The Triborough Amendment to the Taylor Law keeps the old contract in effect until we have a new one but in June the working conditions for the new contract were basically set by State Education Commissioner John King's arbitration on teacher evaluations. This fall we are discovering that those conditions are not very pleasant. No teacher I have talked to is pleased with the new evaluations.
In my school and in emails, the two questions I am constantly asked are:
- Why did the UFT agree to the awful teacher evaluation system?
- Where is our new contract?
The two questions are of course linked and so are the answers.
Based on nothing but UFT President Michael Mulgrew's comments at recent meetings and being an outsider close enough to the inside to have some knowledge of how the process works, I think there are a few reasonable prognostications that can be made as to what will happen next year when there is a new mayor.
If the red baiting campaign against Democrat Bill de Blasio succeeds (as it does in UFT elections) and de Blasio loses, Republican Mayor Joe Lhota would almost certainly continue the war on the UFT and there might be a disastrous ending.
However, if de Blasio wins, the contract picture should revert to a more traditional model rather quickly. Unfortunately for working people, so much damage has been done over the last few years that the traditional center of gravity has moved in such an anti-union direction that it could be difficult to move it back in a meaningful way.
I predict the UFT contract will be settled sooner rather than later in a de Blasio administration. The UFT went to non binding fact finding arbitration with the Public Employees Relations Board a while back. One of the arbitrators was picked by the UFT, one was selected by the city and the third was chosen by the first two as the neutral arbitrator. Each side usually will win something in arbitration in order to justify the process.
If past experience holds, the arbitrators will contact both parties and ask them what they can live with in the context of what is on the negotiating table. They would like to get everyone to accept their report. Knowing that Bloomberg wants to crush the union once and for all, it is difficult to imagine the current mayor signing off on anything.
However, there are seasoned veterans who work at the city Office of Labor Relations who have positive, longstanding relationships with the unions. Therefore, if Bill de Blasio wins the election in November, he will more than likely sign off on what the arbitrators come up with and that will form the basis of a settlement.
As for what will be in that agreement, it is somewhat predictable. As NYC Educator quite correctly points out, our contract has traditionally been settled through pattern bargaining. One municipal labor union agrees to a contract and that sets a pattern for a salary increase that all of the other municipal unions then must adhere to. If a union wants an increase larger than the pattern, then they have to give up something in order to get more money. The UFT did this in 2002 and 2005 by agreeing to work more time in exchange for salary increases above the patterns set by District Council 37.
The UFT is now two contracts behind because in 2008, DC 37 settled on a two year contract for a 4% salary increase in year one and another 4% raise in year two with no givebacks at all in either year. They set a fairly decent pattern considering this was in the midst of a financial crisis but also it was during the period when Bloomberg was figuring out how to run for a third term so he wanted union silence. That contract has long since expired so DC 37 and most of the other city unions are only one contract behind. We are two back.
In 2009, right around the time when Mulgrew took over the UFT presidency, the union was agreeing to support an extension of mayoral control of the schools in legislation in Albany. Back then, just about everyone thought that by taking a dive on mayoral control, which was up for renewal that summer and actually briefly expired, it meant that it was just a matter of time before teachers would get the two 4% increases that most of the other city unions received. Bloomberg would have none of it and instead decided to go to war with the UFT when he won a renewal of his school dictatorship. It is a war he has essentially been winning.
He denied UFT members the salary increases that are owed to us based on decades worth of precedent and simultaneously the teacher unions in the state were persuaded to compete for federal Race to the Top funding which eventually led to what is arguably the most horrific concession in UFT history: State Education Commissioner John King's new teacher evaluation system.
Bloomberg was quite correct when he stated that he won just about everything he wanted in the new evaluation system and he didn't have to give up anything to get it. The UFT calling the new system a gain is baffling as I don't know of any teachers who were demanding more observations or having their annual rating based on student test scores or having the burden of proof shift to teachers in termination hearings if people are rated ineffective two years in a row. The imposition of a new evaluation system was originally tied to unions having new contracts but Mulgrew inexplicably agreed to have the two de-coupled.
