Out-Negotiated, Again: How Other Unions’ Recent Contracts Outperform the UFT’s

UFT members have our new contract. Mulgrew’s Koolaid vendors will tell you it’s the best deal we’ve ever had. But, the truth is that it’s a snore of an agreement, complete with inflation-adjusted pay cuts despite very few gains and even some losses. Other teacher contracts over the course of the last few years have been much better. Teachers’ Unions in cities like Los Angeles, Oakland, and now San Francisco all majorly surpassed our wage gains, for instance, in some cases doubling them. But, in the urban California unions, the word ‘strike’ isn’t met with heckles by union officials; it’s met with actual organizing that leads to educators beating inflation. That’s one reason why, when adjusted for cost of living, New York City teachers make far less than our colleagues on the west coast.

Pay and benefits, of course, aren’t everything. And while working conditions did not improve all that much under this contract, including in places we expected them to, there were some highly lauded improvements. Probably the biggest supposed UFT win this year was our newfound—but conditional—ability to conduct parent outreach from home, though the fine print on this, which created a potential for systemic micromanagement through newly onerous paperwork requirements, put a bit of a damper on things.

Enter our bosses, principals and assistant principals. Their union, the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators (CSA), just signed their own tentative deal with the City of New York. Unfortunately for them, they’re already stuck with a pattern that DC-37 originated and UFT solidified. Other than pay, however, the CSA seems to have out-negotiated teachers in other ways. Their bonuses are completely pensionable (some of our bonuses are, some aren’t). And they get up to several remote days a year. While we’re working long (but rewarding) hours in classrooms, under a new pilot program, principals and assistant principals will sometimes be at home, conducting business from a screen. Based on their contract at a glance, the number of available days for CSA members to work fully remote appears to be as many as one per month from October to May and two per week for applicable titles during the summer.

Our first impulse upon learning that CSA doesn’t have to come in every day anymore is probably to make a joke: ‘see, we don’t need principals in schools after all!’ But the truth is, the work of most administrators is highly ‘in person.’ Many of the principals I’ve spoken to have frankly been confused about their newfound ability to sometimes work entire school days from home. In other words, CSA was able to negotiate a contractual benefit so good that their members are puzzled by it, whereas UFT leadership took something that was common sense and turned it into a densely packed 55 minutes of codified micromanagement.

Teachers were never going to get the remote work gains of other titles, of course. But remote days are far more valuable than an hour of remote time packed onto a full day of in-person work, even without accounting for potential new paperwork, prior authorization, or reporting requirements. And I mean ‘valuable’ literally. Research suggests that those working in person spend more than $30 more per day than those who work from home. Given that other titles stuck with the DC-37 pattern were able to negotiate alternate forms of value, why wasn’t UFT leadership able to negotiate some corresponding benefit on our end – a vacation day or two, fully CTLE-compliant PDs done remotely and asynchronously, or simply just outreach without micromanagement overkill? Heck, 7% of the nation’s school districts have moved to four-day school weeks; and many are doing so without cutting teacher pay. If this sounds like science fiction to you, that’s because our union’s complacency has made the gains that are being made across the country feel like fantasy here in New York.

If we start acting like a union by showing the City that we are willing to do what it takes to improve our working conditions and pay, we can get what we deserve. But that’s not what we are doing. Instead, our UFT leadership comes to the table to willfully reduce our medical coverage by 10%. Instead, our union leadership suppresses member voices who think we should push for the level of wage increases we see in California. Instead, our union leadership heckles members who suggest the mere idea of ‘strike readiness.’ The bottom line is our union leadership emphasizes what we can’t do, even as all the unions around us display the boundlessness of what is possible. Let’s join the rest of the labor movement and aim for better, instead of ‘just 10% worse.’

-Nick Bacon, Co-Chair of New Action / UFT and Member of UFT’s High School Executive Board

Nick Bacon is a co-chairperson at New Action Caucus. He is also an elected member of the UFT executive board

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