Should teachers wear uniforms? Some thoughts on the PBA contract and the uniform pattern.

PBA now has a contract. The details are better than DC37’s, which has led to some questions and confusion amongst rank and file in the UFT. In this post, I analyze some of the details/implications, answering some questions I’ve seen circulating along the way.

  • Beating ‘the pattern.’ I’ll start with the question I’m hearing the most: if police officers beat the pattern, can we? The short answer is no. You see, police officers are grouped under what we call the ‘uniformed professions,’ who effectively get their own pattern. So, while NYFD may benefit from PBA’s negotiation, UFT will not. We’re stuck with the ‘non-uniformed’ or ‘civilian’ pattern, and that sub-inflation embarrassment was set by DC37 without any pushback from UFT leadership. Similarly, police officers will apparently get their retro settled right away – they won’t have to wait for years and years to be ‘made not quite whole,’ as UFT infamously did.
  • The gendered ‘pattern gap.’ The uniformed/civilian distinction sets an incredibly problematic double standard. Pattern bargaining already has the issue of ‘cementing’ old inequalities into eternity. All titles are subject to the same economic increases, so whatever inequalities were there at the beginning of pattern bargaining are doomed to be perpetuated ad infinitum. But the distinction between uniformed/civilian professions only further exacerbates inequalities. By ensuring that salaries even grow at a higher rate amongst male-dominated professions (e.g. police officers and firefighters) compared to female dominated professions (e.g. teachers and paraprofessionals), inequalities between the pay rates of each job actually increase over time.
  • There’s no substitute for real organizing. NYPD officers have a bit of a reputation for ‘stretching’ the Taylor Law and getting away with it. (Think: ‘blue flu’). But, PBA solidly negotiated this contract within the confines of New York public-sector bargaining laws. In other words, they did not strike. And it’s telling that police officers, despite predictably doing better than DC37 in terms of their pattern, still ended up with sub-inflation wage increases. Education workers in Los Angeles on the other hand, who held a three day strike, did beat inflation. So yes, NYPD will get better relative raises than the UFT, but the more militant Local SEIU 99 beat both out by a longshot.

So, yes, teachers and all other ‘civilian’ union members should at least get what ‘uniformed’ workers get. The inequality in our patterns exposes some of the most blatant absurdities of pattern bargaining, and should be immediately abolished. But to truly get what we deserve, we will need to push beyond what even uniformed unions are getting in post-Taylor, New York. To get what we really deserve, we will need to dramatically increase our scope of contract tactics to that of what we are seeing in L.A. and Chicago. It is organizing, and organizing alone, that can beat inflation.

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