What’s Happening with the Teacher Union (UFT) – New York City Department of Education Contract Negotiations?

Early in the morning I pedaled to my neighborhood country store, nibbled my banana, sipped my coffee while reading the NY Times online wearing my “United Federation of Teachers – A Union of Professionals” t-shirt when a woman gave me a thumbs up.

“You a teacher?”

“For a long time”

“My daughter teaches in Wisconsin, it’s terrible what that governor (Scott Walker) did, their contract is one-page, they’re treated like dirt.”

The recent statewide strikes were in states without collective bargaining; teachers hadn’t received raises in years and health benefits had eroded.

Only about twenty or so states have laws that permit collective bargaining; in New York State the Public Employees Relations Board (PERB) governs collective bargaining for public employees.

The New York City teachers’ union, the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) has been engaged in negotiations for their expiring contract since June, with nary a newspaper article. The Specialized High School Admittance Test (SHSAT) and the screened schools, impacting one or two percent of students, has gobbled up all the air.

The UFT appointed a 300-member bargaining committee in the spring representing all sections of the union, by license, division, by internal political caucus. The UFT was also attempting to negotiate paid child care leave for months; not wanting to entangle the issue with the contract negotiations. In June the Union and the City agreed on a plan, paying for the benefit by extending the current contract from November into February; raises under the contract that is currently being negotiated will begin in February.

Using the 300-member bargaining committee and membership surveys the union built a menu of bargaining demands.

How does the negotiating process work?

Triborough Doctrine: A court decision, known as the Triborough Doctrine is now part of PERB regulations, expired contracts remain in full force and effect until the successor agreement is negotiated. The state school board association has continually opposed the regulation, it removes a negotiating threat, in other states the expiration of a contract allows management to reduce or eliminate benefits; however, the doctrine is firmly embedded, it has prevented strikes or other work stoppages.

Penalties under PERB, aka, the Taylor Law: (Professor Taylor chaired the Task Force that resulted in the creation of PERB). If public employees go on strike penalties include loss of a day’s pay for each day on strike, (2 for 1 penalties), fines imposed on the union and/or strikers as well as loss of dues checkoff for the union. A strike is defined as a “concerted acts,” for example; a sickout is a strike under the regulation.

Mediation, Impasse, Arbitration: If the negotiations fail to achieve a contract PERB will assign a mediator, if the parties reach impasse PERB will assign an arbitrator(s) who will conduct an arbitration over the unresolved issues: witnesses, documents, cross examination, briefs resulting in a non-binding arbitration decision. It is highly unlikely the current set of negotiations will move down the impasse, mediation arbitration pathway; then again, you never know.

Budgetary and Non-Budgetary Demands:  In the distant past the union’s Delegate Assembly would debate and approve demands, usually many hundreds of demands. Back in the Al Shanker days a delegate asked Al, “How much would it cost if we got everything?” Al, stepped back from the microphone, seemed to think for a moment, and moved back to the mike, “It would probably cost a gold ball the size of Earth.” These days, in the era of instant news, neither party wants to negotiate on twitter, the demands are not made public. Demands, from labor and management, are divided into budgetary and non-budgetary demands. The parties negotiate a percent increase which translates into a dollar amount that must be added to the city budget. Class size is not part of the negotiations because the union would have to “pay” for the cost out of the cost of the settlement; class size reductions would require that management would have to agree to absorb the cost outside of the contract cost.  On a number of occasions the City Council included targeted class size reductions in the budget.

 How Do You Decide the Size of A Raise? Pattern Bargaining and Ability to Pay: PERB-based collective bargaining requires the raise to be based on raises given to similar employees; is the pattern based on the salary of suburban teachers? Other municipal employees? Teachers in large urban systems? And, the other element is Ability to Pay; what is the projected financial situation of the city over the next few years. Will Trump policies reduce city revenue? Will increasing tourism add to the city coffers? For example, the state Comptroller is predicting future pressures on the state budget (See “Too Much Debt, Not ?Enough Savings: State Finances on Rocky Ground Comptroller Says

Managerial Prerogatives : The most difficult section of the contract will be the issue of managerial prerogatives; how far is the Department of Education (DoE) willing to go in the area of distributive leadership, for example, the number of lesson observations, including the union in day to day operation of schools, “cultural” disputes at the school level, etc. The current contract allows schools to modify sections of the contract and section of DoE regulations.

 Of all the breakthrough ideas in the 2014 contract, none has more potential to empower teachers and their school communities than the PROSE initiative. PROSE stands for Progressive Redesign Opportunity Schools for Excellence, and the opportunities for redesign at the heart of this program are predicated on the UFT’s core belief that the solutions for schools are to be found within school communities, in the expertise of those who practice our profession.

I’m sure the union wants to expand the PROSE concept.

Would the Department agree to “carve out” an autonomy district?  A remnant of the Bloomberg structure remains, there are 150 or so schools that work with not-for-profit organizations (The Internationals Network, New Visions for Public Schools, The Urban Assembly) these schools are called affinity schools and operate under the same superintendents and have some autonomy. They are mostly small high schools.

Since arriving in the spring the chancellor has not addressed questions of autonomy and accountability. He is adding another layer of accountability by adding executive superintendents above the traditional local superintendents (See presser describing new structure here)

On one hand the Department appears to be moving in the accountability direction and away from the autonomy direction, on the other hand the union clearly wants to move towards more distributive leadership in schools, more towards autonomy.

A year ago Eric Nadelstern, a former deputy chancellor was interviewed by Monica Disare, a reporter at Chalkbeat, the online education digital newspaper; and asked about his vision,

Disare: What exactly would it [the school system] have looked like in a perfect world, if it [Eric’s ideas] had trickled down?

Nadelstern: Well, I’ll tell you what it looked like at International High School, because that was the model that I had in my head. Teachers hired other teachers, they supported them, and they evaluated them. There was a lot of peer review going on and that made the important decisions around continuation of service during probation, around tenure, around evaluation after tenure.

I thought having a faculty govern the school was important because if you give teachers agency, they will do everything they can to make sure kids succeed. In an urban area like New York, that’s the only way you’re going to get teachers to work hard enough to be successful. You can’t pay them enough, you can’t cajole them enough, you can’t scare them enough. You just give them more ownership of effort and then they will do it.

The Department appears to be internally conflicted, or, perhaps the “new” Department is a “big tent.”

Both sides would like a contract by the beginning of school.

I was the co-strike leader in a school district, it was a day before the opening of school, the contract was expiring, we were finalizing phone trees (remember?), moving around pickets, getting the picket signs ready, my co-chair’s husband was on the negotiating committee. He stumbled in, “We’ve been at it for over 24 straight hours, we’re real close, let me get a few of hours of sleep and get back to the table.”

The strike lasted two weeks.

2 responses to “What’s Happening with the Teacher Union (UFT) – New York City Department of Education Contract Negotiations?

  1. Pingback: City/State Education Summit: The NYC Movers and Shakers Meet Richard Carranza | Ed In The Apple

  2. Pingback: The UFT Contract Proposal: Can a Teacher Contract Rebuild Trust in Public Schools: An Aggressive Agreement Confronts Teacher Shortages, Teacher Collaboration and High Poverty/At Risk Schools | Ed In The Apple

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