UFT Contract Update and Analysis – Get Ready for a Pay Cut
Nick Bacon, co-chair of New Action UFT and high school Executive Board member, shares how the accepted contract pattern will bring pay cuts and diminished healthcare to city workers.
Bad news abounds on the upcoming UFT contract. Teachers, paraprofessionals, and the rest of our members deserve answers on why. While, I’m bound by NDAs not to disclose what is said in the 500-member negotiating committee, I have more flexibility with information given in the Executive Board, Delegate Assembly, and other sources. So, in this post, I’ll go through some of the public information we have right now and analyze what it means for our members and for our union.
Committing to a Pay Cut
It’s no secret that DC37 is about to set the economic pattern for all other New York City municipal unions. A roughly 3% annual salary increase is absolutely dreadful. Even when accounting for the one-time $3000 signing bonus, DC37 is committing to sub-inflation increases. The exact numbers for UFT may be slightly more or slightly less depending on other ‘economic’ decisions made in DC37’s contract. But, we have the big numbers here. DC37 is effectively committing us to a pay cut in real wages. And, because their contract will last for more than five years, DC37 is also committing to a pay cut for a very long time. If that’s hard to stomach, it’s even worse when we look at the pattern in context. Nationally, non-unionized workers are getting better raises on average than unionized municipal employees are about to agree to here in New York.
That’s why at Executive Board this Monday, I asked LeRoy Barr why we weren’t publicly taking issue with the pattern about to be set. His response, that ‘we can’t make public statements about another union’s contract,’ astonished me. First of all, let’s be clear that UFT leaders have publicly criticized the pattern set by other unions before. For instance, back in 2001 Randi Weingarten stated that a pattern set by DC37 was too low for teachers to take. Second of all, why on earth would current UFT leadership place being courteous to other union’s leadership over the interests of our members? If our raises are about to be set at horrendous levels by DC37 leadership, it is the absolute duty of Mulgrew et al to do whatever they can to stop that. The fact that UFT leadership isn’t publicly fighting for pay increases that exceed that of non-unionized workers frankly raises existential questions about our union.
A ‘Gentlemen’s Agreement’ on Healthcare Reductions
At this week’s executive board meeting, Mulgrew claimed that ‘there won’t be any ‘healthcare savings’ in this round of bargaining.’ In the next breath, however, he said ‘but, we’ll look at the RFP.’ There are currently two RFPs, both of which were designed so that the MLC could realize cost savings for the City. The problems with the first RFP, Medicare Advantage, are well known. In short, retirees could lose access to traditional public Medicare and face diminished networks and tons of red tape. The second RFP, which is more mysterious, is for in-service members. Union officials have stated that they are seeking a plan similar to GHI at around 10% less of a cost. They have also threatened the possibility of premiums. So, call me crazy, but if healthcare isn’t a part of this round of contract negotiations, why are we humoring plans that potentially reduce our benefits or increase member responsibility for healthcare costs?
The only possible answer here is that clearly healthcare is a part of contract negotiations. This shouldn’t surprise anyone. The City was blunt with all unions that new contracts would be predicated on finding healthcare savings first. And frankly, the City and the MLC have been lock-step on many of the proposed changes. Now, on the eve of DC37 ratifying a new contract, we see two RFPs in the mix to reduce the City’s fiscal obligation to our healthcare. This isn’t rocket science.
Where does this leave us? As Mulgrew has stated time and time again, healthcare is a part of our overall compensation package. So, if the City reduces our healthcare or increases our costs, the already bad 3% annual wage increase could be much worse. Heck, we might see a pay cut even without adjusting for inflation.
Settling for Minor Workplace Changes
So, if salary is down the drain and healthcare reductions are already in the works, what’s left? All UFT can do is negotiate for workplace stuff. There’s potential here, but I’m still pessimistic. First of all, if we can’t even negotiate raises above inflation, do we really think we can get the City to improve our working conditions? My guess is that we’re only going to get the City to agree to stuff they want anyways. Mulgrew kind of hinted at this at the last Delegate Assembly, where he said ‘[The DOE is] listening on us to some extent on things we need just to be able to do our jobs better.’ I’d love to see those improvements that make it easier for me to do my job well. But, changes that are mutually beneficial to both the employee and the employer are easy fights. We see those types of wins in places that don’t even have unions. But, we do have a union. What we need to be fighting (yes fighting) for is precisely the stuff that is good for teachers and not necessarily good for the City (as an employer): things like smaller class sizes, caseload reductions, and yes – better wages and healthcare. Bottom line: the UFT must do better than settling for what the City wants anyways. We aren’t going to get anything more than the bare minimum unless we act like a union and organize.
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The UFT lobbied, and Hochel signed what union leaders couldn't achieve through negotiations for over 60 years, namely reduced class sizes. A winner for the union on many fronts as the staffing membership will grow and less space will be available for charter schools and their classrooms. But wait- there's more! It is an unfunded state mandate that the city will have to pay for. Where do you think those hundreds of million dollars will come from? If you guessed health care give yourself a pat on the back. MA plan for retirees and reduced benefits for actives.