Vote "No" on the UFT-DOE tentative agreement, and call on the union to leverage its power for more
A UFT-DOE tentative agreement was announced Tuesday afternoon, and by 6 pm the Delegate Assembly approved recommending it to the membership for a vote. As expected, the agreement veils pay cuts with sub-inflation raises and non-pensionable bonuses, and improves only a narrow range of non-economic issues. Therefore, I encourage us to send the Negotiating Committee back to the bargaining table. The Mayor sits on enough money to concede more. When they arrive at your school, vote “No” on your ballots. Persuade your co-workers that there’s room to augment the gains in the tentative agreement. Convince them the UFT should renew its contract campaign with transparent demands and a plan for strike preparation, because only strike-ready unions threaten employers enough to grant costly concessions.
The so-called bonuses may seem to slightly offset the pain of a ~3% annual sub-inflation raise, but their value is less than it appears. Even with retention and ratification bonuses, the raises still fall short of Social Security’s 8.7% cost-of-living adjustment. Furthermore, the bonuses are highly taxed and (excluding the ratification bonus) non-pensionable (the retention bonuses are excluded from the math to calculate pension paychecks). Additionally, although starting and top salaries for all increased by the same percentage, the salary differential widened between teachers and non-teachers such as paraprofessionals, OT/PTs, and school secretaries. Unless you’re manufacturing numbers, the economics clearly signal a pay cut, and this should be unacceptable to a union as large as the UFT faced with an employer flushed with billions of dollars in reserve.
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The non-economic gains also leave much to be desired, despite UFT officers’ claim that they were a bargaining priority (since they chose to honor the 3% pattern set by DC 37). We should welcome some of them, such as PD time being reduced from 80 to 60 minutes, with most of the 20-minute difference reallocated to Parent Engagement time, which can now be done remotely. We should celebrate the improvement to parental leave where, in the case where two parents are both DOE employees, the couple may take a combined total of 12 weeks paid leave instead of only six. That said, most State employees will get double the parental leave time than would UFT members. All in all, much in this new contract is missing or unstated, particularly with regard to workplace rights and conditions, and healthcare. There are few to no new protections against abusive administrators—not even reversals of givebacks the union made in 2005, such as the right to grieve a letter in your file. Missing, too, is language reducing caseloads, as well as codifying Albany’s class size reduction law (in case lawmakers choose to reinterpret or reform the law in their favor). Crucially, what’s hidden is the $600 million in annual healthcare cuts that the UFT gave away in perpetuity in the 2018 contract. So, treat every contract as having a healthcare giveback until the cuts from the past decade are reversed. In sum, the workplace and healthcare gains (or lack thereof) fail to outweigh the sub-inflation raises of the tentative agreement.
What to do? For starters, vote “No” on your ballot and persuade your co-workers to do the same. Organize a contract teach-in and educate your members on the contract’s deficiencies (they won’t hear about these otherwise, unfortunately, because the UFT officials and their caucus “Unity” are “selling” the contract rather than facilitating reflection and debate). Solicit “Vote No” pledges from your co-workers. But crucially, engage with them on bigger questions of strategy and tactics. Assess together the UFT’s contract campaign. Discuss how the structure of the union and its bureaucracy often conflicts with the interests of the membership. Learn how other NYC workers, and how other teachers’ unions, win gains greater than ours. Explore how the UFT bureaucracy’s avoidance of strike-readiness undermines the union’s bargaining power. If you’re convinced, make the case that only strike-ready unions break the American norm of concessionary bargaining. Concede that strike-readiness is a challenging process. But admit to your co-workers that there is no better alternative to shattering expectations lowered by decades of givebacks. That all roads, even if they’re long and winding, lead to better working and learning conditions if they’re made from the omnipresent threat of a strike.