Tag Archives: detroit

How Do You “Professionalize” Teaching Within the Context of a Collective Bargaining Agreement?

Two months into his term Mayor de Blasio’s approval ratings have nosedived, and the “tale of two cities” is the sharp disparity between white voters and black/Hispanic voters.

The mayor’s approval is 47 – 32 percent among men, 44 – 36 percent among women, 60 – 22 percent among black voters and 47 – 28 percent among Hispanic voters. White voters give him a negative 39 – 45 percent approval rating.

Is he viewed as abandoning white voters, or, as an astute friend suggests, it’s the weather.

The beginning of the year is a bummer for many — the combination of dark days, no more holidays to look forward to and never-ending bad weather make this time of year ripe for Seasonal Affected Disorder or clinical depression … The major symptoms of SAD and clinical depression are the same … You’ll experience an enduring sadness most of the day every day for at least two weeks … You’ll also experience a loss of interest in activities you used to enjoy.

Aside from snow, and more snow, freezing day after day, your colleague in the Governor’s Mansion in Albany has created a new kind of democrat: pro-choice, pro-marriage equality, tax-cutting, small government, pro-charter school, anti-immigrant, a combination of Rand Paul and Kirsten Gillebrand

The Albany Hydra, whose “poisonous breath and blood so virulent even its tracks were deadly,” seems to have defeated the wanna-be Hercules, the mayor of Gotham.

de Blasio needs a victory.

On September 11th, the day after the Democratic primary, the questions began – how would the new mayor deal with public employee unions – all of whom have not had contracts since 2010, and teachers since 2009?

Would he cave and open the city coffers, stand firm and continue the Bloomberg obstinacy or negotiate a contract fair to union members and fair to the city?

The goal is that the New York Times, Governor Cuomo, the Citizen’s Budget Commission, the national press, the “talking heads” praise the agreement. The unions are faced with the dilemma, a clock is ticking, if they can’t negotiate a deal by the end of the fiscal year, June 30th, de Blasio may take the Bloomberg route, walking away from negotiations, a dangerous route, a risky route, a route that Bloomberg and Cuomo have taken without dire political consequences.

A weak mayor is a disaster for the union, a mayor pushed by the winds will ultimately seek out deep-pocketed so-called friends.

On the other side of the table the unions need a contract that passes membership scrutiny, i.e., contains sufficient dollars both in retroactive pay and the rate going forward, as well other non-budgetary issues attractive to union members.

The City-UFT negotiations heated up over the last few weeks and both sides “leaked” the direction of the negotiations – a finger in the air for both sides – which way are the political winds blowing – are negotiators on both sides moving in the right direction?

Retroactive increases:

Retroactive 4% raises for the 9-10, 10-11 years would cost the city $3.4 billion, if you add in a rate for the next two retroactive years and rates going forward, how would the city fund the raises? The two principles are “pattern bargaining” and “ability to pay.” The pattern at the conclusion of the prior teacher agreement was 4%; however, as the nation moved into the recession the city’s “ability to pay” clearly enters the equation. Once a sum is agreed upon both sides have to determine a method of payment, it is commonplace to spread retroactive raises over future budget cycles.

Rates in the new contract:

All New York City public employee contracts are long-expired – how do you apply a pattern if there is no pattern within the city? Do you look to the pattern in the state among non-teacher contracts? Cuomo negotiated contracts had meager raises. Due to the 2% property tax cap many teacher unions have negotiated interim agreements with freezes to prevent layoffs. Suburban teacher pay scales are substantially higher than pay scales in the city.

Health Plan Savings:

Health plans for city employees cost over $5 billion a year and are increasing at 10% a year. In the past increasing co-pays transferred health plan costs to employees, requiring all prescriptions are mail order is a saving for the city (removes the pharmacist as the ‘middleman”). “Early” retirees, those who retire before eligibility for Medicare have been treated as active employees, Health plans are extremely complex and whether substantial saving can found within the system without simply transferring costs to members or limiting access to services is a difficult issue.

