Archive for May, 2023

UFT Contract 101: What makes a giveback a giveback?

Unless negotiations between the UFT and the City completely break down, all indications suggest that a tentative contractual agreement is near. United for Change, of which New Action Caucus is a member, published a combined list of five demands we need met before voting yes. I wrote a piece detailing the first demand, on wages. Unfortunately, we are almost positive that the first contract draft will concede to an inflation-adjusted pay cut. For many members, this is not just unacceptable – it is also a good example of what unionists call a ‘giveback.’

Defined loosely, ‘givebacks’ are “a previous gain (such as an increase in wages or benefits) given back to management by workers (as in a labor contract).” Based on that definition, the likely wage ‘increases’ in our next contract will be a ‘textbook’ example of a giveback. After all, if we ratify an agreement with roughly 3% wage hikes per year in a time of record inflation, that means doing the same work but for less. Others may counter that since ‘the pattern is the pattern,’ and since that pattern was set by DC-37 rather than by the UFT, our inflation-adjusted pay-cut is not a giveback, at least not per se. I disagree with that line of thinking, particularly since UFT leadership opted not to fight to set a better pattern than DC37’s, but I digress.   

So, what are some other types of givebacks that the UFT has seen over the years? Many of them were tallied in an infamous presentation made by some MORE members and linked to here by New Action. As the writers of the PowerPoint put it “By 1990, the UFT had won these contractual rights, and by 2020 we had given up all these rights:

  • An excessed teacher was placed and appointed to the closest vacant position in their license.
  • Teachers could transfer to vacant positions in other schools based on seniority, without the approval of any principal.
  • A member could grieve a disciplinary letter on grounds it was unfair and/or inaccurate.
  • The five-day workweek was 31 hours and 40 minutes (today, it is 34 hours and 10 minutes).
  • Teachers could take sabbaticals for travel.
  • There were no “professional activities” (C6 assignments). Most high school teachers had two prep periods a day.
  • We have made substantial concessions in health care via MLC.
  • We have made many non-contractual concessions like new pension tiers (Tier 6, changes to tenure rules).”

The Unity-led UFT leadership ended up hiring lawyers paid with our dues to try and scare opposition unionists into deleting the presentation under the pretense of ‘copyright infringement.’ But, when confronted with the question as to why UFT leadership had a problem with the PowerPoint, one prominent Borough Representative responded that “the UFT obviously doesn’t agree that we’ve had givebacks.” The UFT, you see, can’t admit to givebacks, even when they’re as plain as day.

And that should worry us, especially because covering up our losses is not a minority opinion. Indeed, at the most recent UFT Executive Board Meeting, a prominent District Representative suggested it would be a problem to allow delegates two weeks to review changes to contractual language before voting, because then opposition unionists might publicize negative things about the contract. To opposition unionists that’s precisely the point – if there are negative things in the contract, delegates deserve to know about them before we vote on them, no? But, to Unity, ignorance is apparently bliss.

We likely won’t have much of a chance to go over changes to the contract before we vote on it. Unity has made this very clear. That means that we’re likely to get givebacks we don’t notice, like the 2018 line in a hidden appendix that committed us to hundreds of millions of dollars in annual contract savings. That giveback, in the deal that Mulgrew told us had no givebacks, is now well known. But there are other lesser-known givebacks. And those lesser givebacks have the effect of combining to elicit a compounding effect over time, which means we need to see them, catch them, and prevent them from being signed into any new deals.

