In November of 1968, after a brutal forty day strike teachers stumbled back to school, the dailies, the liberal intelligentsia flayed teachers and their union and the impact of the strike resonates forty years later . To make matters worse the contract was ending, it looked as if another war was brewing with Mayor John Lindsay.
A year later with the negotiations concluded the mayor and the union stood arm in arm as Governor Rockefeller signed Tier 1 into law, a change in the pension that was so dramatic as to boggle the mind. As they walked out of the Governor’s office the author of the plan, Dave Wittes, the UFT Secretary, leaned over and whispered to my wife, “They have no idea what they have done …” They soon did: by 1973 a lesser Tier 2 was created to be followed by a Tier 3 and a Tier 4
Why did a Mayor, who had done everything in his power to destroy the union agree to such a rich benefit?
It was simple, just plain old politics, John Lindsay wanted to be President and he needed Al Shanker and his teachers.
Today the union and the Mayor appear to be in a death struggle: closing schools, the Mayor’s Thanksgiving Eve list of grab backs, tenure under attack, a spiraling economy; a bleak climate in which to negotiate a contract.
Weeks or months, or many months or perhaps a year from now the mayor and the union president will be standing on the steps of City Hall lauding the agreement. The mayor will be sensitive to the print and electronic media both in New York City and around the nation. The union president sensitive to his membership who have to ratify the contract in a secret ballot referenda. “This agreement,” they will aver, “is good for children, for teachers and for the city.”
In July the NYC Labor Commissioner testified that the city had put aside funds for a 4% + 4% raise for teachers, last week the mayor publicly announced that the city could only afford a 2% raise, and, the governor’s budget could result in the layoff of 8500 teachers. PERB, the state agency that monitors the negotiations, balances “pattern bargaining,” defined as the raises granted to similarly situated unions, and the employer “ability to pay.”
The governor’s budget will not be the final budget and it is likely that teacher
layoffs will be averted in the mid-June city budget. Rather than 4% versus 2% contracts could be innovative, contracts can be back loaded with smaller raises in the early months and larger raises at the end of the contract. Contracts can be for more than two years, retroactive pay can be delayed. Negotiators can craft contracts to enable the city to get over a budget crisis without givebacks for union members.
The dissolution of the ATR pool, the shrinking of the rubber rooms and an expedited discipline process, using student achievement data in the tenure granting process, salary compensation schedules that include raises for “merit” are all possible for the creative.
Some iteration of the District 79 Reorganization Plan, the Peer Review Plus Program (Article 21J), peer review (including teachers in the evaluation of probationary teachers), differentiated staffing similar to the Lead Teacher (MOA, 2005, para 13), perhaps some of the elements in the New Haven and Detroit contracts could produce a “win-win” contract. A contract that the mayor could laud as a national model and a contract that would satisfy the union membership.
On the other hand it could be a year from now and after radio and TV ads excoriating the chancellor and the mayor no contract is in sight. During the Dinkins years the contract was not negotiated until 18 months after the expiration of the old contract. The contract was finally settled in September, 1993, the union did not endorse a candidate for mayor, and, Dinkins lost to Guiliani in a close election. Clearly a timely contract would have assured union support for Dinkins.
Does the mayor want to stand with the anti-union folks and continue his obdurate opposition? Does he want to ally himself to the Obama-Duncan agenda? Does he want to appeal to the three million teachers nationwide and the tens of millions of parents? Is he considering a Ross Perot-like run as a third party candidate? Or, simply worried about his legacy?
Randi Weingarten was able to negotiate with the ultra conservative Governor Pataki, with Mayor Bloomberg and increase teacher pay by 43%, and, to be courted by Secretary of Education Duncan.
Will new union president Mulgrew and Mayor Bloomberg craft a “win-win” contract?
Let’s hope so. Let’s hope that a new contract is not only is a political “win-win” but also embeds policies that will return the school system sanity and be a “win-win” for families and children.