Union and management relations can be contentious or collaborative, or, both. The Bloomberg relationship with the teacher union began let’s say as “professional” and turned toxic.
Bloomberg closed 150 schools and teachers in the schools were placed in an Absent Teacher Reserve, assigned to schools temporarily. Bloomberg was clear, if the teachers in the closed schools could not find jobs they’d be laid off maybe after six months. In Chicago laid off teachers have recall rights for only ten months. In New York State layoff/recall rights are embedded in state law, and, needless to say the union vigorously opposed any changes in the law.
Bloomberg could not convince the state legislature to change the law, the power of unions, all unions, prevailed.
The teacher contract expired and Public Employee Relations Board (PERB) rules require the expired contract remain in full and effect until the successor contract is negotiated, called the Triborough Doctrine.
The union decided to wait until a new mayor was elected and the public increasingly lost confidence in the mayor. Sol Stern at the Manhattan Institute wrote,
… the public remains dissatisfied with Gotham’s schools. According to a poll of city voters commissioned by the Manhattan Institute, New Yorkers now trust the oft-maligned teachers more than they trust the mayor [Bloomberg]: Almost half of all respondents said that teachers should “play the largest role in determining New York City’s education policy,” compared with 28% who thought that the mayor-appointed schools chancellor should.
De Blasio succeeded Bloomberg; the union negotiated two contracts, full back pay, generally an amicable relationship that did deteriorate somewhat as COVID dominated the union-management relationship. Bloomberg probably holds the UFT responsible for his ill-fated run for presidency, and, his recent millions donated to support charter schools sounds like his anti-teacher union angst.
Mayor Adams chose David Banks, a long time friend and leader of the Eagle Academy Foundation and Banks hired Dan Weisberg as his Executive Director, his number two, Weisberg was Chief Executive Labor Policy under Bloomberg (2003-2009) and the Executive Director of The New Teacher Project (2015-2021), see a U-Tube interview here and read a widely distributed Weisberg report, The Widget Effect, highly critical of teacher assessment here. Was Weisberg hired to be the “hard-ass” in contract negotiations or will his experience smooth the negotiations process?
Both sides will have negotiating demands, or perhaps call them goals. The NY Post reports Adams is “eyeing the White House” and the teacher contract negotiation could be a feather in his cap or a thorn in you know where.
Adams has mentioned a longer school day and longer school year, granting district superintendents greater authority, hiring more teachers of color, every week or so he floats another “idea.”
The influential Citizens’ Budget Commission sees tight budgets, “productivity,” aka, reducing “head count,” increasing tax revenue and fears “unaffordable” raises,
…, the city should use this next round of collective bargaining contracts to further increase productivity, which would generate savings to fund raises and stabilize the budget. Almost all city employees will be working under expired contracts by the end of the year. The tight job market and high inflation may increase municipal unions’ demands. Raises totaling 3% annually would cost about $1.5 billion in the first year, increasing to $4.3 billion in the third year. While a portion of a PEG for Productivity and higher tax revenue could defray some collective bargaining costs, much more will be needed, otherwise raises will be unaffordable.
Adams’s “audience” is the media, the NY Post, the Daily News and the swarm of online media either giving him kudos for negotiating a contract fair to children and families as well as teachers, or, crucify him for giving in to the union.
The union’s audience is their membership, who will have to ratify the proposed contract as well as the public, and those who claim to be spokespersons for the public.
At the top of the union list, a salary increase, and I suspect will argue inflation has eroded previous increases and the next contract should be an increase on top of inflation; perhaps a process to specifically address safety protocols, and, increase the role of teachers in the collaborative process at the school and district level.
The union has set up a 400-member negotiating committee, a “stratified random sample” of union members, conducted surveys and held focus groups to fine tune and target the needs of union membership.
All public employee unions and management operate under PERB rules,
· grants public employees the right to organize and to be represented by employee organizations of their own choice;
· requires public employers to negotiate and enter into agreements with public employee organizations regarding their employee terms and conditions of employment;
· establishes impasse procedures for the resolution of collective bargaining disputes;
· defines and prohibits improper practices by public employers and public employee organizations;
· prohibits strikes by public employees; and
· establishes a state agency to administer the Law — The Public Employment Relations Board (PERB).
If the parties are not making progress, called impasse, either party can ask PERB to intervene, from mediation to fact-finding to non-binding arbitration. The union and the Department of Education moved to arbitration in 2002 and 2012, I wrote about the process in 2012 in detail, worth a read here,
PERB assigns an arbitrator, or a panel of three arbitrators, and the process following the rules of the American Arbitration Association. Witnesses testify, are cross-examined, evidence is introduced, and the arbitration panel releases a non-binding opinion.
The panel explores “comparability,” also called “pattern bargaining (what salaries in other locations should the arbitrators use as a guide and the percent in other union settlements in the city) as well as “ability to pay,” (what can the city afford based on tax revenues and anticipated expenses), and “interest and welfare of the public” (a catchall which incorporates everything else).
The process can take months, dozens of witnesses, hundreds of documents and thousands of pages of transcripts.
Read a decision from a small school district here.
What happens at the negotiating sessions?
In my early days as a union activist three of us were selected to serve on the fifteen member negotiating team, six officers, six executive board members and three young “activists,” I have no idea why I was asked. Lucille Swaim was the Coordinator of Negotiations, a stern woman, a Phd in Economics who made it abundantly clear, we keep our mouths shut at the negotiating session, any questions: ask Lucille. Yes, we did sit across from each other at the bargaining table, with thick briefing books: Was the “demand” budgetary or non-budgetary? If it’s budgetary how is the city going to pay for it? On the team were two union budget experts who would explain in detail how the city could find the dollars, on non-budgetary demands the city held the line arguing “managerial discretion.” At some point we divided into committees and divided up the demands. And, we waited: a demand was amended, more questions, “We want to discuss internally, we’ll be back in ….,” an hour became many hours. The disputed items were fewer and fewer, and eventually we met almost around the clock. I learned from Lucille contract language must be precise, “may,” “shall” “should” “will” all have different meanings in contract language.
We wanted to reduce class size, add more social workers and psychologists, and avoid counting as budgetary demands. Challenging.
Should a raise be the same across the board, everyone receives the same percent, or, add dollars to longevity and differentials? Can we use targeted raises to retain teachers?
From day 1 the possibility of arbitration exists and every offer and counter offer can impact the decision of the arbitrator(s) if we move to arbitration.
At some point an agreement is reached, a Memorandum of Understanding, when ratified is incorporated into the existing collective bargaining agreement, the union delegates followed by the union membership vote.
Can the members reject an agreement? Yes. Have they ever rejected an agreement? Yes, in 1995 the members rejected the agreement, months later a similar contract was ratified, a story for another time.
Striking is highly unlikely, although, with a new mayor “with ambitions,” …..?
PERB, also referred to as the Taylor Law (George Taylor, professor at the University of Pennsylvania chaired the committee whose report was the basis of the law) outlaws strikes, defines strikes as a “concerted action,” a “sick out’ is considered a strike under the law. The penalty is loss of an additional days pay for each day on strike, fines for the union, the loss of dues check off for a specific period of time and other penalties imposed by the courts.
The negotiations process is tedious and incremental, if there is no information re the bargaining, probably a good sign, if the sides begin tossing darts, trouble. The contract expires September 13, 2022, under the Triborough Doctrine the current contract remains in full force and effect.
My advice: put aside a little personal strike fund, just in case.