Collaboration and Conflict: Contract Negotiations and Working Together

On Tuesday the forty-five superintendents and UFT district representatives met with Chancellor Banks, UFT President Mulgrew and CSA President Cannizaro at the UFT headquarters. Banks reinforced his leadership style: give superintendents wide discretion, (within the contract) run districts along side the UFT and CSA reps in sharp contrast to the top-down leadership of his predecessor.  On Thursday, across the school system you may have noticed UFT members wearing blue, a sign of unity on the first day of formal contract negotiations At the Wednesday Delegate Assembly Mulgrew: warned: a tough road ahead and promised the 400 member negotiations committee would play a crucial role in the process. (Every division within the union has a committee involved in negotiations)

The Department, on one hand, let’s work together for a better school system, on the other hand, we can’t afford an equitable salary increase, do we notice a little schizophrenia?

Contract negotiations will be contentious, and hopefully, not toxic, see my blog of a few weeks ago for an in-depth discussion of how negotiations work under PERB and a little history here.

Each side has constituencies and shares constituencies: for the union the membership who are expecting a raise to offset inflationary price increases, for the mayor his reputation as a manager facing a stumbling return from the pandemic and increasingly looking like we’re facing a recession with declining revenues. Both sides appeal to the city at-large; the NY Post will attack the union, simply Murdoch’s anti-union bias. The NY Times sitting in the middle and parents and advocates across the city suspicious of the mayor and leaning towards the union: the class size law and budget fights put the union on the right side, missteps can tilt the table.

The City has $9 billion in reserves primarily from the federal dollars, funds that will sunset in two years and argues the city can’t afford a raise to match inflation.

In April the Citizen’s Budget Commission, a business-oriented think tank painted a bleak fiscal picture.

Consider this future – the existing $3 billion budget gap, $4 billion or more in employee raises and $2 billion fiscal cliff together are a $9 billion recipe for fiscal disaster by 2026 if nothing is done. Of course, this doesn’t account for another recession, which could produce a three-year revenue shortfall of $17 billion, based on the past.

This isn’t some “sky is falling” worst case scenario. It’s a reasonable portrait of inaction.

The only way to balance the important needs of New Yorkers today and in the future, when the city will face the inevitable next recession or emergency, is to prioritize programs, increase the efficiency and quality of services, and save for a rainy day. Absent these actions, the city will face future massive service cuts or harmful tax increases, and city workers will only get raises at the expense of services and reductions in force.

In spite of the warnings the 22-23 adopted budget was surprisingly generous, except for the Department of Education, the mayor claimed cuts were due to decreases in enrollment and a lawsuit is pending.

Adam’s budget planning for the next cycle began with calls for agency cuts in the current cycle and larger reductions in the upcoming cycles.

NEW YORK — City agencies will be forced to slash their budgets as Mayor Eric Adams grapples with increased demands on his administration in the face of a weakening economy.

In a letter sent to every city agency the Budget Director … instructed commissioners to cut their spending plans by 3 percent this fiscal year, which ends June 30, and 4.75 percent each of the following three years …?

“As we move towards the November Financial Plan and beyond, we face challenges that threaten our ability to keep the current year budget balanced and maintain manageable outyear gaps … We must act quickly and responsibly, otherwise funding for programs and services — many that serve the most vulnerable New Yorkers — will be at risk.”

The cuts are expected to save the city a total of $2.6 billion by June 30, 2024,

The move comes three months after Adams, a moderate Democrat, adopted a $101 billion budget that increased city spending, despite his campaign pledge of municipal belt-tightening.

And it immediately triggered an outcry from leaders of the city’s largest public-sector unions.

“This is outrageous. I can’t say it enough,” Henry Garrido, president of District Council 37, which represents some 150,000 city workers …

Garrido — who endorsed Adams in the mayor’s race last year — noted his members are working under an expired contract and have not received a raise for 16 months.

“You are not paying workers what they deserve. The city’s having such a hard time with recruitment and retention that you are going to increase the workload even more,” Garrido added. “I think that’s something that the public should not only know about but should be as outraged as we are.”

The teachers union president expressed similar opposition.

As both sides sit down at the bargaining table the city belt tightening foreshadows a lengthy process.

Under Bloomberg the UFT simply waited until Bloomberg was out of office and negotiated with his successor, de Blasio, not an option today, once the unions thwarted Bloomberg’s attempt to lay off excessed staff and erode tenure there was no pathway to a contract, Adams is faced with an uncertain fiscal future that he will use to low ball salary offers.

The City is also faced with an eroding pool of prospective teachers, enrollment in teacher education programs continues to spiral downwards and in-service teachers are leaving in ever increasing numbers. How do you build a high performing staff in the face of teachers leaving and the candidate pool diminishing? A substantial salary increase will retain and attract teacher candidates.

Chad Aldeman at Georgetown University takes a deep dive, “Why are fewer people becoming teachers?” here and an American Federation of Teachers task force report (“Here Today, Gone Tomorrow”) delves into policies to revitalize the teaching profession here.

Are we facing a recession?  Declining city revenue? Are raises in jeopardy?  Are current jobs and benefits in jeopardy?  Lawrence Summers, former Secty of the Treasury, Nobel Prize economist Paul Krugman, JP Morgan Chase CEO Jaime Dimon and Billionaire Investor Ray Dalio predictions may play a role in determining “ability to pay,” a primary factor if the negotiations head into fact-finding and arbitration.

On the non-budgetary side management also has “demands,” and the negotiating process attempts to merge labor and management “wants” into contract language: challenging.

Most city employees are working with expired contracts, aside from contract negotiations the Municipal Labor Coalition (MLC), representing all city employees is beginning the discussions over the next health plan for all employees.

Can the non-budgetary negotiations make teaching more amenable to current and future staff? Maybe learning from the PROSE schools, and the schools in the Affinity District, perhaps we should explore the role of Worker Councils in Germany, should teacher union members serve on school boards?

German industrial relations are characterized by a high degree of employee participation up to co-determination in companies’ boards (“Aufsichtsrat”), where trade unionists and works councils elected by employees have full voting rights. Local trade union representatives are democratically elected by union members and formally largely autonomous. Central boards of directors (“Vorstand”) are elected by delegates.

Mayor Adams, UFT Prez Mulgrew, CSA Prez Cannizaro and Chancellor Banks, in spite of occasional yawning differences in viewpoints, must stay connected.

After Governor Hochul included a 4 year extension of mayoral control in the preliminary budget, the legislature only approved a two year extension and expanded the PEP (the school board) weakening the role of the mayor, in the closing days of the session the legislature passed class size reductions in the face of vigorous opposition from Mayor Adams and Governor Hochul signed the bill into law.

Extended negotiations can become combative with attacks on teacher unions and rallies supporting the union, the days of collaboration can enter a toxic stage with the national anti teacher, anti public education crowd supporting Adams.

There is a chance, like Bloomberg, that the mayor will decide to battle, listen/watch Rhiannon Giddens, at Occupy Wall Street eleven years ago …

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