“The City Said No:” or How UFT Leadership ‘Negotiates’
Perhaps the biggest reason we don't see major changes in the next UFT contract is because, as policy, our union leadership takes no for an answer. Repost of the NAC blog at https://newaction.org
Earlier this summer, our union membership ratified most of the contracts that we’d been negotiating with the City. As we all know, one bargaining unit voted no on theirs, and the response from UFT leadership was nothing short of disappointing. Put briefly, UFT/Unity delivered the ‘news’ that the City simply wasn’t interested in renegotiating, encouraged an email campaign to conduct a ‘revote’ rather than work to renegotiate, scheduled a summer revote against the wishes of elected rank-and-file leadership, and tore apart a non-Unity-led chapter for political gain in the process. But, this article isn’t about the OT/PT chapter; this article is about everyone else.
Members may remember that at the end of the year, we were rushed into the ratification process for a contract that the negotiating committee, executive board, and delegate assembly had no chance to review. At all three of those meetings, a conspicuously staged platform of cringe-worthy obsequiousness from Unity members that even seemed to make UFT leadership blush was aired to confused attendees. That obsequiousness was coupled with merciless dues-funded heckling of anyone in opposition, myself included. On the practical side, summer, we were told, would force us to vote immediately (something the OT/PT revote–to take place in August–disproves, but I digress). And so, those three bodies moved to go forward with the ratification process, without an MOA in hand. To be sure, it was later released to membership for review – albeit with far less time to read the fine print than is typical for union contract votes.
What members may also remember is that, mere days before being jolted with the surprise of contract ratification, we were prepped by leadership to expect a pro-longed contract fight. Mulgrew had only just emailed us stating that “the city has shown us that they have zero respect for everything we have done as educators over the past three years and everything we continue to do each day.” What changed, just days later, when power-point in hand, our UFT president ran us through an ‘overly rosy’ sales-pitch telling us how good our contract was? After all, New Action analyzed the contract thoroughly, coming to a consensus that we’d be better off voting it down. No amount of distracting perks and Unity propaganda could make up for sub-inflation wage increases and obvious givebacks.
I’d like to offer that, in all likelihood, nothing—certainly nothing substantial—changed between Mulgrew’s email to us telling us we weren’t going to get a good deal and his power-point, just days later, telling us how good the deal was. I think, just as in the case of OT/PTs, Mulgrew heard the City say ‘no’ to our demands, and decided we should just take whatever deal they wanted.
Don’t get me wrong: I was part of a negotiating subcommittee. I saw language written or suggested by rank-and-file members that ended up accepted, often in pared down form, and codified into the contract. But, these were all essentially minor, often lateral, changes to the MOA. On the contrary, when it came to major changes, we saw nothing where it was expected most – like in special education, where implicit leverage made our lack of gains incredibly disappointing. Negotiations, indeed, seemed cut drastically short. Whereas many of us expected to fight back against the City’s many ‘no’s’ at the bargaining table, we suddenly were called back to see a deal that barely had any of our demands met – with most of the major changes being ones that surely the employer must have asked for, not us. The ominous promise to create a system-wide virtual instruction network (and without codified class-size limits) is case in point.
So did we really negotiate the best possible deal we could – or did we just accept the City’s offer? UFT/Unity’s deliverance of the message that the City doesn’t want to renegotiate the OT/PT deal, followed by its orchestration of a revote, makes one wonder what leverage we ever had at all with any of our conspicuously mediocre contracts. The other day, a reader of the NAC blog commented that “Despite its storied history, UFT has now solidified its current form as little more than a corporate HR department.” With respect to UFT leadership at least, it’s hard to disagree.
As strike-ready labor, such as UPS drivers, organize their way into making salaries competitive with our own, even without the expense of college degrees, we find ourselves peculiarly at a point much like we were at when the UFT was born. At that moment, with salaries trailing what was being made in factories, and with often horrendous working conditions that needed to be rectified, we made the decision to unionize – and for a long time, we organized and struck our way into teaching being a competitive job. But we gave up, giving in to concessionary business-style unionism; and our losses are starting to ‘add up.’ It’s time, once again, to catch up with unionized labor around us. It’s time, quite frankly, to stop delivering ‘no’ messages from the employer and start being a union again.