Increases Going Forward:

The rate, the increase over the future length of the contract is also based on the pattern and the ability to pay principles. There is no pattern within the city. The union has just released a report pointing out that the exodus of teachers from the city, including a new category, mid-career teachers, can be “corrected” by increasing salaries in the city.

Each year the New York State Comptroller issues a February Report which includes an in-depth review of the New York City finances. See pages 20-23 of the NYS Comptroller February 2014 Report on NYC finances re labor negotiations, health plans and pensions: http://www.osc.state.ny.us/osdc/rpt12-2014.pdf

Selling the Contract (non-budgetary issues):

Teachers are both professionals and work under the provisions of a collective bargaining agreement. Teachers frequently ask to be “treated as professionals,” the ability to make professional decisions, which also means being responsible for the outcomes. How do you “professionalize” teaching within the context of a collective bargaining agreement? The current system is rigidly proscriptive. The 2013-14 Instructional Expectation document drives instruction in every Network, in every school, in every classroom. ADVANCE, the teacher evaluation system is also incredibly complex; principals must enter details of every observation into a database, a couple hundred thousand observation reports in the system.

In too many schools teachers feel like well-paid assembly line workers.

The requirements of No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top and APPR result in a formulaic instruction. Once again, not all schools, some principals have shielded teachers from the distasteful elements, too many simply push the worst aspects into every classroom.

“Professionalization” does not mean “leave me alone and let me teach,” it means working within a team of teachers, making decisions that impact students, and, being responsible for the decisions.

For teachers near retirement I hear, “Who cares about the professional items, I want money, my pension can’t be changed.” I have one word: Detroit.

The irony is the money part of the contract may be the easy part.

Detroit and Public Employee Contracts: How Will the Detroit Bankruptcy Impact Teacher Contract Negotiations?

Detroit has been traveling down the path to bankruptcy for a few decades. Last summer the AFT Convention was held in Detroit – a shiny huge convention center, a sleek monorail, downtown casinos and a wide swath of abandoned buildings. Block after block of boarded up stores, empty houses and clusters of men on street corners in the middle of the day. Cab drivers are the people’s philosophers – my driver said, “We never recovered from the ’67 riots.” (Check out a photo gallery of the riot here)

We have forgotten the severity of the riots,

… one of the deadliest and most destructive riots in United States history, lasting five days and surpassing the violence and property destruction of Detroit’s 1943 race riot.

To help end the disturbance, Governor George W. Romney ordered the Michigan National Guard into Detroit, and President Lyndon B. Johnson sent in Army troops. The result was 43 dead, 1189 injured, over 7,200 arrests, and more than 2,000 buildings destroyed. The scale of the riot was surpassed only by the New York City Draft Riots, which took place during the U.S. Civil War, and the 1992 Los Angeles riots.

“White flight” ensued as the middle class fled to the suburbs coupled with the erosion of the automobile industry, jobs evaporated and futile attempt after attempt was made to revitalize Detroit.

The final spiral into fiscal doom has been a decades long slide, with widespread repercussions.

Whether the federal bankruptcy statutes trump Michigan constitutional guarantees of public employee pensions will be argued in the courts. The Michigan constitution has language similar to the New York State constitution (“public employee pensions shall not be diminished”); however, the US Constitution Supremacy Clause trumps state constitutions.

Article VI, Section 2, of the U.S. Constitution is known as the Supremacy Clause because it provides that the “Constitution, and the Laws of the United States … shall be the supreme Law of the Land.” It means that the federal government, in exercising any of the powers enumerated in the Constitution, must prevail over any conflicting or inconsistent state exercise of power.

Bill Keller, in his NY Times op ed sees dangers for New York City, and, points to public employee pensions, which he calls a “pile of promises,”

Our great city is not on the verge of collapse — we are not Detroit — but it is in danger of slipping into decline. The issue is the same one that helped send Detroit toward bankruptcy last week and has put other American cities on the disabled list: the immense pile of promises made over the decades to the city’s employees — the teachers and cops and firefighters and bus drivers and sanitation workers and maintenance crews who labor to keep the city, physically and socially, in working order.

