May 5, 2014

Some Opposition, But Key Union Leaders Support UFT Deal


PATRICK J. LYNCH: A dissenting voice.  

With the conspicuous exception of some uniformed-union officials, labor leaders are supporting what city officials called a “landmark” $4-billion, nine-year bargain proposed between the city and the United Federation of Teachers.

The deal, announced May 1, picks up from the end of the old UFT contract, which expired in 2009, through Oct. 31, 2018 and includes an 18-percent wage hike. The biggest component involves two 4-percent raises retroactive to 2009 and 2010, and if approved, Teachers will also see a 1-percent raise in 2013, another 1-percent raise this year and a third one next May. Beginning in 2016, annual hikes will be 1.5, 2.5 and 3 percent through 2018.

Signing Bonus

While there is no raise for the period from Nov. 1, 2011 through Oct. 31, 2012, workers will get a $1,000 signing bonus if they ratify the contract.

The negotiations have the potential to set a pattern for terms resolving the city’s estimated 151 other pending contracts.

The UFT rank and file—who make up nearly one-third of the city’s 325,000 employees—would need to approve the contract. The Municipal Labor Committee steering committee voted May 2 to recommend approval of a health-care savings plan that is a key component of the deal, with the full MLC doing so May 5.

“There are implications, with respect to health care, that involve all city unions, and there’s a general sentiment among the steering committee that it would be something that we would be in favor of,” said Local 1180 President Arthur Cheliotes. “You know, there’s a pattern there. We can modify the pattern as we see fit, provided the costs stay the same, so there’s opportunity here to work on that.”

A hallmark of the pact is more than $1 billion the city said it would save on health-care costs through 2018. It said that at least $3.4 billion in savings could result if the plan was extended for the entire workforce.

No Employee Premiums

Mr. Cheliotes said the specific highlight was the lack of out-of-pocket costs for employees and pointed to some ways the city could improve health services, such as a clinic system used by the New York Hotel and Motel Trades Council.

City officials heavily indicated they would seek the same or similar terms from other unions. Speaking of the two-year wage freeze and lump sum offered to UFT members, Labor Commissioner Robert W. Linn said, “We think that overall it’s a fair package and we hope to be able to extend that to other employees.”

When asked during the press conference about what the terms meant for other unions, Mr. de Blasio declined to comment, saying the UFT and MLC need to pass the proposal first. “So, why don’t we consider what happens to everybody else after we see what happens with these next few steps?” Mr. de Blasio said. “Because then I think we’ll have a fuller picture.”

But not every labor organization seems happy with the development.

Shortly before the contract was unveiled, the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association said it had reached an impasse in its bargaining and that the state Public Employee Relations Board appointed a mediator. “Our officers are already among the lowest-paid big-city police officers in the country,” said PBA President Patrick J. Lynch in a statement. “Now the city wants us to take another three years with no raise and that is simply unacceptable.”

Work-Rule Changes

For Teachers, the terms also include a number of work-rule modifications. The number of metrics used in Teacher evaluations is reduced, pay raises are provided for Teachers working at up to 150 “underserved” schools and up to 200 schools will gain greater autonomy in hiring decisions and planning their days.

One of the biggest shifts is a “career ladder” that would create three teaching positions aimed to have top Teachers train and coach other instructors. The proposal would give a $7,500 raise to so-called Ambassador and Model Teachers and $20,000 to Master Teachers.

In a release, Educators 4 Excellence, a nonprofit group claiming 7,000 New York members, had a mixed reaction to the pact, commending the “spirit of collaboration” between the city and the union.

“That said, until we see the contractual language, we can’t fully endorse these reforms until we see the fine print, as many of the details are still murky,” said Educators 4 Excellence Executive Director Jonathan Schleifer.

While praising the evaluations, retroactive pay and pay increases for hard-to-staff schools, the group said the city should give raises to good Teachers, regardless of whether they take on additional roles, and hoped for more clarity from the contract. It said planned reforms to the Absent Teacher Reserve could force educators to take unwanted assignments.

The ATR, a substitute pool for Teachers and Principals who have been removed from their jobs, has about 1,200 people, according to Mr. Linn. Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña said the Department of Education would not force those Teachers upon Principals.

‘No Forced Placement’

“I want to say this loudly and repetitively: There will be no forced placement,” Ms. Fariña said during the May 1 press conference.

Another development in the contract is a pilot program to add 80 minutes of professional development per week, more time for parent-teacher conferences and weekly allotments for Teachers to connect with parents.

The New York City Parents Union condemned the school day revisions, saying the changes would take away 37.5 minutes of instructional time.

“This travesty, orchestrated by Mayor de Blasio and the United Federation of Teachers, is unconscionable, especially considering the deplorable state of education in our schools,” the group said.

Uniformed Sanitationmen’s Association President and MLC Chairman Harry Nespoli said the de Blasio administration was “cleaning up the mess” from the previous administration, when all of the contracts expired.

Finally Negotiating

“They’re turning around and negotiating, which is something that all the unions wanted to do a long time ago...and I think that that’s what everybody is looking to do, negotiate and do the best for their members,” Mr. Nespoli said.

Mr. Cheliotes compared the skills of a negotiator trying to arrange wage increases and benefits to suit a local’s members to an expert cook preparing the ingredients of a stew. “So you’ve got to know the appetite of your membership and the proclivities of your membership and try to get them something that they will find tasty,” he said.