The UFT in 2023 is confusing if nothing else. I can't understand why an organization that usually encourages as little involvement from its members in confronting management is now suddenly promoting contract teach-ins for Monday, January 30. NYC Educator is not excited. Is he right? His conclusion:
A teach-in could be a great thing. But it's based on the premise that leadership is actually interested in what we think. I am not persuaded that's true. I therefore do not believe this teach-in, however genuine the sentiments of its creators may be, is done in good faith. I believe, and the evidence bears out, that leadership goes behind our back to make stupid deals that benefit no one in rank and file.
I believe, therefore, that leadership needs to be replaced. And if by any chance I should get a voice in any teach-in, that will be my message to my union brothers and sisters.
As a 28-year dissident in this Union, I agree wholeheartedly with those sentiments. NYC Educator uses the recent retiree healthcare debacle to support his case that UFT leaders don't want to hear from us. President Michael Mulgrew, as one of the two main voices in the Municipal Labor Committee (Umbrella group of City Unions where the UFT has an outsized role because of weighted voting), tried to force retirees to accept a privatized Medicare Advantage Plan (Mulgrewcare) instead of public Medicare combined with a GHI Medigap supplemental plan. Mulgrew attempted, and may still be attempting, to force retirees into Mulgrewcare or stick them with copays or premiums but he has been stopped in court and by the City Council. We need to be skeptical about what the UFT is planning as active and non-Medicare-eligible retirees' healthcare is being negotiated behind closed doors by the MLC and City. In that atmosphere, we have Monday's Teach-ins at the schools.
If you want to teach something at the UFT Teach-in in your school, how about an honest discussion? Share with the teachers and other UFTers how we need to go in with our eyes wide open. If Michael Mulgrew says again there are no givebacks, be skeptical. He said that in 2014 and 2018 but we know there were major healthcare givebacks, some that Mulgrew is still paying off now.
Honesty and openness are not usually strong traits at the UFT. When the UFT put out its slides and they said healthcare isn't a subject of UFT negotiations, I scratched my head and said, WTF?
Here is a look at the UFT's two slides on what is on the table in contract negotiations and what is not:
- Salary increases are negotiable but any raise is subject to pattern bargaining. When one City municipal union settles a contract for a round of collective bargaining, it sets a pattern and all of the other unions then follow that pattern and receive basically the same wage increase. DC 37 is negotiating with the City as of this writing as is the UFT. DC 37's last contract expired in 2021 and is long overdue. They set the last pattern in 2018 of around a little over 2% per year that the UFT and every other union pretty much adhered to. The UFT set the previous pattern of 10% total over 7 years in the 2014 round. That Agreement was extended twice but that is a whole different posting. You have to go back to 2008 when DC 37 set a 4%+4% pattern to find a decent one that today still wouldn't come close to keeping up with inflation. Do you think maybe we should talk about some other union like the PBA going first this time to set the pattern? NYPD officers start at $42,500. They never settled their last round of bargaining. City police make less than cops in surrounding areas and they want to catch up. Another idea you probably won't see in UFT literature would be to bargain financial terms as a coalition of City unions since we all get the same increases basically anyway. Should we push for cost of living adjustments like Social Security gives (5.9% 2022, 8.7% 2023; UFT's last increase was in 2021). Members should be openly talking about these salary issues.
- Working conditions are negotiable. The UFT made numerous gains in its first 40 years (class size limits, duty-free lunch periods, prep periods, etc.) but has been on the defensive mostly since mayoral control in 2002. In 2005, the UFT made major concessions. The Union gave away the right to grieve inaccurate/unfair letters in the file in 2005 and the right to have a separate grievance at the superintendent's level if a grievance was not resolved at the principal's level. We also surrendered the right to preferred placement if a school was closed or redesigned, the right to a position if excessed, and the right to have a real professional assignment where the Chapter Committee had to agree on a professional menu to pick from. We can negotiate here and should.
- Teacher evaluation and observations are in the Contract but they are subject to state law which governs teacher evaluation. We can negotiate within the state guidelines.
- Contract enforcement is subject to negotiation for sure as we could get a better grievance process. The UFT won changes to expedite the grievance process in some instances in 2018 but it was a small gain. It is up to the UFT, not an individual grievant, whether a grievance proceeds to the Chancellor's level or an arbitrator. It should be at least up to a grievant to challenge a principal's judgment somewhere beyond the school. Furthermore, there are some provisions of the Contract the UFT does not bother to enforce. For example, it was agreed to go to a biweekly payroll as opposed to semi-monthly in 1996 in Article 3L:
- Career Ladder positions are negotiable. Honestly, are you really so worried about this that it gets a prominent place in what can be negotiated?
- The configuration of the workday has been renegotiated on numerous occasions since 2002 when extended time was first negotiated into the Contract. It is up to the members to get rid of marathon Mondays (sometimes called teacher detention) if you want to.
- Pension changes are subject to state law but they can still be a big part of contract negotiations between the UFT and the City. If the Union and City agree, both sides can go up to Albany and seek pension changes and it often ends up in the Contract. For example, 25 years of service-55-year-old retirement was put in the Contract in Article 4C:
C. Pension Legislation
The parties have agreed to jointly support pension legislation as set forth in the letter attached as Appendix K.
For those who want some specifics on 25-55 pension in the Contract:
APPENDIX K PENSION LEGISLATION
October 17, 2007
Dear Ms. Weingarten:
This letter will confirm certain mutual understandings and agreements of the parties. The parties agree to jointly support legislation to amend current pension provisions that will contain the following elements in order to implement an optional "25/55" retirement program for current employees in the Teachers Retirement System (TRS) and the below listed UFT-represented members in the Board of Education Retirement Systems (BERS) and to provide a revised retirement paradigm for newly-hired employees in TRS and newly-hired UFT-represented members in BERS listed below.
There is more in this letter but you get the idea. Early retirement incentives in 1991 and 1996 were agreed to in the Contract and then Albany approved them. On the downside, the reduction of the TDA fixed interest for UFTers from 8.25% to 7% was agreed to at the City-UFT level and then approved in Albany in 2009. Why aren't we demanding that the City go with us to Albany to end Tier VI and get 25-55 for all?
- Tenure is also a state law but Mayor Michael Bloomberg's anti-teacher Chancellor Joel Klein made denying tenure a crusade in the late 2000s and hired hundreds of lawyers in part to help deny tenure. The UFT, had it chosen to, could have demanded contractual provisions to limit observations and otherwise limit principal power so tenure would be less onerous to achieve.
- Student Discipline. What is the UFT talking about that this is not negotiable?
Let's start by reading Article 9 and part of Appendix B of the Contract. Student discipline is there and subject to negotiation.
- DOE allocations of school funds are in the Contract too. This is another one where the slides are just patently wrong. Read Contractual Article 8C:
- Healthcare: Here again, the people who wrote these slides need to be schooled on the Contract they are supposed to be enforcing.