags in files of active teachers who were not terminated in 3020-a hearings must be eliminated.

  • Initiatives: Too many new mandates flood our schools each year.  When any new, significant education policy is agreed upon for implementation in classrooms, it shall be limited to one per academic year, be administered with a minimum of two years professional development, and be continuously reviewed by a jointly agreed upon panel of experts for effectiveness.

  • Revise the “Fair Student Funding” Formula: The DOE shall return to the system in which each school’s budget was charged the same, fixed amount per teacher. The current system incentivizes principals to hire inexperienced teachers. We must restore the right of an educator to transfer on the basis of seniority or to further integration.

  • Changes in Hiring/ATRs: Due to the lack of educators of color, students of color are implicitly taught not to identify members of their community with intellectual growth. We must stop and reverse the disproportionate disappearance of Black and Latino/a educators from the City school system. NO new hires shall be made, including Teach for America, Teaching Fellows, or any other exceptions, until all excessed staff from the ATR pool are permanently assigned to any available position they choose.

  • Workload for Special Educators: Assign professional educators working with special education students reasonable caseloads that will allow for all mandated services and paperwork, including work in SESIS, to be completed during the work day. Educators working with special education students shall be able to safely report any inconsistencies between the mandated services included in a student IEP and the services that the student is actually receiving.

  • C-6 Assignments: These shall be restored to the system prior to 2005 in which the use of that time was decided on collaboratively between the UFT Chapter and the Principal, not unilaterally imposed by the administration.

  • Better Pay for PT’s, OT’s, and Paraprofessionals: Experienced OT’s and PT’s are paid 38 percent less than teachers and speech therapists with the same levels of education. Paraprofessionals, some of our most important members, are not paid enough to live in the same city as the children they care for. All their salaries shall be dramatically increased and they shall be offered the same job protections as teachers.

  • Academic Freedom: Educators shall be responsible for decisions regarding the methods and materials used for the instruction of students. Administrators and the DOE are not in classrooms on a daily basis, and so do not understand our students’ individual needs, yet they currently have nearly unchecked power to determine how we teach.

  • Caseload for Guidance Counselors: These professionals are increasingly being forced to take on an overwhelming number of additional responsibilities, which often means that students who need psychological counseling are not receiving it. Our schools need to be fully staffed with the professionals who provide direct college and career guidance as well as emotional support. 250:1 is the state recommended ratio, but as NYC needs are greater than average for the state, 200 students per counselor with at least one in every school is appropriate.

  • Education Leadership and Iron-Clad Contract Enforcement: The C-30 panel should have the final determination of any administrative hiring. We must demand that administrators’ behaviors are consistent with promoting a respectful working/learning environment. Any administrator that is found to be routinely violating the contract at their school shall be automatically removed and face charges for permanent removal.

  • Tenure: There shall be a clear, explicit path to tenure negotiated between UFT and DOE, stating what is expected from new faculty in order to receive it. All denials must include a written explanation and be eligible for appeal before an independent arbitrator.

Consistent with the democratic process, this platform is a living document. This is in no particular order, all demands are of equal importance to our members, UFT educators and the communities we serve.