Archive for the 'Teachers Contract' Category

Negotiations – what matters most

by Jonathan Halabi

Halabi is a 13-year math teacher in the Bronx. He is Chapter Leader at the HS of American Studies at Lehman College and was Deputy Chapter Leader and Delegate at Columbus HS before that. He is on the executive board of New Action/UFT and on the UFT Executive Board, as well as currently serving on the Executive Committee of the UFT’s Negotiating Committee.

We should have two priorities in these negotiations. Not that we should not try to get more, we should, but this is what we should be looking for as absolutes:

  1. A raise. Substantial.
  2. No harm. Nothing that hampers our ability to grow stronger, and to get better settlements in the future.

Some explanation:

A. Why are we negotiating?

Because our contract is expired. Because we have the right to negotiate. Because the law forces them to negotiate with us. And the legal framework is a product of struggle, of workers, of teachers, at one time, being strong enough to demand respect.

Can you imagine, they passed laws to restrict the growing power of unions? That’s a long time ago. They recognized rights we had won in struggle, and often in the same law, restricted them. Today, it is the recognition part, not the restriction part, that looms large. It forces them to the table with us.

I consider the Taylor Law an anti-labor piece of legislation. But in today’s environment, it contains protections that we rely on and benefit from.

Make no mistake, there is history. What we have, the rights we have, they are not immutable; they come from action that teachers and other workers took in the past. Nor has history stopped; what we do today has ramifications for the future.

B. What is our relationship with the DoE?

Our current relationship with the Department of Education is hostile. It is adversarial. They sign agreements with us, and ignore them. They bargain (in general, no particular reference to the current negotiations) in bad faith. They add requirements on our members that violate the spirit, if not the letter (but often the letter too!) of our contract. They are predatory. They are aggressive. And far more than in the past, they are shamelessly bold.

They attack us with U-ratings, with terminations. They are packing the Temporary Reassignment Centers. They are discriminating against older teachers, male teachers, and teachers of color. They use phony and pretend data to harass our members and bury them in busy work. They loose untrained, dictatorial administrators on our members.

They disrupt our schools. They close and reopen willy-nilly. They change curricula, requirements. They create ridiculous Progress Reports and Quality Reviews to scare and intimidate us. They deny us, our students, and our neighborhoods the stability that schools should provide.

C. Who is strong today?

Potentially, with scores of thousands of members, we are much stronger than the DoE. But our membership is fragmented, and partially unorganized. Too many of our new members are worried about getting U’ed or tossed. Too few of our members are tenured. And the clusters of untenured teachers put entire schools, perhaps entire districts at a disadvantage. And too many of our experienced members are concerned (with reason) about being forced to become ATRs.

And the DoE is aggressive, overstaffed at Tweed with management-types and a (relatively) new, useless/destructive Office of Accountability, and armed with a confrontational, ideological agenda. They’ve been coming at us and at the kids for over half a decade, and the best we’ve managed is to hold our own. Despite our potential, we need to recognize the current balance of forces. And today the bad guys are stronger than us.

D. What matters most?

For this contract, we all need a raise. That’s first

Beyond that, we need to improve our position for the future.

i) we need to stop their drive to turn teaching in NYC into a temp job. We need to stop the harrassment of new teachers. We need to restrict the arbitrariness of the rating process. We need to curb the predations of aggressive, unstable, dictatorial administrators. We need to help new teachers reach tenure and last and become experienced teachers.

ii) we need to stop their drive to marginalize and eliminate senior teachers. We need to stop the harassment of senior teachers. We need to stop the arbitrary reassignment of ATRs, and assure that ATRs become regular classroom teachers. We need to revise the transfer process (or funding process, or both) so that senior teachers are not discriminated against when they seek to move within the system. We need to stop the abuse of the Temporary Reassignment Centers.

iii) we need a leadership that focuses on actual conditions in the field (we may have some recent progress here)

iv) we need to create/rebuild well-functioning chapters in every school. Well-functioning chapters defend our weakest members, enforce the contract, empower all of us. Well-functioning chapters are the key to changing the (currently unfavorable) balance of forces, to tapping our great potential strength.

But none of these things, i-iv, are we likely to do through contract negotiations. Rather, we should keep them in mind, and ensure that whatever new agreement we do reach does not make any of these harder to achieve.

on The Negotiating Committee and its Executive Committee

by Jonathan Halabi

Halabi is a 13-year math teacher in the Bronx. He is Chapter Leader at the HS of American Studies at Lehman College and was Deputy Chapter Leader and Delegate at Columbus HS before that. He currently serves on the executive board of New Action/UFT and on the UFT Executive Board, as well.

