Archive for the 'unions' Category

Striking is not Antiquated: L.A. education workers prove UFT leadership wrong with 30% Salary Increases

Last week, we had the displeasure of hearing the party of our union leadership argue against members having the right to strike. In the land of pattern bargaining, striking is antiquated, said one. It’s white privilege, said another. We don’t need the right, because we’d strike anyways if things were ever actually bad said their caucus president. A few members additionally pointed to cities like LA and Chicago and said—they’re just striking for what we already have here in New York.

The timing couldn’t have been more ironic. For, but a few days later, highly diverse education workers in Los Angeles went on strike. And they didn’t go on strike to get what we already have in New York City. The City of Los Angeles offered them a better deal than the sub-inflation DC37 pattern that UFT leadership wants us to be stuck with. But, more importantly, the striking workers won. They’ll be getting 30% salary increases, among other perks.

 Let’s look at some facts/analysis.

  • The workers who went on strike in Los Angeles are not ‘people of privilege.’ They are amongst the lowest paid public sector workers in the city, filling approximately the same positions as the lowest paid workers in DC37.
  • Times are rough in Los Angeles, but they’re rougher in New York. Over the last 12 months, when compared with Los Angeles, general inflation is higher by a full percentage point in New York. Nevertheless, L.A. workers agree, that times are bad enough to strike.
  • Cities like L.A. don’t just strike to get what we have in New York; they strike even when they’re given a better deal than us. Indeed, LA’s latest offer was about a 23% increase over 5 years with a 3% cash-in-hand bonus, a $20 minimum wage, and full healthcare benefits for part-time workers (4 hours a day or more). That’s about 7 percentage points higher than what DC37 was given (16.21%) and two dollars more in terms of a minimum wage ($18). But, Education Workers United was seeking 30% and an additional $2 an hour over the next few years, as well as more hours for their workers. They weren’t ‘settling for less in solidarity,’ as our unions are. Moreover, health insurance is already 100% premium free for L.A.’s striking workers. To my knowledge, union leadership there is not trying to organize for members to pay more for coverage or be switched to inferior plans, as our own union leadership is doing here.
  • Striking is clearly not antiquated. The strike in L.A. has ended after just a few days of workers organizing together on the picket line. And they won. Per CBS, “the agreement includes a 30% wage increase and a retroactive pay increase of between $4,000 and $8,000. The increase will raise the average annual salary of its workers from about $25,000 to $33,000.”

In conclusion, Los Angeles proves New York’s union leadership wrong. When we organize together, we can do better. But in the bizarro land of New York, where the union organizes only to get us thrown off our healthcare, while threatening lawsuits to real progressive organizers, we’re told that the only way to truly be ‘union proud’ is to ‘don’t worry, be happy.’ Under the leadership of Unity Caucus, the UFT has become ‘post-union.’ Let’s take a page from L.A. and start acting like a union again. That starts with at least working to win back the right to strike.


Union elections have consequences. One of those consequences is apparently getting your healthcare and retirement benefits stripped away without a membership vote. 

Today, the Municipal Labor Commission (MLC) voted to force hundreds of thousands of retirees off of traditional public Medicare and onto one of two privatized Medicare Advantage Plans (MAPs). (Full analysis of those two plans and the UFT’s role: here). Most of the City unions did not vote in favor of this change. But most unions are much smaller than the UFT and DC37. Therefore, with weighted voting, Mulgrew and Garrido were able to ram through Mulgrewcare with the help of a handful of other union leaders.

Weighted voting in itself isn’t unfair. Some of the unions in the MLC are smaller than divisions in the UFT. It makes sense that our union would get more of a say than particularly tiny ones. On the other hand, does it make sense that UFT votes as one giant bloc? Perhaps, the issue is that UFT has a winner-take-all model of democracy. Only a few minor seats, such as the High School Executive Board, are obtained through division votes. So, even though more than 40% of in-service teachers voted against Mulgrew, including the majority of high school voters, Mulgrew gets to speak for us – and use our weight to influence MLC votes. That’s particularly egregious, because those who voted against Mulgrew voted overwhelmingly for United for Change (which included New Action).  One of our platform items was to preserve traditional Medicare and end healthcare givebacks. It’s sickening to know that Mulgrew was able to use our numbers to vote against our interests as explicitly outlined in our election materials. 