So, a brief review of the situation today shows that the UFT is four years without a contract and five years without a raise. Meanwhile, UFT leadership has already agreed to what might be the biggest giveback in the history of our union by supporting legislation to allow Commissioner King decide on the new evaluation system. The contract is currently in the hands of three fact finders who will write a report that either side can reject or accept.
Will the fact finders say we should get the 4% + 4% pattern? In some form the answer is probably yes. Will the city agree to it? That is a little more tricky.
Bloomberg's irresponsibility in not settling contracts puts the city in a bind. If they try to do away with pattern bargaining, they will give away their best time honored negotiating strategy of settling with a weak union and then compelling everyone else to follow suit. It is highly unlikely they will reject this strategy unless Joe Lhota wins the election and makes finishing off the UFT and other unions a priority. We are in such bad shape in terms of our fighting ability, i.e. a job action, that Lhota might be able to pull it off should he become the mayor.
However, if the more labor friendly de Blasio wins, expect a different dilemma for the city. If the city says yes and agrees to the 4% + 4% pattern for us, then they will owe us a small fortune. Do the math:
Top salary for city teachers is currently $100,049 (way under what teachers in most suburban districts around here earn).
x 1.04 (4%)
The increase for 2009-2010 is $4001.96.
Now for year two:
x 1.04 (4%)
The increase for 2010-2011 is $8,163.99 over what we have now.
Then, the retroactive increase for 2011-2012 is another $8,163.99.
For 2012-13 add another $8,163,99.
Now add up all of the retroactive money and even if there is a contract right away, the city owes teachers on maximum a staggering $28,493.39. If this lingers into 2014, as it almost definitely will, the retroactive price-tag goes to over $30,000 for senior teachers.
The amounts for newer teachers are lower but Bloomberg's irresponsibility will still cost the city a great deal of cash and will be called a budget buster. A friend suggested staggering the payments over three years, as they do with termination pay, to ease the budget pain for the city. In addition, we have to make up a small amount from a prior pension agreement but since that time new teachers have been stuck with an inferior Tier 6 pension, so we have given back even more.
It must be emphasized over and over how we have already conceded in terms of pattern bargaining because the pattern set by DC 37 is 4% + 4% with no givebacks and the new teacher evaluation system is arguably the biggest concession ever made by the UFT and the Legislature passing Tier 6 was not a gain either. The city owes us this money without givebacks. We should demand it and an end to the evaluation system. Yes we would need to go the state and have the law changed. That is what we should mobilize around.
Unfortunately, I forecast that a huge majority of teachers will vote for any contract with retroactive raises in spite of the fact that such a contract will be our only chance to have any say on the new evaluation system, as it will be incorporated into the agreement.
We may also see a loss on merit pay with teachers rated highly effective getting bonuses. In the end our contract will probably be something like the Newark, NJ contract or the New Haven, CT contract.
On a positive note, I am not worried that the UFT will add insult to the evaluation system injury by selling out the Absent Teacher Reserves in a new contract by giving ATR's a time limit to find a new job after they are excessed. This surrender makes no sense. It would have to be agreed to by the State Legislature and other unions would destroy Mulgrew for setting a precedent that could then be applied to them too. (Close the fire houses and make the firefighters find a new house to accept them or face layoff). I also see some minor tweaks in the teacher evaluation system that Mulgrew will trumpet as great gains but will have little impact in the schools.
De Blasio and the UFT may also use the fact finding report as a starter and then expand it to a grand bargain on a much longer contract to settle two rounds of collective bargaining at once. Remember, the fact finders are dealing with our last contract which will have expired in 2011. We will have caught up with everyone else who does not have a contract.
I am not ready to publicly speculate on what could be in a grand bargain for a longer agreement but understand it is a possibility.
As usual I hope the situation will turn out differently. Maybe de Blasio will be the progressive he is accused of being and/or the rank and file teachers will be appalled and not accept the new evaluation system thus forcing a real sea change. It could happen but it is up to us to make that a reality. More likely, we will be thrown some money and we will be resigned to our awful working conditions.