Collective Bargaining: How Might the UFT and the City Reach a Contract Settlement?

The NYC teacher contract ended on September 30th and the union and Department of Education/City have been “engaging” for months, an increasingly contentious relationship.  Once a contract is reached, and it will be reached, the same parties who argued over the terms of the contract will be enforcing/enacting the agreement; antagonists one day, cooperators the next.  Read an excellent discussion of current NBA negotiations here

Decades ago, for reasons that elude me, the union leaders choose three young activists to serve on the contract negotiations team, sociologists would call us “participant observers.”  Negotiations: meeting after meeting and lots of time waiting for the Department/City to respond and caucusing among themselves. What I learned was the process extends far beyond the parties at the negotiating table.

Under PERB procedures ability to pay and pattern bargaining play a core role in the process.  Ability to pay:  the cities economic condition and pattern bargaining: similar agreements.

The union would probably argue,

  • The impact of inflation, under the current contract teachers effectively have taken a pay cut due to inflation, the next contract must factor inflation, a raise over and above the rate of inflation.
  • The pool of prospective teachers and teacher preparation programs are shrinking at a time when retirements are increasing. See Here Today, Gone Tomorrow, the an AFT Report, chaired by Michael Mulgrew, UFT President.
  • Suburban districts pay far higher salaries than the City, the suburban districts both recruit new teachers and hire from among current NYC teachers, the only way to stem the flow is competitive salaries.

I’m sure there are additional arguments, if the parties cannot resolve the issues the dispute can move to the medication, fact-finding, impasse, arbitration route and the previous negotiations sessions are part of the record. You must craft your arguments carefully and backup with data, with evidence and potential witnesses.

The Department/City would probably argue,

  • The financial impact of the pandemic on the city was disastrous and the city has not recovered, Unemployment is high, tax revenue slow, businesses have abandoned offices and may never return, remote work may be the norm, federal COVID assistance is ending, and the city must prepare for difficult times.
  • The city may be on the cusp of a 2008 type recession, the State Comptroller is urging the city to plan for the worst, we are not filling vacancies, our 23-24 budget calls for a much thinner budget, and we simply don’t have the ability to pay.

Finding common ground is challenging, contract negotiations are an economic and a political exercise, underline political.

The world of media: print, online, blog, Twitter, Substack, Facebook, MSNBC, Fox, and on and on. The “public,” whatever that means is looking over everyone’s shoulder.

Does the public see teachers as caring individuals, risking their own health in schools at the height of the pandemic, folks who deserve to be fairly compensated or, overpaid and fleeing to the suburbs at 3 pm?  Will a “tough,” intransigent mayor defending the fiscal status of the city outweigh fairly compensating teachers?

At what point does the union begin running TV ads?  How does the mayor respond?  

In 1989 the UFT broke with precedent and endorsed a mayoral candidate in the primary, Sandy Feldman, the UFT president, ran a vigorous campaign leading Dinkins to victory both in the primary and the general election, against Rudy Giuliani, by a narrow margin. The UFT has elected a mayor.

For difficult to understand reasons Dinkins allowed the union contract to expire and fenced with union for two years. The UFT ran increasingly strong advertisements, picketed Gracie Mansion, and finally, a few months before the election Dinkins agreed to a contract in line with other city contracts. The UFT made no endorsement and Giuliani won in tight race.

Some excoriated the UFT; failing to endorse Dinkins was “shameful,” There is no way the membership would have supported a Dinkins endorsement after being ignored for two years.

The UFT elected a mayor in 89 (Dinkins by endorsement) and Giuliani in 93 (by no endorsement)

A lesson for Adams?

Does Adams drag out the negotiations, force the negotiations into arbitration and risk a 1993 reaction?

Hovering above the city are the powerbrokers, the ultimate deal-makers. In 1975 as the city began to slip into bankruptcy, Congress member Herman Badillo favored bankruptcy, Richard Ravitch, one of the powerbrokers, and future Lieutenant Governor played a major role in the “deal,” the UFT agreeing to the teacher pension fund loaning the city dollars to pay off bonds.

Are there powerbrokers in shadows today?

How can Adams and Mulgrew craft an agreement acceptable to union members, candidate Adams, the budget hawks and the populace in general?

Would the percent raise in the minor league baseball CBA be acceptable?

One response to “Collective Bargaining: How Might the UFT and the City Reach a Contract Settlement?

  1. ken karcinell

    I believe that DOE-Teacher Contracts should only be negotiated by union and city players during the summer. There is no reason why “good faith” bargaining can’t be brought to terms during those two summer months, as opposed to striking and rendering further harm to our city’s children.


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