UFT election coverage from cityhallnews.com

Fresh Off 91-Percent Win, Mulgrew Enters Ring For Next Administration Tangle

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By Chris Bragg

Less than a week after winning election as United Federation of Teachers president with a Castroesque 91 percent of the vote, Michael Mulgrew reached a landmark deal with the Bloomberg administration to end the “rubber rooms” that had become an eyesore for both the union and the administration.

The timing of the deal fed already existing speculation that, with the election over, Mulgrew might soften the confrontational approach he had taken towards the administration in the months since he was appointed to replace Randi Weingarten last July.

But Mulgrew said that far from making him more likely to acquiesce, the results of the election only strengthen his hand in dealing with the Department of Education as the UFT continues to negotiate a new contract with the administration and to fight budget cuts.

“It tells people very clearly that they can’t split apart the teachers,” Mulgrew said.

Some observers expected that the new contract would have been finalized already, given the union’s controversial decision to stay neutral in last year’s mayor’s race. The union’s contract expired Oct. 31, just days before voters went to the polls.

The two sides are currently in nonbinding mediation over the contract.

Under the Triborough Amendment of the Taylor Law, the union’s members can continue to work without a contract indefinitely until a new agreement is hammered out.

Norman Adler, a political consultant with strong ties to organized labor, said the delay appears to be a matter of timing more than anything. If the UFT gets another generous contract, this could set a bad precedent for the Bloomberg administration if it engages in pattern bargaining with other unions that have expired contracts, such as District Council 37, he said.

In addition, with the city and state budgets in flux, now would be a poor time to strike a new deal, Adler said.

“If they come to terms now, they can’t possibly be very good,” Adler said. “They’re going to try and do it when things aren’t quite so bad.”

One benefit of the rubber rooms for the UFT, Adler said, could be that it will take a contentious issue off the table as negotiations continue.

Mulgrew was able to run up the huge margin of victory in the recent election, meanwhile, by appealing to the major dissident faction of the union, the New Action caucus, which has pushed for union leadership to take a harder line with the Bloomberg administration. The union recently filed a lawsuit against the Department of Education to try and stop the closure of 19 schools around the city, a move that endeared him to New Action. A judge has since blocked the school closings.

This faction and Mulgrew have not always agreed. New Action leadership felt that the union should have endorsed Thompson in the mayor’s race rather than remaining neutral, a move that could have swung the closer-than-expected race. But in the end, New Action’s leadership decided they agreed with Mulgrew on more than they disagreed, especially on the school closings lawsuit.

“The school closings campaign was really helpful,” Mulgrew said.

Mulgrew’s opponent in the UFT presidency race, James Eterno, heads a second, smaller dissident faction called ICE/TJC that has broken away from New Action over a belief that it has ceased to be a true opposition party.

Though Eterno has not always seen eye-to-eye with Mulgrew himself, he acknowledged that the huge margin of victory had to some extent validated Mulgrew’s approach so far.

“His 91 percent, you can’t laugh about it,” Eterno said. “You can’t say it doesn’t mean anything.”

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