DOE-UFT Contract Talks Begin: With Musings to Questions from Teachers and Parents with the Spector of Randi Weingarten Hovering.



Left early. Please bring the money or you keep the car.
The closing lines of the Thomas Crown Affair (Steve McQueen to Faye Dunaway). 
The UFT, the NYC teacher’s union and the City of New York formally kicked off contract negotiations, as reported by Anna Phillips on Gotham Schools. There were no press conferences, no verbal assaults, no strutting, both sides have done this many times. The contract ends on October 31, however, under NYS labor law the expired contracts remain in effect until the successor contract is negotiated.
Are the rumors about two year contract with raises of 4% each year true?
In the recent MTA-TWA fact-finding the head of the NYC Office of Collective Bargaining Jim Hanley testified that the City had put aside 4% a year for two years for the UFT negotiations. The concept of “pattern bargaining,” each contract impacts on the other, is firmly embedded in public employee labor negotiations.
In the last two sets of UFT negotiations the City explained that the increases of 43% were justified because the union agreed to an increase in the length of the school day (150 minutes a week) and in the school year (two additional days). The additional time was converted to a dollar value and the City explained that the contract was within the pattern. (time for dollars + the pattern)
How can the City afford any raises in this economic climate?
Another concept in public employee labor negotiations is “ability to pay,” the City could claim that the deteriorating economic situation makes the pattern impossible.  City and union economists would duel over the future fiscal status of the City. The union could claim that the Tier 5 agreement for “newbies,” newly hired teachers in 9/09, will save the City millions in future years, increasing savings in each year as more and more teachers enter the system at lower pension costs. The City pension costs have escalated substantially as the public unions have increased benefits over the last few years.
Aren’t pension and tenure and layoff rules embedded in State law? How can the City and the Union agree on items that require legislation?
It is commonplace for both parties to agree to support legislation on items agreed to in the contract that require legislative action. The best example are pensions. The City and union negotiate changes, with “triggers,” if an agreed upon actuary places a  stamp of approval on the numbers the proposed changes are introduced as bills in Albany.
The NYS Constitution prohibits any reductions in pensions for current or retired employees. Tenure and layoff rules can be changed by legislation, and, they have been in the past.
Are there any rules that regulate the actions of the parties?
The NYS Public Employees Relations Board (PERB) regulates the organizing of public employees and management-labor interactions, including labor negotiations. See here for  detailed discussion. PERB will only involve itself if the parties cannot reach an agreement by the contract expiration date.
Who represents the public? Who represents the parents in the negotiating process?
The public is represented by the Mayor.
What role will the Chancellor have in the negotiations?
As much of a role as the Mayor grants the Chancellor. Every 1% in salary increase costs the City in excess of 100 million dollars. The non-budgetary issues: the ATR pool, excessing rules, tenure, are primarily in the domain of the Chancellor.
How does the November 3rd Mayoral election impact the negotiations? Is it possible that the union and the Mayor have already made a “deal”?
The answers are “complicated.”  On September 13th the Mayor is up in the polls by “only” 15% … in spite of spending many, many tens of millions of dollars. Every newspaper has endorsed Bloomberg, and so have scores of elected officials, and Bill Thompson, his challenger, has no money. It would appear that Bloomberg will coast to a victory. If the gap widens perhaps, just perhaps, the Mayor will drive a harder bargain. If the gap narrows, maybe, the Mayor will want to resolve the contract before the election. Will resolving the contract before election day translate into more votes for the Mayor?  All speculation, and speculation could impact the direction of the negotiations.
The union switching policy, supported the Mayor retaining control of the PEP, continuing his control of schools. The union agreed to a lesser pension system, Tier 5, for new employees. In spite of a close relationship with Bill Thompson the union has thus far stayed on the sidelines.
The Mayor has supported upgrading the teaching corp by offering competitive salaries and has supported Joel Klein in his efforts to attract potentially high quality employees, as well as supporting the Chancellor in his efforts to rid the system of older employees, and, especially the ATR poll scheme.
The school bonus plan is now paid for by tax levy funds, and clearly the plan was driven by the Mayor.
The union and the Mayor have a “relationship.”
Will Mulgrew and the Mayor address the larger issues of individual merit pay, changing excess/hiring rules, rubber room, etc.?
The ATR pool, according to the NY Daily News is costing the City $137 million … unsustainable in an era of severe budgetary stress.
If there is a timely contract I would suspect a “simple” contract, with the “larger” issues pushed forward. Than again, this is New York City, and will the ghost of Randi Weingarten want to use the UFT contract on the national scene, and a Mayor with visions that reach beyond New York City. Perhaps the DOE-UFT contract will be a national model.
Who actually approves the contract?
On the union side the Executive Board, followed by a secret ballot referendum in which all active employees vote. In 1995 the contract was defeated … a similar contract was approved about six months later.
On the City side the Mayor approves the contract, technically I believe the PEP must also approve, but with a majority appointed by the major it is a rubber stamp. The City Council plays no formal role. The Comptroller can certainly comment, but has no legislative responsibility.
The “budget hawks,” the not-for-profits, the think tanks, the pundits, the newspaper editorial boards will all chime in.
Will the UFT members approve a contract with a substantial raises but includes other issues that are perceived as “give-backs,” like the weakening of tenure?
The UFT elections will probably take place in February – April, and the members can express their pleasure/displeasure with union leadership on their secret ballot.
The predominant caucus is the Unity caucus, all union presidents have been elected from the Unity caucus. The opposition caucus in the 80’s and 90’s elected the high school members of the Executive Board, and, occasionally the High School Vice President. That will no longer be possible. In a change in the union constitution all the officers are elected at-large. Even if a majority of high school teachers vote for candidate “A,” if candidate “B” receives more overall votes candidate “B” is elected.
In the last election Randi Weingarten received almost 90% of the vote.
The UFT members get “two shots at the apple,” a vote for or against the contract, and for or against the union leadership that negotiated the contract.
What happens if a contract is not negotiated by election day and months go by?
PERB assigns a mediator, if no progress is made an impasse is declared, a fact-finding panel is appointed, the fact-finders listen to testimony and review evidence submitted by both parties and issues a non-binding report. The fact-finding report is not binding, but usually is the basis for a settlement. The process is lengthy and could take many, many months … could run into the fall of 2010 … and the issuance of the report does not guarantee a contract. See recent fact-finding reports here  and the a prior UFT-DOE report here.
As a young teacher I worked as a Network Strike Coordinator planning out the distribution of picket signs, who would picket which school, etc. It was Sunday afternoon and unless a last minute settlement occurred the strike was on.  We were working in Vivian O’Neill’s home, her husband was the UFT Middle School Vice President and key member of the negotiating team. He staggered into the house after a “round-the-clock” negotiating session, he turned to us and said, “It’s almost done … we all need a few hours of sleep and we’ll wrap it up.”
The strike started on Monday and lasted 13 days.
It’s never over til it’s over.




One response to “DOE-UFT Contract Talks Begin: With Musings to Questions from Teachers and Parents with the Spector of Randi Weingarten Hovering.

  1. Pingback: Layoffs, Budget Crises, Fear-Mongering an Antidote: a Thoughtful Look at School Reform « Ed In The Apple

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