Mayor de Blasio and UFT President Mulgrew continue to praise the negotiations process; both have a great deal at stake. The Mayor has stumbled badly in his first three months, although he stumbled because the Governor tripped him. His request for a very modest tax increase on individuals earning over a half million dollars to fund pre-k for five years was extinguished by Governor Cuomo who insisted on funding prek through the state budget. The Mayor fought for a while and backed off only to see the charter school folk, with the support of the Governor, savage the Mayor with five million dollars of TV commercials and embedded pro-charter provisions in the law.
The Mayor needs a victory and the next issue are contract negotiations.
The teacher union contract expired on 10/31/09 – and currently every single public employee union has an expired contract – 150 union contracts.
Under the provisions of the Public Employee Relations Board (PERB) regulations salary increases are based on both “ability to pay” and “pattern bargaining” principles. Management and labor can parse other contracts, city tax collections/expenditures, the national and local economy and agree upon percentage increases in each budget cycle since the contract expired and reasonable increases going forward. Apparently both sides have, in principle, agreed that the length of the contract will extend beyond the current term of the mayor.
In the last few days the New Teacher Project (TNTP), Educators 4 Excellence and Campbell Brown in the NY Post have all called for the dismissal of teachers in the ATR pool. (See Dan Weisberg, TNTP article here, E4E analysis here, and Campbell Brown here)
The three groups are loosely linked, TNTP has consistently attacked teacher contract provisions, Educators 4 Excellence, a tiny Gates-funded fifth column within the union and Campbell Brown, a virulently anti-union voice, campaigning for a slot on Fox TV, fear a settlement may be in the near future and are trying to build public support for eliminating seniority-based layoffs.
Seniority-based layoffs are the basic principle of unions, perhaps the single issue that could lead to a strike. Simply put teachers and teacher union leaders would never support a contract that cedes seniority rules. The union would never negotiate away seniority-based layoffs and if management insists negotiations would stall.
The de Blasio administration has made it clear that it is moving from school closings to school fixing – the never-ending pool of excessed teachers will not continue to grow. The movement of 1,000 or so teachers into permanent jobs would be a one-time event – the ATR pool would disappear.
The hundreds of guidance counselors in the pool could be placed in Suspension Centers and GED Plus programs to provide much needed assistance to children at risk. Many teachers in the pool eligible to retire would probably retire, the vast number would be absorbed into schools and the small numbers who receive unsatisfactory ratings could be offered peer assistance and closely monitored. When the department ended two programs that provided GED services and created a new program (GED Plus) the department and the union created a method to select teachers for the new programs (Appendix I). While the ending of the ATR pool is not equivalent to the ending of District 79 the negotiating process shows that these complex issues have been resolved in the past in an amiable manner.
The Mayor needs the NY Times, the Citizens Budget Commission, the Wall Street Journal, the NY Daily News, the business community, the Governor, the “movers and shakers,” the public in general, to praise the settlement. The Mayor needs a “victory.”
The NY Post, the Democrats for Education Reform (DFER), Michelle Rhee, Eva Moskowitz, the education (de)formers will trash any settlement.
A settlement must include contract provisions that are “progressive,” whatever that means. In other cities contracts have included some iteration of merit pay, a concept that does not appear to be on the table in New York City.
I have argued scores of arbitrations for the union – the ones that involved dollars were always the easiest to resolve – especially with the guidance of an experienced arbitrator. The cases that revolved around the interpretation of a contract clause are far more difficult because of future ramifications – both sides are chary to allow arbitrators to, in effect, write contract clauses.
The fact-finding team – led by Marty Scheinman is an extraordinarily experienced team – you could not find more skilled practitioners.
In the real world of politics the “spin” is crucial – and the de Blasio administration has been challenged in the arena of “spin.” The effectiveness of getting out your message determines the public’s opinion of mayors. When de Blasio threw out the first ball at Mets opening day – he was booed. Why? Were Mets fans criticizing his performance as mayor, or, because he’s a Red Sox fan? An astute media team would have discussed linking de Blasio and David Wright or Mookie Wilson, Mets icons.
One would expect that whether the contract is settled in a few weeks or a few months the de Blasio team would have a game plan – a rollout. As the settlement approaches the team should have the media blitz ready to go … op ed pieces ready to go, “opinion makers” ready to go, Al Sharpton and Bill Clinton and Arne Duncan and Charles Schumer and CEOs all lined up to jump on board.
Mayor Bloomberg was masterful at messaging – it was rarely confused, it was targeted, the entire administration was on message – from the mayor to the commissioners to the press office – the press release, the opinion makers, the reporters, and the media editors were all in the messaging loop.
Of course, “it’s never over till it’s over,” and negotiations can fall off the rails, the de Blasio “offers” might not be acceptable to the union and the mayor can decide to go the Cuomo/Bloomberg route – settle with other unions and marginalize the teacher union.
The “unofficial” deadline is June 30th, the end of the fiscal year. The stakes are high.