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.