A Union Finally Beats the Pattern.

This week, we learned that a municipal union finally beat the DC37 pattern – indeed, they beat it by a substantial margin – roughly double. Nurses working in NYC’s municipal hospitals have negotiated a contract that, with 37% pay increases over 5.5 years, puts the UFT’s unpensionable bonus driven ‘17.58 to 20.42%’ increase to shame. And while the particularities of their situation must of course temper our analysis, there are substantial lessons to be gleaned for UFT members. 

Lesson 1: The Pattern is not Just the Pattern.

Municipal nurses, who technically work for Health + Hospitals, a public-private partnership, still essentially work for the City – the same as teachers, police officers, and the multitude of titles falling under DC37. Like those other titles, municipal nurses generally follow the pattern, and when they’ve broken it, they’ve only done so by a fraction of a percent – much the same as other municipal unions. We, who had our pay expectations shredded to bits by Mulgrew and Cambria’s repeated assertions that the ‘pattern is the pattern,’ may be surprised to see that, this time around, our colleagues in scrubs have so markedly exceeded the subinflation increases to which we are doomed. We’ll get more into the why and how of nurses beating the pattern below, as the leverage they had was much different than that of teachers, but the key for now is that a union can double the pattern when circumstances are ripe to give workers a negotiating advantage. 

Lesson 2: ‘Parity’ is a thing.

Those of us who have been following the situation with OT/PTs, know that they largely voted down their contract because of their own fight to win pay parity with titles such as teachers, speech therapists, and social workers. Mulgrew has suggested that the City is dismissive of the OT/PT parity argument. Yet, the City accepted it from nurses, signaling that parity is indeed a strategy that can work. To be sure, nurses are getting increases to get them closer to parity with NY-based nurses in the private sector. OT/PTs’ claims to parity have been thwarted, reportedly, because private-sector therapists do not make more money than school-based therapists. That’s one reason OT/PTs for a Fair Contract have correctly situated school-based therapists as having a distinctly pedagogical type of work, which should grant them pedagogical pay. The win by nurses suggests that a parity strategy is worth pursuing for OT/PTs in their second round of negotiations – if Mulgrew can get around to doing the work.

Lesson 3: We can benefit from the work of other unions who aren’t encumbered by the Taylor Law.  

Nurses in the private sector have seen large-scale pay increases over the last several years. This has to do with many things, such as (1) the gargantuan profits of the healthcare industry; (2) a massive shortage of nurses, which has driven up salaries as hospitals try to attract workers to apply; and (3) the strike power. Unlike teachers, who have no private sector counterparts to strike without being bound by the ‘Taylor Law,’ nurses in New York have used the strike power much to their advantage. So, while public sector nurses might not be able to strike without the risk of severe penalties, they can apply to seek parity with private sector nurses, who largely used the power of the strike to clear their way into higher tax brackets.

Of course, not all titles have this advantage. OT/PTs, as discussed above, already make about the industry standard. Unless private sector therapists began having massive labor wins, they wouldn’t help the UFT parity argument. Teachers also don’t have private sector counterparts – at least none who would help us with parity. Teachers at private schools and charter schools tend, in fact, to be nonunionized, and to make considerably less on average than teachers in public schools. Attempts to compare us with teachers of suburban districts on long island, who tend to make more than us in the DOE, have also fallen flat. Instead, arbitrators have tended to compare us with teachers in other big cities, which hasn’t done us much good. Perhaps, however, as teachers in cities like LA and Oakland see their salaries skyrocket due to strike  tactics, we’ll be able to use parity arguments’ to make up for our Taylor-bound inadequacy.

Lesson 4: Shortages Matter to the City – at least when it costs them.

We should not assume that the City gave parity to nurses simply because it was ‘the right thing to do.’ (Indeed, an arbitrator actually had to force the City to do so, but I digress, and explore that more in lesson 5). Rather, they were in a substantial and expensive bind, because of the major staffing issues that befall municipal hospitals. Municipal nurses are highly transient, because they can easily transfer to private hospitals where, up-until-now, they were paid much better. Not only has this led to serious staffing issues in municipal hospitals, but it’s been expensive to the City. Indeed, because parity pay increases are expected to help halt nurse turnover, they’re also expected to keep the City from having to assuage staffing issues with expensive ‘temp’ contracts. Indeed, pay parity might actually save the City money. 

With school enrollment falling around the City and many licenses having to even grapple with hiring freezes, teachers are not in the same situation as nurses in this regard. Class size legislation should theoretically change this, though even if that legislation is taken seriously, the lack of an equivalently expensive ‘teacher temp position’ makes it impossible to make a complete analogy with nurses. (Indeed, ‘substitute teachers’ are far less expensive to the City than ‘substitute nurses.’) Nevertheless, as teacher shortages increasingly and unfortunately affect the US, we may see our leverage start to change in negotiations – at least if we have the foresight to include parity language into deals.

Lesson 5: It Pays to Not Take the First Deal.

Nurses had to fight for this deal, invoking a decades-old clause that the employer reportedly did not want to fully honor, which commits the City to paying nurses parity. Indeed, according to their union, “the five-and-a-half-year contract comes after a month of expedited mediation and then impasse arbitration.” This was not a situation like that of the UFT, in which we seemed to take a rushed and imperfect deal to simply ‘get negotiations over with.’ Nurses in general have been far less complacent with the City. While Mulgrew led the charge to force retirees onto inferior Medicare Advantage, for instance, nurses voted ‘no.’ And indeed, it appears that the nurses union, by fighting the City rather than taking the first deal they saw, have gotten their workers a much better deal. There’s a lesson there. But, Mulgrew, who is currently trying to avoid renegotiating the OT/PT contract by orchestrating a re-vote on their original first deal, is unlikely to learn from it. 


  • Avatar

    Wait, so… we’re pathetic?

    Do we get to renegotiate now that the pattern’s been broken significantly?

    • BaconUFT

      Unfortunately, we signed our deal and we’re committed to five and a half years. Also the way the nurses broke the pattern was very specific to their preexisting deals with the City. They used a technicality we don’t have access to. That said, why aren’t our Unity negotiaters able to make us the union that breaks the pattern? To me that’s a major question.

  • Avatar

    Cool Beans
    There is only one thing that can temper the excesses of market capitalism and that thing is organized labor. We must fight the union and the mayor and the governor and the parties that are owned by capital, that are the mere manikins of markets.

    While the healthcare workers seem to have more leverage than the pedagogues they are in fact in a weaker position because they have not the leverage of the cost disease we educators have. What distinguishes their successes from our relative failures is complex but is mostly down to the failings of our collective bargaining agent, the UFT, an anti-Union that will continue to concession bargain away our wages, benefits, and the quality of work conditions with every new contract.

    While I still contend that the new Contract will beat inflation, this is a small and uncertain plus that is mostly down to secular economics and not anything our union is even cognizant of when they negotiate.

    In any event, excellent reporting here.



    • BaconUFT

      Well said. I agree – in the end, what ultimately separates the UFT and the nurses is a chasm between our respective negotiating philosophies. It’s due time to end consessionary unionism.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *