de Blasio, Dinkins, Teacher Contract Negotiations and Lessons from the Past

The once popular mayor faded in his third term, scandals and public opposition, the archetypical New Yorker, Ed Koch, had become an overbearing politician. The first Afro-American candidate defeated Koch in the democratic primary and faced Rudi Giuliani in the election. With the vigorous support of the teachers union and a broad coalition David Dinkins, a lifelong party foot soldier became the first Afro-American mayor of the Big Apple.

In his just-published autobiography (“A Mayor’s Life: Governing New York’s Gorgeous Mosaic”) Dinkins defends his troubled four years and his defeat by Giuliani.

Teachers played a key role in what was an intense and often ugly campaign, interestingly the last time the union supported a winner – Dinkins – was followed by twenty years of Republican mayors in a city with an overwhelming democratic citizenry.

Negotiations for a new teacher contract inched along, Dinkins was cautious, very cautious, and you couldn’t expect him to open the city coffers, even if he owed his election to the union. Weeks turned into months and months in a year and still not a contract. The union moved from demonstrations to radio ads to TV ads urging Dinkins to conclude a contract. Finally, in September, 2003, a contract was negotiated; the union membership would never abide endorsing Dinkins, not after a year and a half of an expired contract. The union made no endorsement and Dinkins was a one term mayor and his mishandling of the teacher contract might have cost him his re-election.

Bill de Blasio will be elected mayor on November 5th.

Today, teachers, four years without a contract, expect a speedy resolution and a favorable contract.

In New York State public employee labor relations are governed by the Public Employee Relations Board (PERB). Under state law public employee expired contracts remain in full force and effect until a successor contract is negotiated. If the parties cannot resolve a contract dispute PERB provides a mediator, if the mediation reaches impasse PERB appoints a panel of three arbitrators who conduct a non-binding arbitration referred to in the law as fact-finding. The current process is reaching a conclusion with a fact-finding decision due in December/January.

(Read the “Taylor Law” explaining the fact-finding procedures here

The 2002 139-page Fact-Finding Report was the last time the city and the union could not resolve a contract dispute (Read Report here

A major part of the Report will deal with salary – retroactive pay as well as an increase. The fact-finders will consider “pattern bargaining” and “ability to pay.”

This year “pattern bargaining” is a complex issue, there are no recent city labor agreements. In the remainder of the state the 2% property tax cap has basically halted teacher contract negotiations. Districts are struggling to meet day-to-day obligations under the cap. The required pension contributions have increased dramatically and districts are dipping into reserves to balance their budgets.

Additionally Governor Cuomo has appointed a task force to seek ways to reduce taxes in the state.

How will these events impact the fact-finders establishing a “pattern”?

The second “ability to pay” principle in an era of federal sequestration, the furloughing of federal employees and the possible default all impact the city’s “ability to pay.” Four years without contracts has built up an enormous “retroactive” salary problem.

Can the city afford $6-8 billion in retroactive salary payments?

The fact-finders will craft a recommended percent increase going forward as well as “going backwards.” In some prior contracts “back pay,” instead of a retroactive percentage increase was a “non-pensionable cash payment” spread over an extended period of time.

I have absolutely no knowledge of the current negotiations – I’m just speculating based on past practices.

The fact-finding report is only a recommendation, although in the three previous instances the report became the basis for a contract.

Mayors, no matter how favorable to a union, will not open up the coffers.

de Blasio will negotiate – negotiations mean a two-way street.

It is likely he will ask for changes in the contract which may not be palatable to all teachers.

In the early days the union used to submit many hundreds of bargaining demands. At the Delegate Assembly the demands were distributed and debated. A delegate walked up to a microphone and asked Al Shanker,

“Al, if we get everything, what will it cost?”

Al mulled for a while, stepped away from the microphone and appeared to be calculating, stepped back to the microphone and replied,

“A gold ball the size of the Earth.”

de Blasio has to satisfy a union hungry for a “fair” contract; how does one define “fair”?

The union cannot allow negotiations to fester, cannot allow the weeks to turn into months, and neither can de Blasio.

Aside from the key question of salary there are other core issues for the union: eliminating the ATR pool, bringing sanity to the teacher evaluation plan, embedding collaborative planning time in the contract, etc. What will de Blasio “demand” in exchange for union core issues?

Can the union and de Blasio negotiate a successor agreement, a new contract that satisfies the union and its members as well as pass scrutiny with the governor, the media, the public and the scions that run the city from the aeries of power?

The specter of Dinkins’s failed four years should be a lesson learned.

6 responses to “de Blasio, Dinkins, Teacher Contract Negotiations and Lessons from the Past

  1. Sick of Unity Caucus

    Revisionist history 101 from Ed in the Apple.

    The 1993 contract was the UFT’s third negotiation with Dinkins. There was a contract with Dinkins in 1990 that included a pattern breaking 5.5% increase. The UFT then loaned some of that increase back a few months later in exchange for the mid winter recess, no return after a sabbatical and a buyout. The 1993 contract was the second one with Dinkins. It was negotiated after the city had achieved a pattern with others and forced the UFT into it.

    Second problem: There was a fact finding report that led to the horrible 2005 contract. 2002 was not the last time the UFT went to PERB

    Please get your facts straight


  2. Eric Nadelstern

    The City needs to negotiate a fair contract with the UFT. Salary increases should be front-loaded to attract better prepared teachers, and the contract needs to extend staff time in school for collaborative planning. As painful as it is, we will also need tobegin to move away from a defined benefits pension for new employees to an employee/employer matching one. Since we don’t have “A gold ball the size of the Earth,” the long-term fiscal health of New York City depends on it.

    Whatever the contract, and I hope it is an attractive one for teachers, New York will be better off with a mayor who would rather be a great one-term mayor than a mediocre two-term one.


  3. What does “great one term mayor” mean? Great for who? And just one term?
    Since when does great translate into one term?
    With all the very very wealthy purchasing very very expensive real estate in the apple, surely there is greater ability to pay than
    our government lets on to. Of course, we wouldn’t want to tax the wealthy. That would mess up the plutocratic arrangement.


  4. Brooklyn Teacher 1925

    According to VP of middle schools today, the union will argue that, in accordance with a recent court ruling, “ability to pay” is null and void since taxes can be raised. In addition, he said that we are starting negotiations with a two-year contract to enable a recoup of the pattern bargaining that we alone as a union missed out on…4%/4%. Then, a newer 2011- contract can be worked on. FYI


  5. Mr Nadelstern

    There you go again! Pay new teachers the extra money while ignoring the veterans. Lengthen the teaching day for teachers without increasing the salary, and lets get rid of that awful teacher pension.

    Nowhere did I read about getting rid of the billion dollars worth of wasteful technology and consultants that bleed the schools of resources not to mention those blood-sucking useless Children First Networks that you created. In fact, many of the existing problems like the ATR pool, “fair student funding”, and school budgeting issues came under your watch.

    Way to go Eric.


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