An example of a giveback that flies under the radar but shouldn’t is the 2018 change to requirements for obtaining the Masters +30 Salary Differential. Whereas previously, UFT members like myself could obtain a MA+30 through a number of avenues, including an additional (non-teaching) Master’s program or unlimited CLEP exams, this new change added something called ‘A+ credits’ to the mix. In theory, A+ credits could have just been one new option of many that made it faster and potentially cheaper to get a +30. And that’s what leadership made it seem like. Check out slide 27 of the PowerPoint that UFT leadership gave Chapter Leaders and Delegates at the fatefully rushed emergency DA at which we were sold the 2018 contract. A+ credits weren’t just framed as a ‘non-giveback’; they were framed as a new option for members – a contract ‘win’ that would give us “more freedom, more options.” But that wasn’t true. It turned out that after the 2018 contract was ratified, new teachers were obligated to get 18 of their MA+30 credits—more than half of them—through the A+ program. That means less freedom and fewer options. For many teachers, it also means less money. I meet newer teachers who came into the DOE with additional MA degrees all the time. They would have qualified for a MA+30 under the old model. Now, they must wait longer and go through pricey red tape to be paid the +30 differential. Despite already coming in with a Masters and 30 additional credits, they are nevertheless forced to spend new money and invest time which they might not have on classes that are limited in scope and which may not be of interest to them. For those teachers, the creation of the A+ process is an extremely expensive and bureaucratic give-back that makes it harder to reach top salary, even if it was potentially a win for patronage jobs at UFT Teacher Center.

So, when we finally see the new contract draft, as many of us expect we will later this month, look out for givebacks—not just the big ones, like pay-cuts or healthcare concessions, but the seemingly little ones, like A+ credits. Because these givebacks, which UFT leaders insist aren’t givebacks, add up. They compound to harm us, often falling hardest on new and future members. And look beyond the official UFT PowerPoint and summary, which are likely to obfuscate the negative ‘giveback’ aspects of changes in favor of getting a ‘yes’ vote. We just can’t vote to let our rights erode further, especially in the context of an assured pay cut.


UFT Contract: There’s a 0% chance we vote yes to 3%!

Inflation is out of control. Educators, who have never made enough to begin with, know this acutely. We feel it while stocking up at the grocery store and while searching for even the most modest apartments. We feel it while trying to buy a used car or while saving for the college education of our children. Everything costs more, except apparently the labor of educators. That’s why “fair pay with raises we deserve and pay parity” is the first of United for Change’s big 5 contract demands. 

We can turn to the mayor himself to paint a picture of the gravity of our financial situation. In 2007, when then NY-Senator Eric Adams gave his infamous “Show me the money” speech, he told an audience of New Yorkers that $79 thousand isn’t enough to live on. Flash forward almost two decades later and that same figure is worth $115,000 – almost the top salary for DOE teachers ($128,657 with a Masters +30). Starting teachers today make $61,847, worth only $42,271 in 2007 dollars. That’s about half the figure Adams was calling poverty wages. And, because it takes teachers twenty-two years to reach top salary—(police, in sharp contrast, make theirs after 5 ½)—it takes new teachers decades to make a reasonable wage. For paraprofessionals, the situation is even more bleak. With starting paras making $27,920 – but a fourth of Adams’s poverty figure in 2007 dollars ($19,083), and with senior paras never exceeding the wages of first year teachers, career-long paraprofessionals never make close to a living wage.

Today, Adams is on the other side of the negotiating table. While he and Chancellor Banks hire each other’s romantic partners to make absurd salaries of which New York UFT members could only dream, all Adams is likely to offer us is a measly 3% to 3.5% increase per year. 

Yet, Mulgrew’s Unity-led UFT has told us to accept the pattern. Indeed, when it was being set, they did nothing to stop it. At contract meetings, they’ve told us that asking for cost-of-living adjustments is ‘political’ – that it doesn’t necessarily match how unions negotiate salary increases. At the Brooklyn contract rally of May 24th, chants of ‘3% is not enough!’ were suppressed by union leaders making salaries of $200,000 and $300,000+. ‘Stay on message!’ they countered, redirecting rank-and-file unionists to demand vague changes to working conditions. 

Easy for them to say. Yes, we need changes to working conditions. But we also need to survive. Inflation is astronomical. Social Security adjusted their COLA increases at 5.9% for 2022 and 8.7% for 2023. And yet for New York City municipal workers, we’re likely to get a pay increase lower than the mostly non-unionized national average. But, in cities where unions fight, raises are far higher. Los Angeles, for instance, whose teacher union does not argue that its members should lack the right to strike, just got 21% increases over a three year period. We don’t have to accept 16.21% over five years (roughly 3% per year), because we know we’re worth more than that.

We can do better. We can vote no, regroup, use real union negotiating tactics to fight for the raises we deserve, and get a contract worth a yes vote. 