Better yet, why wasn’t a decision this big opened up to a vote for general membership? Even those who voted for Mulgrew in the last election didn’t know that he would push through MAP without even a payup option to keep traditional Medicare. We should have been able to directly vote on this question. But, when asked, Mulgrew made it clear to the executive board, the DA, and–most explicitly–to the retirees that membership would not get a say. His message was simple, a paraphrased version of Trump’s infamous: ‘elections have consequences.’ By winning the UFT election, it seems, Mulgrew earned the right to throw us off our healthcare. He earned the right, in fact, to throw every municipal union off their healthcare. 

Look, the damage isn’t necessarily done. Tier sixers, like myself, are probably feeling pretty pessimistic right now. (We might be able to win for a while, but how do we win for another 50 years?) Nevertheless, we can organize. We can fight back. And we need to take Mulgrew at his word. If elections have consequences this drastic, it’s time for members to start getting involved with alternatives. 

We can’t keep letting Mulgrew’s ‘political party,’ Unity Caucus, do this to us. We can’t keep letting them do this to our brothers and sisters throughout the labor movement either. It’s time for a change.

DC37 Sets Pattern Below Mostly Non-Unionized U.S. Average

It’s the last day of school before a much needed vacation, so just a few words on the terrible pattern set by the DC-37 contract. I’ll write something more in depth later.

A 3% wage increase is absolutely horrendous. It’s far below inflation, which is running into the double digits. It’s literally a pay cut. 3% is also below the national average. Most of the country isn’t represented by unions. So unionized New York City municipal unions are getting crappier raise increases than people who are working at-will. That’s terrible. And things will only get worse if we also end up paying for premiums, as Mulgrew has already prepped us to accept. 3% could easily become -3%.

Adams took advantage of DC37. DC37 is a large and diverse union, but most of its members make offensively low salaries. The union’s website stresses the reliance of its membership on public assistance programs to make ends meet. A 3% wage increase with a $3,000 signing bonus would go a long way for people who are already making non-living wages during a time of record inflation. Knowing full well that DC37 members would be the most in need of an immediate raise, Adams weaponized the increased cost of living (which he himself had a hand in driving up) to get the City’s lowest paid workers to agree to a wage increase that would never be accepted by other unions. And now everyone is stuck with that rate.

This is an absolute abuse of pattern bargaining. Pattern bargaining is supposed be a means of efficiently organizing fair wage increases for like-unions. Larger or more powerful unions negotiate first, ensuring that smaller and less powerful unions get the same deal. Everyone wins because less negotiating energy gets spent on figuring out financials, leaving more room to discuss workplace improvements and other non-economic factors. Here, in an absurd reversal, the City exploited the union with the most disadvantaged members so that it could force an unfair deal onto everyone else.

The blame doesn’t just go to the City. For MLC labor leaders, who make hefty compensation packages and don’t have to live with the consequences of sub-inflation wages, this is win-win. DC37 leadership gets to quickly get out wage increases to its membership, who is after all willing to take the deal. Then, labor leaders of unions whose membership would not take the deal get to sit back and blame DC37 for the crappy wages. They can now say ‘sorry, all we can negotiate now is non-economic factors.’ Hiding behind the pattern system and the Taylor Law, union leaders and bureaucrats can rest at ease, spending the rest of their time convincing membership why their hands are tied. This is a perfect example of what I meant when I said that “[UFT Leadership] will take on the task, not of organizing us to fight, but of disorganizing overworked members into acquiescence.”

But, Mulgrew isn’t off the hook. I’ll ask question number one: if we are conceding to the pattern–and recent communications seem to suggest that we are–are we also conceding to the work day that no longer makes sense under said pattern? About 20 years ago, we agreed to work extra time (now called PD Mondays and OPW/PO Tuesdays) in exchange for raises in excess of other unions. But now, we are likely to have to take a pay cut. In my view, if we aren’t getting the raises we deserve, that means it’s time to sunset extra time. To be frank, we now need that time to find extra jobs to afford living in this city.

Unions can and must achieve more than non-unionized America. The nurses just proved this. Their leadership didn’t hide behind patterns or find reasons not to organize. They struck and now will get 19% over 3 years. DC37 and the rest of us will be getting 16.21 over 5.5. See the difference? DC37 deserves far more than a 3% increase, as do the workers represented by other municipal unions. We can and must push for better, Taylor Law or not.

That’s all for now. I look forward to analyzing the situation more and publishing something longer in the coming weeks. Hopefully DC37 members vote ‘no,’ but we’ll see. It’s tough when your union recommends you do.

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March 2023