Tag Archives: David Dinkins

de Blasio, Dinkins, Teacher Contract Negotiations and Lessons from the Past

The once popular mayor faded in his third term, scandals and public opposition, the archetypical New Yorker, Ed Koch, had become an overbearing politician. The first Afro-American candidate defeated Koch in the democratic primary and faced Rudi Giuliani in the election. With the vigorous support of the teachers union and a broad coalition David Dinkins, a lifelong party foot soldier became the first Afro-American mayor of the Big Apple.

In his just-published autobiography (“A Mayor’s Life: Governing New York’s Gorgeous Mosaic”) Dinkins defends his troubled four years and his defeat by Giuliani.

Teachers played a key role in what was an intense and often ugly campaign, interestingly the last time the union supported a winner – Dinkins – was followed by twenty years of Republican mayors in a city with an overwhelming democratic citizenry.

Negotiations for a new teacher contract inched along, Dinkins was cautious, very cautious, and you couldn’t expect him to open the city coffers, even if he owed his election to the union. Weeks turned into months and months in a year and still not a contract. The union moved from demonstrations to radio ads to TV ads urging Dinkins to conclude a contract. Finally, in September, 2003, a contract was negotiated; the union membership would never abide endorsing Dinkins, not after a year and a half of an expired contract. The union made no endorsement and Dinkins was a one term mayor and his mishandling of the teacher contract might have cost him his re-election.

Bill de Blasio will be elected mayor on November 5th.

Today, teachers, four years without a contract, expect a speedy resolution and a favorable contract.

In New York State public employee labor relations are governed by the Public Employee Relations Board (PERB). Under state law public employee expired contracts remain in full force and effect until a successor contract is negotiated. If the parties cannot resolve a contract dispute PERB provides a mediator, if the mediation reaches impasse PERB appoints a panel of three arbitrators who conduct a non-binding arbitration referred to in the law as fact-finding. The current process is reaching a conclusion with a fact-finding decision due in December/January.

(Read the “Taylor Law” explaining the fact-finding procedures here http://perb.ny.gov/stat.asp#con)

The 2002 139-page Fact-Finding Report was the last time the city and the union could not resolve a contract dispute (Read Report here http://www.perb.state.ny.us/pdf/boeuft.pdf)

A major part of the Report will deal with salary – retroactive pay as well as an increase. The fact-finders will consider “pattern bargaining” and “ability to pay.”

This year “pattern bargaining” is a complex issue, there are no recent city labor agreements. In the remainder of the state the 2% property tax cap has basically halted teacher contract negotiations. Districts are struggling to meet day-to-day obligations under the cap. The required pension contributions have increased dramatically and districts are dipping into reserves to balance their budgets.

Additionally Governor Cuomo has appointed a task force to seek ways to reduce taxes in the state.

How will these events impact the fact-finders establishing a “pattern”?

The second “ability to pay” principle in an era of federal sequestration, the furloughing of federal employees and the possible default all impact the city’s “ability to pay.” Four years without contracts has built up an enormous “retroactive” salary problem.

Can the city afford $6-8 billion in retroactive salary payments?

The fact-finders will craft a recommended percent increase going forward as well as “going backwards.” In some prior contracts “back pay,” instead of a retroactive percentage increase was a “non-pensionable cash payment” spread over an extended period of time.

I have absolutely no knowledge of the current negotiations – I’m just speculating based on past practices.

The fact-finding report is only a recommendation, although in the three previous instances the report became the basis for a contract.

Mayors, no matter how favorable to a union, will not open up the coffers.

de Blasio will negotiate – negotiations mean a two-way street.

It is likely he will ask for changes in the contract which may not be palatable to all teachers.

In the early days the union used to submit many hundreds of bargaining demands. At the Delegate Assembly the demands were distributed and debated. A delegate walked up to a microphone and asked Al Shanker,

“Al, if we get everything, what will it cost?”

Al mulled for a while, stepped away from the microphone and appeared to be calculating, stepped back to the microphone and replied,

“A gold ball the size of the Earth.”

de Blasio has to satisfy a union hungry for a “fair” contract; how does one define “fair”?

The union cannot allow negotiations to fester, cannot allow the weeks to turn into months, and neither can de Blasio.

Aside from the key question of salary there are other core issues for the union: eliminating the ATR pool, bringing sanity to the teacher evaluation plan, embedding collaborative planning time in the contract, etc. What will de Blasio “demand” in exchange for union core issues?

Can the union and de Blasio negotiate a successor agreement, a new contract that satisfies the union and its members as well as pass scrutiny with the governor, the media, the public and the scions that run the city from the aeries of power?

The specter of Dinkins’s failed four years should be a lesson learned.