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Op-Ed: How the Proposed Contract Attacks Our Pension and Healthcare Benefits
Jeremy Shahom, Mathematics Teacher at Stuyvesant High School breaks down the newly proposed UFT contract. The math ain't mathing!
I am writing to share with you some of my perspectives on the recent contract proposal.
“The agreement also includes . . . a first-of-its-kind annual retention payment to be paid in May of each year, beginning with $400 in 2024, $700 in 2025, and $1,000 in 2026 and every year thereafter. These payments will help the city retain its valuable educators, especially those earning lower annual salaries.”
(News from The Office of the Mayor of New York City, 6/13/2023: https://www.nyc.gov/office-of-the-mayor/news/415-23/mayor-adams-uft-tentative-contract-agreement-providing-substantial-wage-increases-to)
While the City and the UFT leadership present these “annual retention payments” as a huge win, their media blitz did leave out one important detail:
“The Annual Payment shall not be pensionable, and the parties will take all necessary steps to ensure the non-pensionability.”
(Page 3 of the MOA, https://files.uft.org/contract2023/DOE-MOA.pdf)
Right now, the impact of this non pensionable portion of our income is relatively small and since the amount is the same regardless of our salary, the additional income represents a higher percentage of total income for members with lower salaries. The purpose of this is ostensibly to provide an incentive for members with lower salaries to stay employed by the DOE. (The growth of the $1,000 payment at 3.5% annually is still relatively small for those of us retiring over the next ten to twenty years, nearly doubling by 2046.
To get a sense, a Tier IV member retiring with 25 years of service in 2030 could expect about $1,109 added to their final average salary if this compensation were pensionable, which would have added about $555 to their annual pension.)
I calculated what the average annual percentage increase to teachers’ salaries (including the $1,035 annual retention payment in the final year) is under this contract proposal and discovered that it ranges from 3.16% for the highest paid teachers to 3.31% for the lowest paid. (This does not include the one-time pensionable bonus payment of $3,000, which comes to $1.58 each day over the length of the contract and will have no effect on pensions except for those retiring over the next three or five years.)
The 0.15% difference hardly seems like much of an incentive for teachers to stay in the NYC system, which makes me question whether the motivation behind these annual retention payments is to retain educators or to reduce pension costs.
The union emphasizes the perpetuity of these payments which worries me because this makes it an eligible subject for bargaining when the next contract negotiations take place. This sets a terrible precedent in establishing that a portion of our compensation will be non pensionable indefinitely. Therefore, it would be completely reasonable for the City to propose in the next round of bargaining, say a 2% raise to our salary combined with an increase of $5,000 to our annual retention payments in lieu of a larger raise of 5% or more. Or even worse, the City could push for a 0% raise to our salary and increasing only the annual retention payments by a larger amount, thus further diminishing our pension.
On the UFT’s s Contract 2023 web site (https://www.uft.org/your-rights/contracts/contract-2023/contract-2023-pay-increases), it states:
“With the annual bonuses (emphasis mine), the compounded value over the length of the agreement ranges from 17.58% to 20.42%.”
Without the annual bonuses, the compounded value for teachers is only 16.77% and the range with the non pensionable bonuses for teachers is from 17.58% to 18.47%.
The highest percentage of 20.42% represents the compounded value of the increase for paraprofessionals whose salary including the non pensionable bonus will rise to a measly $34,257 by September 2026.
The media (along with the City and the UFT leadership) can now use this 20% figure to overstate the actual increase as was done in The New York Post article entitled “NYC teachers get fat 20% pay hike in new, 5-year, $6.4 billion deal” (June 13, 2023).
All of this is especially concerning because of what else is not included in this contract proposal: There is no mention of joint lobbying for Tier 6 pension reform.
Those members in Tier 6 are still contributing more of their salary for benefits inferior to those Tier 4 members will receive. Instead of the bread-and-butter issues— salary, healthcare, and pension benefits—that are most important to members, in this contract proposal we find “sweeteners” like one less period of Circular 6 duties per week, an expanded menu of Circular 6 activities, some improvements to the elementary school work day, and remote parent engagement work. I fear that in this contract proposal the groundwork is being laid for future attacks on our pension benefits.
While we cannot know for sure what will occur in the next round of contract negotiations, if we look at the past few contracts for insight, we see a dangerous pattern of givebacks, most noteworthy of which is the healthcare givebacks in the 2018 contract, which were relegated to an appendix. Now, five years later, we are about to feel the impact of this major concession as we are transitioned into a new health insurance plan, about which we know almost nothing other than that it should be premium-free and offer “the same or improved benefits for 10% less.” (If you believe that, then I have a bridge to sell you.)
You can be sure that the union leadership wants to get this contract ratified before we learn about the new plan as it is certain that the new plan will effectively further degrade the sub-inflation raises in this contract proposal.
While the leadership states that healthcare is “separate” from the contract negotiations, nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, healthcare is a mandatory subject of collective bargaining and the UFT is the most powerful member of the Municipal Labor Committee (MLC) that is responsible for negotiating these changes with the City.
Below are some links to pieces worth reading that give more details about the MLC and our healthcare. I strongly encourage you to read them before making your decision.
(Dan Alicea, middle school special education teacher and UFT delegate)
(Arthur Goldstein, former UFT Chapter Leader at Francis Lewis High School in Queens)
While it is unlikely to change the outcome, a vote against this contract proposal sends a message to our union leaders.
It says NO to healthcare givebacks, NO to attacks on our pension, and NO to raises that are far below the inflation rate!
I will be voting NO on ratification and I encourage you to do the same.
Jeremy Shahom, Mathematics Teacher, Stuyvesant High School
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