What Happens During Contract Negotiations? Table Pounding and Foot Stomping or Numbers Crunching and Parsing … Creating a Contract Acceptable to Teachers and the Public.

 

 

 The name “chaos theory” comes from the fact that the systems the theory describes are apparently disordered, but chaos theory is really about finding the underlying order in apparently random data.
 
In summer of 1975 both the mayor and the chancellor were “friends” of the union. Days before the opening of school the “friendly” mayor and chancellor laid off 16,000 teachers and the union, that was in the midst of contract negotiations went on strike.
 
25,000 teachers packed Madison Square Garden and Al Shanker gave a rip-roaring speech that ended with the entire crowd standing and chanting “we won’t go back until we all go back!”
 
A few days later the strike was settled without the 16,000 teachers returning. By 1979 all laid off teachers were offered jobs, many had moved on to another positions and never returned.
 
Thirty-four years later I still meet teachers  who were laid off in 1975 and dislike Al and despise the union, feeling they were betrayed.
 
Mulgrew’s rather meek speech to union delegates calling for a speedy contract and limited bargaining goals  acknowledges a deteriorating economy.
 
The billion dollars of federal stimulus dollars will end next year and while Bernanke and Geithner opine that the recession is over, tax receipts in New York continue to decline, the State legislature will return after election day to make further cuts.
 
Perilous times to be involved in contract negotiations.
 
What actually happens at  a negotiating session?
 
* the 300 member negotiating sitting on one side of the table and Bloomberg on the other?
 
* Mulgrew making a rip-roaring table pounding speech?
 
* Screaming, yelling and finger-pointing …?
 
Actually the time is spent analyzing the cost of demands and parsing possible contract language, and an awful lot of waiting for the other guys to respond.
 
 “Negotiations” are on-going, not limited to the “contract season.”
 
In the Spring the DOE and the UFT negotiated a plan whereby the DOE would pay the difference in salary between school average salary and teacher salary for one category in the ATR pool hired by schools.
 
This week’s P-Weekly (Principal’s Weekly) the Department acknowledges that the union had a partial win in an arbitration and chapter leaders can now have limited access to school budget data. The wording was probably screened by the union.
 
A number of the bargaining demands are “win-wins,” beneficial to both sides, and can help “sell” an agreement to the public at large, such as the demands streamlining the 3020a teacher discipline procedures.
 
The negotiations are divided into budgetary demands, things that cost money, and non-budgetary, all else. The reason why the union does not negotiate class size as part of the contract negotiations, the dollars would come out of the salary package.
 
“Sitting around the negotiating table” are in-house lawyers, some from the union and the department as well as outside counsel, “numbers” people, the City Office of Labor Relations, key union and department staffs with particular expertise. The “sides” exchange “concepts,” number analysis, and, eventually suggested contract wording, changing a comma here, adding a phrase there until all parties agree. Sometimes the wording of  a section is unclear on purpose, the sides couldn’t agree, so they add ambiguous language. A “concept” can be placed in the contract as a concept, details to be negotiated later in the hope that by the time of the next contract the idea can be incorporated.  Issues below are bound to be “on the table,”
 
* Finding agreement on how much each per cent of a raise costs the city?
 
* If the contract adds H1N1 to the childhood diseases exemption list, how much would it cost the city?
 
* If the union and the department agree to go beyond the pattern, how do they justify it?
 
* Can you exhaust the ATR pool in such a manner that will satisfy all parties?
 
* The current contract has a limited no-layoff clause, will the parties agree to continue the clause?
 
The department and the union jointly agreed upon a confidentiality agreement, no public statements, no leaks to the press. Both sides have been negotiating agreements since 1961 and know that negotiating in the press only postpones a contract.
 
Contract negotiations can resemble “watching ice melt” as the other side mulls over an offer for hours or days and those incredibly tense moments preceding a final agreement as the union negotiators debate whether to accept the offer, how the membership will react, and can they get “more,” or risk all.

 

 

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2 responses to “What Happens During Contract Negotiations? Table Pounding and Foot Stomping or Numbers Crunching and Parsing … Creating a Contract Acceptable to Teachers and the Public.

  1. As one of the 16,000 laid off in’75-76, I can attest to Shanker selling us out. The only support we got from the union was a sheet advising us how to apply for foodstamps. Meanwhile, many of us were offered continued employment but as day-to-day subs at $40 per day and without medical benefits. Randi made avoiding layoffs of teachers and paras a much higher priority and was much more successful than Shanker. And even though ATRs are being treated like shit, at least they’re full pay and benefits–so far. As unions used to say, “An injury to one is an injury to all.”

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  2. Pingback: Remainders: A union leader from central casting | GothamSchools

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