I’m serving on the 30-member “Executive Committee” of the 300-member Negotiating Committee. Neither one of these committees is properly named, but that’s not a problem. Let me explain.

The 300-member committee is pulled from all over the UFT – pretty much every title, every caucus, every grade level, every borough. We are every age, race, gender that you could find in the union. If we are not perfectly represented, it is because we are more diverse, not less diverse. Which is good for what we actually do. We serve as a focus group for the leaders and their advisors/lawyers. Our reactions and responses provide immediate feedback. Look, on some issues they may not need it, but on others, they count on taking the membership’s pulse immediately, and we are it. This is both important, and useful. The Committee does not change the negotiating approach 180°, but its reaction can lead to changes in presentation, changes to emphasis, or can reconfirm or refine subtle positions. This benefits the negotiators, and thus benefits the membership.

Our leadership has accepted the positive aspects of having the large Negotiating Committee, but has been concerned about keeping the actual proceedings under wraps. Some stuff probably dribbles out here and there. It’s 300 people after all. But Mike Mulgrew has mentioned several times that he’s been pleased with how we’ve stuck to our confidentiality agreements. After the September DA our initial list of demands made it to the press, but with one thousand people and no signed agreeements, that was probably to be expected. Anyway, when you ask a Negotiating Committee member what’s going on, and they respond in a general way “the UFT is committed to reaching a fair agreement as quickly as possible,” you should understand that the person is not blowing you off but has committed to not giving detailed accounts.

The Executive Committee of the Negotiations Committee is a group of 30 people, maybe not as representative overall, but there’s been a pretty good effort, that goes into the negotiating sessions with the City and DoE. The officers and staff are about another 30, so it’s about 50-60 good guys. Picture an open rectangle of tables, with Mulgrew and his advisors and his officers taking up one long side, and extending onto both short sides.  The Committee is arrayed behind them. Doing? I want to say nothing, but that’s not true. First of all, we get a briefing (or briefings) before the main event starts. And sometimes ask questions or make comments or suggestions.

The City and DoE come in. They take up the remaining side, with Mr. Hanley, the City’s negotiator doing all the talking for them. Mr. Brodsky (DoE)  knows some of our people, and for a moment before things begin, speaks with some of them. Then it’s just Mike Mulgrew and Hanley, one reads, the other responds. There’s no other voices on the City side, but Mulgrew might call on someone on our side to explain an important point. Then the City might leave, caucus, and come back, or leave and not return (except for making arrangements to arrange the next session). Once they are out of the room, there is debrief. Some of us ask questions. And that’s it.

And it’s worth it. The initial briefing reminds everyone of what is happening. While the session is live, we are extra ears and eyes. And the brief conversations and questions in the debriefs have been clarifying. We are active witnesses, and we add strength to our side.

We immediately head into the large room with the full Negotiating Committee. Mulgrew reports out in full detail what happened in the session, invites those who were there to add any missing details (there’s usually few or none, as he reports from detailed notes), asks for questions, and leads a discussion.

It’s a positive process. In a few more days I’ll write about what we should look for coming out of this bargaining round.

Negotiations 101 – a personal reminisce

by David Kaufman

David is a co-chair of New Action/UFT. He currently is a member of the UFT Executive Board and is co-chair of the UFT Action Committee and an active member of the Organizing Committee. He spent most of his 35 years teaching Science at MS 135X (now Whalen Educational Campus) where he was UFT Chapter Leader for 24.5 years until he retired.

More than fifty years ago I would watch in awe as my late mother would negotiate for the carp she needed for the gefilte fish she would make for the holidays. The process started with the selection of the live fish from a huge tank. My mother would point out the fattest, healthiest carp. That was the easy part. The negotiation of the price came next. It was difficult- the fish salesman new my mother needed the fish, but the fish was already dead laying on the counter waiting to be gutted.

My mother was relentless. She always got her price. I usually felt sorry for the fish salesman, but my mother said not to worry, that he did not take a loss.

The Collective Bargaining Agreement (contract) between the United Federation of Teachers and the Department of Education of the City of New York has expired. To date there has been no settlement. For almost forty years I wished that my mother could negotiate for the UFT. Unfortunately the DOE negotiated like my mother and the UFT didn’t even hold out for a little profit like the fish salesman.

My mother explained “negotiations 101” to me. You can’t make your first offer close to what you really want. She explained that your first offer can be unreasonable. There will be a give and take as the offers come closer together and fairer.

Over the years the UFT has ignored Negotiations 101 in lieu of its own pattern of asking for very little and creating very low expectations. In this the UFT was very successful, succeeding in getting little and sometimes giving up a lot.

Content Policy

Content of signed articles and comments represents the opinions of their authors. The views expressed in signed articles are not necessarily the views of New Action/UFT.
June 2021