By James Eterno, Jamaica H.S. Chapter Leader, UFT H.S. Exec. Bd. Rep.
I came home from vacation to find out that DC 37 had reached a tentative contract settlement with the city that many labor people including UFT President Randi Weingarten are not criticizing. Weingarten even took some credit for the deal because the UFT and 19 other municipal unions have formed a coalition to bargain with the City. She claims that the presence of the coalition forced the city to up its offer to DC 37. Maybe so but why not a word about how paltry the salary increases are for DC 37 when the city is so prosperous?
While the potentially precedent setting agreement is better than the pattern DC 37 established for city workers in the last round of bargaining, it still does not keep up with inflation. The NY Times described the terms succinctly: "...10 percent raise (compounded) over 32 months with no new concessions." The Times elaborated, "The agreement includes a 3.15 percent raise retroactive to July 1, 2005, the day the union's last contract expired. The new pact also includes a 2 percent raise starting Aug. 1, and a 4 percent raise starting February 1." Why are these numbers not being roundly criticized in union circles when the city now has a surplus of over $5 billion? When the city is swimming in money, unions should be able to at least keep up with inflation.
Yes, the tentative pact calls for increases that go well beyond the 0% (with a $1,000 cash bonus), 3% and 1% raises over three years from the last DC 37 Contract (an extra 2% came with productivity givebacks). That agreement set a pattern that teachers and all other city workers were forced to swallow. When the current numbers are crunched, the proposed 10 percent over 32 months does not even keep up with the annual inflation rate that according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics is now at 5.6% in the NY area and 4.7% nationally. DC 37's annual increases when compounded average roughly 3.75% a year. City workers will continue to have their standard of living significantly lowered under this deal. When it is taken into consideration that the city has a huge multi billion dollar surplus, this is an agreement that union leaders should at least be questioning. But thus far, I have not seen much negative except for some dissidents within DC 37. Meanwhile, the mayor is content.
The Times reports: "The mayor noted that the city continued to benefit from money saving concessions in the union's last contract like reduced vacation and sick days for newly hired workers." In addition, the mayor is still not ruling out givebacks.
"He added that the city and District Council 37, which represents 120,000 city workers, would set up a subcommittee to discuss pension changes and that he would urge the Municipal Labor Committee, the umbrella group for the city's unions, to negotiate savings on health coverage." (UFT President Weingarten heads the MLC; the UFT is a part of it.)
Let's understand the UFT's current situation. We now have a potential pattern settlement established by DC 37 that does not keep up with inflation while the city has billions in excess funds. The mayor will look to give all city workers including UFT members the same increases as DC 37 and history shows that if any union wants to beat the pattern, the only way to do so is with concessions in some other area. Since the 3.15% increase in year one of the DC 37 deal is already included in the final year of the current UFT Contract, our pattern would be 2% and 4% over twenty months for the next round. That translates into increases for us that are considerably lower than the current 5.6% NY area inflation rate.
Also, the pattern set by DC 37 won't help us win back any of the givebacks we surrendered in the last round of collective bargaining that include the 37.5 minute tutoring sessions each day, school starting in August, hall patrols, cafeteria patrols, lack of ability to grieve letters in our files, loss of seniority as well as SBO transfers, and more. Finally, the Mayor is still seeking to change the pension system and gain concessions in health benefits. Therefore, having us pay 1.5% of our salary toward healthcare (the Transit worker proposal) is still possible and who knows what other work rule changes will be demanded of us? Granted, we are starting out with a basic pattern from DC 37 that is better than in the last round but it clearly is not going to help us obtain anything remotely resembling a favorable settlement.
For President Weingarten to be taking any credit for the DC 37 agreement because the UFT is in a coalition of 20 unions who are bargaining together on financial matters with the city is somewhat strange. Instead, we believe she should be publicizing the city's huge budget surplus and saying how we have made sacrifices when the city had hard times and now we need to share in the city's prosperity. The UFT also should be preparing to mobilize for a real fight if we want to get a decent contract with raises that beat the cost of living without concessions, and we should be looking to initiate a major battle to win back what we gave away in the last round of bargaining.
(The purpose of this piece is not to try to influence the DC 37 ratification vote. Their internal debate is reported in this week's Chief Leader and should be read. This piece was written to explain the impact of the DC 37 proposal on UFT members and other city workers.)