UFT Members: How to transfer on Open Market and not end up with an abusive administration

It’s late May and slowly but surely, positions are starting to list on the DOE’s Open Market system. UFT members can use this system to seek out transfer opportunities within the NYC public school system. Teachers who do this keep their pay, seniority, and tenure (as long as they work under the same license under which it was granted.)  Now, I have my criticisms of Open Market. It should not be the UFT’s go to solution for dealing with abusive administration. And, the City’s adaptation of a ‘unit costing’ model makes it very difficult for teachers with more years in the system (i.e. – higher pay) to find principals willing to hire them. New Action and UFC have both called for changes in transfer policy, including bringing back some form of ‘seniority transfers.’ Nevertheless, Open Market as currently constituted is the system we have, so it’s worth discussing how to use it right.

Seeking out schools that are hiring

Using the Open Market transfer plane, you can transfer this year from April 19 to August 8 at 5:00 PM. However, keep in mind that not all schools will post to Open Market right away. There are often budgetary issues that prevent principals from putting up vacancies, even when they know for a fact that they will have them. For that reason, it can be a good move to email principals at schools you know are good fits for you with queries as to whether they are hiring. You may discover that your dream school really does have a position available, that it just isn’t up yet. Just be cautious to accept an offer without a signature. You do hear of schools who thought they were going to be able to hire, but then got bad news on budget or discovered that a teacher whose position was becoming vacant opted not to retire/transfer. In the end: you haven’t actually been accepted to a job until you’ve signed the papers and gotten a confirmation email from the ‘Transfer Plane.’

If you don’t have schools in mind, all you can do is go with the list of schools available. Some teachers make their own crowd-sourced lists, or you can just go with the official list on Open Market. An AP friend of mine used to always say that ‘good schools hire early.’ Of course, less than good schools also hire early, and better schools will still have sudden vacancies in July and August. But it’s true that you can tell a lot about a school from how they administer the hiring process. Take note of how many teachers are involved, and how much power they seem to have in making decisions relative to principals. Look for green and red flags in how principals answer your questions. Keep in mind, however, that hiring often looks very different depending on when you apply for a position. Typically, if you apply early, i.e. when schools are still in session (before Regents for high schools), principals interested in hiring you will ask candidates to come in and do a demonstration or ‘demo lesson.’ Try your best to schedule such demos before/after school, so you don’t have to deal with the anxiety and risk of illicitly taking a day off from work for what is ironically an inter-department transfer. I was once taken out of the running for a job for refusing to do this, but I digress. If you wait until July or early August to apply, it’s doubtful you’ll be asked to jump through so many hoops. Another good friend of mine used to say, ‘wait until the end of summer to apply, when schools are scrambling!’ If you aren’t a fan of demo lessons or second and third interviews, there’s some truth there. Just make sure you are still doing your due diligence.

Research and Data

If you aren’t sure whether a school will be a good fit for you, it’s good idea to do some research. UFT scrapped PINI, which included a list of principals in need of improvement. (New Action is in the process of recreating such a list, but that’s still in the works). So, there’s no official place to see where schools will definitely be a bad fit. But, there is tons of public data out there. Remember those surveys teachers and students take each year? You can use websites like insideschools to see some of the results, or go straight to the source here. One of the most important pieces of data you will find is on whether teachers think the principal is trustworthy or a good manager. If you see bad results here, you might want to pause and do some more research. Keep in mind that there are limitations to this data. Teachers don’t always fill out surveys (leading to extremely small sample sizes). Others, fearing that their answers aren’t anonymous, end up ‘rounding up’ their responses. And of course, if principals have recently left, you may be looking at data from a previous administration – meaning the data is likely useless for your purposes. Keep factors like this in mind as you look at data, but do look at data if you’re seeking to transfer to a school of which you know little to nothing. It could save you a world of trouble.

And remember that there is no substitute for speaking to actual teachers who work at the schools you’re considering. I chose the school I currently work at – a very good fit – based on conversations I had with a diverse group of teachers who work there.

So good luck with your transfer search, New Action members, and if you’re interested in hearing more about our idea to re-create a PINI list, make sure to come to the NAC general meeting on May 30 at 5:30 PM.

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May 2023