The Chief
April 19, 2002

UFT Award Ain't Over Yet

At first glance, it might appear that the recommendation by a Public Employee Relations Board arbitration panel limits the United Federation of Teachers to the same basic wage terms as were gained by District Council 37 last April, plus a six-percent pay hike for Teachers who work an extra 20 minutes per day.

If this were the case, it would be something of a disappointment to the UFT, as well as a blow to the hopes of the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, which is in the midst of its own arbitration case before a different PERB panel.

But several still-to-be-resolved aspects of the UFT arbitration leave open the possibility that the union may slightly exceed the DC 37 pattern, which in turn would buttress the PBA's hopes of doing better than the 10 unions under the banner of the Uniformed Forces Coalition that themselves got somewhat better terms than the city's civilian employee unions.

The most important factor in the UFT panel's decision is that it is not binding. And resolving some of its gray areas could produce more than a bit of haggling and delay a final deal well beyond the "10 days to two weeks" prediction that UFT President Randi Weingarten offered April 10.

One of the panel's proposals is certain to undergo some massaging before a deal is reached: the certification bonus of $3,131 that it noted would bring starting salary for Teachers who fully meet the state's licensing requirements to $40,000 by the end of the contract.

Ms. Weingarten made clear last week that she believed it unfair to give so much extra compensation to new instructors who received certification and not distribute some of the money to more senior instructors who have already demonstrated a commitment to the city public schools.

About 17 percent of the system's Teachers are currently uncertified. If the "certification bonus" was spread evenly among the entire Teacher force, it would be whittled down to a bit more that $500 per instructor. Ms. Weingarten expressed a desire to give more than an even share to the new Teachers, but every additional dollar they get will come out of the pockets of more senior staff. This makes it likely that a certification bonus in the neighborhood of $1,000 - with what's left over spread among veteran Teachers - is more realistic than the panel's proposed figure. And the city's willingness to spread the money in the way Ms. Weingarten wants will go a long way in telling how quickly a deal gets done.

The second key issue to be resolved concerns how to produce the savings to fund the $56 million that is intended for the bonus pool, equaling 1 percentage point of the proposed contract award. The PERB panel suggested that after an initial 4-percent wake hike, the second increase of 5 percent not be compounded, and that it take effect a month or two later than the raises paid to members of DC 37.

Not compounding the money, and delaying that raise's effective date, offers cash savings to the city and temporarily reduces the value of the hike to employees. A teacher earning $50,000 at the end of her last contract would have a 5-percent increase computed on that old salary, rather than the $52,000 it would rise to with the initial 4-percent raise. This would mean a salary following the 5-percent raise of $100 below what it would have been had the hike been compounded ($54,500 compared to $54,600), and each month that raise was delayed would cost the employee another $208 in cash.

Even those savings, however, appear to leave the proposed UFT award, under a 27-month timeframe, slightly more generous than the DC 37 deal. The panel suggested the city might also extend the term of the contract slightly to even out the costs. Its "and/or" language is ambiguous enough, however, that city officials argue that such a stretch is necessary while Ms. Weingarten contends 27 months is as long as she will let the deal to.

The city might be less inclined to contest every decimal point were it not anticipating that the PBA will use any deviation from the DC 37 costs to bolster its argument that its own arbitration panel can go beyond the uniformed coalition deal to address serious recruitment and retention problems unique to the Police Officer title. The impact the final UFT terms will have on the PBA case guarantees tough bargaining.

It had to be somewhat disheartening to the UFT (and the PBA as it watched from the sidelines) to have the arbitration panel acknowledge that the union presented a better case than the city on the value of having certified Teachers and the need to keep salaries competitive with surrounding suburbs where living standards are comparable, yet still be denied a breakthrough award.

The arbitrators concluded that even with those matters arguing for a substantial pay hike for Teachers, the city's fiscal difficulties and the long history of pattern bargaining in ensuring stable labor relations were compelling reasons not be deviate in any significant way from the DC 37 pattern.

Their finding spells trouble for the PBA, which can make as compelling a case as the UFT but could also be tripped up by the "ability to pay" and pattern bargaining factors.

First Deputy Mayor Marc Shaw for that reason proclaimed the UFT finding "a home run" for the PBA tussle. PBA negotiator Bob Linn countered that Mr. Shaw was popping the champagne cork before he got the game's last out. A lot is riding on which one is correctly handicapping the impact of the UFT fact-finders report.