The Perils of Negotiations
Back in the day any UFT Delegate could propose a bargaining demand, the list of demands was long, really long. A delegate came to the microphone, “Al, if we get everything how much would it cost?” (Snickers from the audience), Shanker stepped back, seemed to be computing, returned to the microphone, “A gold ball the size of the Earth.”
As contract negotiation kicked off in the distant past the union leadership added three young activists to the bargaining team, and, Lucille Swaim, the chief UFT negotiator, a stern woman warned us, don’t say anything without her approval.
We received our briefing book, thick compilations of UFT and Board demands. The Board would demur: “No, a managerial prerogative,” and the union would reply, “A mandatory item of collective bargaining.” Spring moved into summer and we divided into committees, many recesses, the Board has to confer with the mayor’s team and the local school board reps. At the end of August the City bemoaned, we can’t make any financial commitments: was it just a ruse, or, was the City in desperate circumstances? Union policy was “No contract, no work,” Do we walk out on the first day or extend the contract for a month? The “old timers” were divided, and without any warning the Board sent out a letter, “We regret to inform you ….”, 14,000 teachers were laid off and at a raucous Delegate Assembly the delegates voted overwhelmingly to strike chanting with, “We won’t go back until we all go back.”
The City shrugged, we can’t negotiate a raise, we may not be able to pay our current obligations, and we may have to declare bankruptcy.
The union scrambled to negotiate and get teachers back in school, accruing two days loss of pay for each day on strike was not a viable strategy, schools reopened with 14,000 fewer teachers and a shortened school day, and, the union agreed that the Teachers Retirement System would loan the City money so that the City could pay off bond obligations. (“How the UFT Saved the City from Bankruptcy” Read here.
An extremely popular strike turned in a disaster.
If a union strikes management does not roll over and concede to demands, and, in the area of public employment the Taylor Law provides both penalties, negotiation pathways and the Triborough Doctrine, all contracts remain in “full force and effect” until the successor contract is in place.
The raises in the just negotiated DC 37 contract were anticipated, the Citizen’s Budget Commission (CBC) and the Independent Budget Organization (IBO) both closely monitor the city budget, the CDC wrote,
"The tentative New York City-District Council 37 contract announced today provides raises that are very reasonable given recent and anticipated inflation. The great challenge, however, still is how the City will pay for them.
And the IBO worried the City would have keep the low headcounts to afford the contract,
Management tried to get rid the Triborough Doctrine for years, if a contract “expires” teachers still receive step and differential increases, all benefits remain in place. The UFT could wait five years until Bloomberg left and negotiated two contracts with his successor,
For New York leadership, Adams and Hochul, a teacher strike would be a gift resulting in removing the cap on charter schools, imposing the Chicago teacher layoff system, (teachers are excessed by ratings, lowest ratings first and excesses are layoffs) and the Taylor Law penalties, loss of pay, 2:1 penalties for teachers and fines and loss of dues checkoff for the union as well as shattering the UFT alliances with pro public school advocates.
The UFT-Department of Education negotiations apparently are at a crisis point, either a negotiated agreement or next steps, moving on to the impasse/fact-finding/non-binding arbitration, a lengthy process, not healthy politically for the mayor who is two years away from his next run and is not popular, in recent polls only 29% of voters give him a favorable rating
Aside from a caucus within the union there is no enthusiasm for a strike. The penalties are onerous and for many teachers the relationship to students and families is crucial.
Teachers participated in rallies and demonstrations by the thousands, handed out flyers, work together with communities, and increasingly targeting the mayor.
If a settlement is reached the opposition caucus urges members to vote “no” unless a long list of demands, from the caucus not the membership, are not achieved.
How you vote is a personal matter, you have to weigh the consequences, and, negotiations are two sides coming to an agreement over contentious issues, you achieve some goals, parts of other goals and fail to achieve others, the very nature of a negotiation.
Don’t get me wrong, strikes are tools of unions, and the Writers Guild of America strike is an example. The Writers face dramatic reductions in salaries and the very existence of their job due to Artificial Intelligence (AI).
And AI is beginning to be used in the classrooms, stay tuned.
UPDATE: The UUP, the SUNY union and PEF, the state Professional Employee Federation, 100,000 members announced having negotiated a new contract with 3% annual raise in a 3-Year contract. https://www.timesunion.com/state/article/three-percent-raises-pef-uup-workers-expected-18144076.php?oref=csny_firstreadtonight_nl
The views expressed by our individual authors are their own and may not reflect the views of the EONYC community. Just as we may not all agree with the editorial views expressed as the collective Educators of NYC community.