Paul Krugman takes a different spin, let’s call it the “shit happens” school of economics,

Sometimes the losers from economic change are individuals whose skills have become redundant; sometimes they’re companies, serving a market niche that no longer exists; and sometimes they’re whole cities that lose their place in the economic ecosystem. Decline happens.

True, in Detroit’s case matters seem to have been made worse by political and social dysfunction.

So by all means let’s have a serious discussion about how cities can best manage the transition when their traditional sources of competitive advantage go away. And let’s also have a serious discussion about our obligations, as a nation, to those of our fellow citizens who have the bad luck of finding themselves living and working in the wrong place at the wrong time — because, as I said, decline happens, and some regional economies will end up shrinking, perhaps drastically, no matter what we do.

The important thing is not to let the discussion get hijacked, Greek-style. There are influential people out there who would like you to believe that Detroit’s demise is fundamentally a tale of fiscal irresponsibility and/or greedy public employees. It isn’t. For the most part, it’s just one of those things that happens now and then in an ever-changing economy.

Nicole Gelinas, writing in the City Journal warns New Yorkers that the specter of 1975 should not be ignored and while the city is in far better fiscal shape than Detroit the patter of footsteps must not be ignored,

Detroit should stand as a warning: New York’s bondholders and public-sector workers can never look upon their city as “too big to fail” again. As Mark Kaufman, co-chair of the municipal reform and innovation practice at the McKenna Long & Aldridge law firm, points out, Detroit highlights a critical question that other cities must grapple with: “What does general-obligation debt really mean? What does full faith and credit mean? It’s not worth a candle if you have a city that can’t meet that obligation.”

Steven Rattner, a Wall Street financier and the architect of the 2009 bailout of the automobile industry, in a thoughtful essay, calls for the state of Michigan and the feds to step in lead the Detroit restructuring plans. The bankruptcy rules are harsh as far as public employees’ pension and health benefits are concerned,

The bulk of its obligations are to the grossly underfunded pension plans and for retiree health care costs — nearly half of the city’s total liabilities. The city has suggested that it cut these by 90 percent. Although retirees don’t have a lot of legal rights in the bankruptcy process, it is difficult to imagine — on either a human or a political level — an exit from bankruptcy that would include reductions of this magnitude.

While there are scores of mid-sized cities in fiscal distress, the Apple thrives. In New York State Syracuse, Buffalo and Rochester struggle, heavy industry has moved overseas, or technology has wiped away massive companies (i. e., Eastman Kodak in Rochester) and hi-tech job-makers seek locations around universities or like-minded companies,( i. e;, Silicon Alley in Manhattan) not blighted rust-belt cities.

Public employee pensions in New York State are fully funded, by which I mean actuaries set the rate of government contribution. The city rate has escalated sharply over the last decade, a combination of increasing numbers of retirees, retirees living longer and the 2008 economic downturn.

New York City’s contribution to city pension funds is expected to reach $8.06 billion for the fiscal year starting July 1, up 1.9% from the fiscal year ending June 30, 2013, according to a preliminary budget issued by Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

The projected pension contribution for the fiscal year starting July 1, 2014, is expected to decline by 0.1% from the fiscal year starting July 1, 2013. For the succeeding fiscal years, the annual city pension expense is expected to grow 2.4% and 3.1%, respectively.

The projected health plan costs are not funded through pensions, health plans are negotiated with the city by the Municipal Labor Committee, a coalition representing all of the city unions. While the number of city employees may remain constant the number of retirees will continue to grow and the costs to the city will continue to grow.

How does Detroit impact the current contract negotiations?

As the city sits across the table from union negotiators and in the case of the UFT a set of fact finders, there is no doubt the city will call for greater employee contributions to health coverage and bemoan the constantly increasing pace of required pension contributions.

The new mayor, endorsed by unions or not, will not start pushing gold coins across the bargaining table.