Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Memo-RANDOM of agreement

I don't understand this.

A brief history of recent collective bargaining between the United Federation of Teachers and the New York City Department of Education:

Just before I started teaching in the NYC schools in 2002, a contract agreement was reached. This coincided roughly with a general upheaval in the school system, as Mayor Bloomberg took over the Board of Education and turned it into the Department of Education. The previous contract had expired at some point in the past, and the new contract began retroactively at the time that the old contract expired, and lasted until May 2003.

May 2003 rolled around, and no new contract was signed. For 2 1/2 years. Not that this really mattered, since the old contract was fully enforced: the teachers kept showing up to school, and the city kept paying us. In October 2005, the UFT and the city reached a contract agreement. This was transparently timed to happen right before the mayoral election. As a result, the UFT made no endorsement, instead of endorsing Ferrer against Bloomberg. The current contract goes from June 2003 (retroactively, of course) to October 2007. We all got retroactive pay raises, as well as future ones (which are now in the past), and in exchange, the school day and school year were slightly lengthened, which I think is just fine.

In conclusion, recent history shows that the nominal dates of contracts are mere formalities, and contract agreements tend to be retroactive and timed for political expediency. I predicted that the next contract would be signed several years after the current one expires.

Then we got some strange news last week. The UFT and the city have reached a tentative contract agreement, for a new contract going from October 2007 to October 2009. You read that correctly -- they're agreeing to a contract before the contract even begins! This contract includes a one-time $750 bonus in January 2007, a 2% raise in October 2007, and a 5% raise in May 2008. There are no changes to the length of the school day or school year, and no significant changes in any other contractual provisions.

So obviously I'll vote to ratify this contract -- it's more money in exchange for no extra work. But my question is WHY? What motivated Bloomberg and Klein to agree to this now? Bloomberg isn't up for election (as in 2005) and doesn't need to buy support for his reorganization of the schools (as in 2002). The recent national and state elections have no effect on the city, which holds elections in odd years. They still have another year before the current contract "expires". The new contract will expire just before the next mayoral election, which is sure to elect someone other than Bloomberg, who is term-limited. (Thompson? Weiner? Who knows.) So what gives? I shouldn't look a gift horse in the mouth, but does anyone have insights on what's really behind this?


  1. Some UFTers have been overheard commenting upon what is obvious to them (an perhaps them alone)the nefarious underhandedness of the proposed teacher pay raise. The conjecture, if I can present it for them as one who does not give it credence is as follows:

    the city is expecting billions (with a B) in assistance from the state. Conspiracy theorists would believe that the rush to a new contract is to "hide" that money from the union, putting it out of our reach when it arrives and giving the city to spend it on stuff other than teachers salaries while we live under this odious, miserable new gift of a contract of thousands and thousands (and for some of us, thousands) of additional dollars a year with no extra work..... by "other stuff", I think what they fear is that the city will spend it on crap like more schools, more teachers to work in those schools, etc, and not just more money for them to spend on cigarettes to puff on a foot or so out of the school property.....

    Obvious, I do not share their concerns. I agree with BZ in that it seems odd that there is no seeming political manipualtion (excluding above relayed conspiracy theory). May I suggest why this is happening? Young, qualified (often qualified at the city or governments expense) are leaving the system for a few quantifiable reasons, largely salaries, but also class size. Could it be that the city actually wants to protect its investment in these teachers by retaining them by improving the one quantifiable measure, not because there is a gun (strike threat) to their head, but because it is the sensible, responsible thing to do?

    From the teacher's perspective (greedy or otherwise) this salary raise does one very important thing that a raise in 3 years wont do. It raises the bar for the 'burbs who would want to poach city teachers. One could argue that the bar could be raised higher if we wait, but the truth is that as soon as we are known to have a higher pricetag, the price to the "poachers" will go up, which means the salary pressure on future contracts will be greater, making the pricetag higher and so on and so on...... so if we sign this, we help ourselves and we get one other important thing that we seem so willing to throw away in other views, we get the dignity of being actually professionals, not "a union of professionals" (an oxymoron) and we get to look our neighbors and our subway drivers in the eye without being the rightful recipients of their scorn.

  2. Hmmph. Some of us might suggest that tbe UFT enjoys much greater respect than say, the Transit Union, beyond JFREJ circles. These are teachers, their union is repectable and reasonable, as is their leader. Why not get contract issues out of the way? We the citizens of NY want that. These teachers are educating our youth. Their peace of mind is our peace of mind. Bloomberg, despite all his faults, is no Pataki in labor relations, and probably kind of like teachers too, and feels he owes them. Sorry if I don't see a conspiracy theory. If I were in his shoes, I would have done the same thing.

  3. dear bz - pics for you at my flickr account:


    i always go to visit them when i go to my father's grave.

  4. Thanks! One day I'll go to London and see for myself. Is Natalie Baeck actually buried there?

  5. Sorry to spoil the party kids... did you happen to notice what the contract does NOT cover?

    Benefits. yep, all of em. It doesn't cover pensions for new hires, it doesn't cover anyone's health benefits, and so forth.

    I don't have a degree in this stuff or anything like that** but my guess is the city doesn't want to see a protracted health care/pension struggle happen with the teachers less than a year after the transit strike. And they also don't want to be seen capitulating to demands that sound, well, identical to the demands of TWU, which would then put the state in a pickle.

    If wages are out of the bargaining picture, that's one less thing for you to haggle over. If you take the 7 percent, when it comes time to talk about health benefits, they can say, "what?! you already agreed to salary." You have nothing you can give back, and are put in a position of weakness for it. Please don't take the money and run, unless you plan on putting it towards your new healthcare premiums.

    **actually does have a degree in this stuff

  6. Health benefits aren't in the old contract either -- the health plans are for all city employees, and aren't specific to teachers and other UFT members.

    (Oh, then who negotiates these? Do all the city unions get together for super-collective bargaining?)

  7. i don't think she's actually buried there, but i'm not sure. i shall ask marianne next time i see them.
    all the best ...