The Carpenter and the Redhead: How Teacher Layoffs Were Averted, Oldtime Politics at Work

Michael Bloomberg is angry and frustrated.
In the budget endgame he was outmaneuvered by the carpenter and the redhead.
From Wisconsin to New Jersey republican governors squeezed teacher unions and won. Bargaining rights were stripped away, pension and health plan costs shifted from the states to teachers and tenure limited. Teacher unions were ineffective in fighting off these assaults and the governors’ popularity increased.  Why not jump on the “bash the teacher union” band wagon?
In New York City from his budget proposal in February to a few days ago the mayor steadfastly held to his 4100 teacher layoff position. The union responded with hundreds and hundreds of “local actions,” picketing and rallies and demonstrations in communities in every borough, in every neighborhood. Parents, churches, community organizations and advocates from the incredible spectrum that is New York City sided with teachers.
As the June 30 budget deadline approached the union publicly identified a fund, controlled by the Municipal Labor Coalition that could be used to avert layoffs. Lillian Roberts, the head of DC 37, the largest public employee union refused to go along with the plan to use the fund without guarantees of no layoffs for her members. Stories were adroitly leaked to the newspapers.
Quietly Mulgrew and Speaker of the City Council Chris Quinn crafted a plan to avert teacher layoffs, keep fire houses open and a number of other restorations. It was clear that Quinn controlled her fifty members. The Council could pass it’s own budget and override a mayoral veto: an impeding catastrophic defeat for a mayor with post mayoral ambitions.
Friday night, as the New York State Senate passed marriage equality a city budget settlement was announced, with layoffs only for DC 37 members.
Winners: Mulgrew and Quinn
Losers: Bloomberg and Roberts.
For months the union wooed individual Council members, voters in their districts vigorously opposed teacher layoffs and the mayor’s popularity plunged.
Old time community organizing, the door to door, person to person, face to face type of organizing that had been replaced by emails, Facebook, Twitter and robocalls showed that while technology is a wonderful tool, it can’t replace “feet on the ground.” New media does not replace handmade signs at community education council meetings, small groups meeting with a local elected official, parents standing on the steps of City Hall, the involvement of thousands upon thousands of ordinary folk. As the late Speaker of the House of Representatives Tip O’Neill told us, “All politics is local.”
Mulgrew and Quinn may seem like an odd couple.  A carpenter turned school teacher and an openly gay “big personality.”‘
When Randi Weingarten moved on to lead the national union and Mulgrew replaced her members asked, “Who’s Michael Mulgrew?”  After a year the membership elected him to a full term with 90% of the vote; each Delegate Assembly meeting is more of a revival meeting than a staid teacher union meeting. Mulgrew shouts, “Who are we?” and the thousand delegates scream back, “The UFT.”
His self-deprecating humor, his willingness to debate and engage all opinions, as one delegate remarked, “He’s one of us.”  He will never join Bloomberg at his Bermuda mansion, he’ll never feel comfortable on an elite golf course, he looks like he’d be much more at ease sipping a “cold one” in a neighborhood, corner tavern.
Quinn comes from a working class family in Queens and worked her way up through the political morass of New York City politics. As a gay woman in a man’s world she was not only elected to the Council but was elected as Speaker, the second most powerful elected office in the city.
The mayor plied the republicans with campaign dollars and the State Senate passed a bill ending “first in, first out,”  replacing it with layoff by principal choice. The plan was simple: with the governor on board the union would be forced to the bargaining table. Surprise! Hours after the anti-LIFO bill passed the Senate the governor trashed the bill. As the governor’s agenda, increasing tuition at CUNY/SUNY and a property tax cap was attacked by opponents, Mulgrew was silent.
The carpenter outmaneuvered and marginalized the billionaire.
After Monday’s budget webinar the principals and schools will find out the bad news, no layoffs does not mean no budget cuts.
Will the mayor swallow his pride and begin to negotiate or  continue plodding ahead in the trenches of management-labor conflict? There are a million kids out there and when the elephants fight the grass gets trampled.

6 responses to “The Carpenter and the Redhead: How Teacher Layoffs Were Averted, Oldtime Politics at Work

  1. Stop being so naive about Quinn. She is Bloomberg’s enabler in all things, no friend to teachers or to education. Bloomberg had to cave, from the minute it was clear that there would be no change to LIFO. All the rest has been a charade.


  2. Are the teachers the little oysters. Who is the Walrus. I am the eggman.


  3. Michael Fiorillo

    Quinn is an appendage of the mayor and the real estate lobby, and she did this to help him save face. While Michael Mulgrew is to be commended for holding firm on seniority, he should have stared Bloomberg down, because the mayor was not going to go through with layoffs as long as seniority remained in place.

    The are two seats reserved in Hell for Bloomberg and Quinn after they refused to lift a finger to save St. Vincent’s Hospital, causing the loss of 3,000 jobs, and denying Lower Manhattan a hospital that had been serving the community for 169 years, all so that it could be turned into a real estate play for the Rudins and NYU.


  4. Loretta Prisco

    Class size will increase. Other services to kids will be lost as schools will take another cut in budget allocations. Loss of classroom teachers resonated with the community. We had so many on our side. Not only did we miss the opportunity to speak in one loud voice – no cuts in services – to those of us who live here, to those of us who work here, and to those of us who care about what happens to our kids and their families, but we sold out those who supported us. Parents were on our side and we left them with loss of services and increased class size. We all know that we were not going to lose 4000+ teachers. They were hiring! And the writer of this blog knows this even better than most.


  5. I agree with Andrew Wolf and Michael Fiorillo that Bloomberg never would layoff even one of his “newbies” once he lost the LIFO fight. As for Quinn, she is no friend to teachers and simply saw her chance to be the next Mayor.


  6. Roma Giudetti

    Boy you sure know how to sling it. This entry is simply ridiculous. Mulgrew handed the mayor a way out once again at the expense of his members. Why did we have to give up sabbaticals? You haven’t even mentioned the ATRs here. Mulgrew stood firm against attacks on seniority because once seniority goes, so does the union. No one should forget Quinn handed the mayor a third time despite voters strong opposition. The UFT may endorse Quinn, but I hope not one teacher in this city is stupid enough to vote for her.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s