Tier 6 Members are Losing Millions to Subsidize Tier 4 –  UFT Executive Board Meeting, 12-4, 2023


  • We now have confirmation that Tier 6 members are subsidizing the pensions of all other tiers. I’m tempted to use the metaphor of a pyramid scheme, because the numbers really are that bad. New Action Caucus recently did the math and discovered that teachers working for 40 years stand to lose more than 1 million dollars if they’re in Tier 6 compared to Tier 4. I can only imagine what those numbers look like when compared with Tier 1. We keep hearing about a supposed ‘fix Tier 6 campaign’ organized by NYSUT and the UFT. And we really want to believe that this campaign is going to make real changes, not just minor tweaks or lip service. But NYSUT is largely dominated by UFT’s Unity Caucus, who also constitute UFT’s leadership. And is a UFT leadership who agreed to cut our healthcare by 10% really going to do anything to fix Tier 6’s million-dollar-per-retiree pension problem? Especially when, as Tier 4 members, UFT leadership personally benefit from us overcontributing? I’m sad to say, I’m extremely pessimistic here and think it’s going to take serious rank-and-file actions to really get Tier 6 fixed.
  •  A few open mic speakers came out today. Norm Scott spoke well on health care (see below). Another speaker made a genuine plea to get UFT to do something about congestion pricing in lower Manhattan. This is something that is also going to affect teachers at my school, as well as most of District 2 and 1. It’s going to have major financial implications for members who drive to work – and something must be done.
  • Mulgrew made an ominous announcement that he’ll be making a report on healthcare at the next DA. This may mean changes are imminent, but with how little they tell us, who knows.
  • Mulgrew made an impassioned speech about stopping hate in our schools, notably following criticism that he wasn’t present at the press conference at Hillcrest High School after the events that transpired there.
  • Curriculum issues abound, but for whatever reason, we’re putting out the DOE’s fires instead of advocating that they don’t start them in the first place. Is it just me or should all these curriculum issues make us fight for carveouts – and for teachers to be able to choose their own curriculum if the cookie cutter one doesn’t work for them (or if the cookie cutter one literally can’t even be logged into)? For whatever reason, we aren’t fighting for that – we should be.
  • Ashley Rzonca spoke about a principal who stepped down from their post, tying that result to chapter organizing. It’s always good to see union chapters that succeed at this. They’re exceptions, to be sure, not the rule. But it’s good to see that in a union that in many ways is anti-union organizing, which is actively against the right to strike for instance, we still see chapters defeat the odds. I think it’s important to note the caveat: it doesn’t always work out. Many of us in opposition were radicalized by seeing how little even the best organizing efforts can do to stop abusive administrations, how too often those who fight problematic principals end up casualties rather than victors. I’ve personally witnessed how many UFT staffers, and certainly UFT leadership, have a tendency to disorganize disgruntled chapters rather than to support them – or lead them up to the mountain top only to leave them for dead. But, there are chapters who beat the odds that we can learn from. And there are staffer exceptions to the aforementioned staffer rule too. Ashley, a district rep, thanked Amy Arundell in particular for her support – one of the first vocal moves from a Unity Executive Board Member or high level staffer (district rep), and to a huge round of applause from a mostly Unity audience. There are interesting implications here, on which I’m sure others in opposition will report.
  • Shawn Rockowitz spoke about backing a drive to end early voting in Staten Island schools. This is an interesting move, because it’s limited to Staten Island and is also being supported by conservative and anti-union forces who seem to be against early voting in general. It’s an odd thing for Unity to support, particularly if it’s only in Staten Island – the only majority Republican borough. Daniel Alicea and Arthur Goldstein published an interesting piece about this the other day, which is worth reading, called “UFT Unity in Bed with Moms for Liberty.” Initially, I had wondered if maybe the early postings were just a social media snafu on Unity’s part – but if this was an official report (not even a district report – an official report) done after Daniel and Arthur’s expose, my curiosity is piqued.

For the rest, read my unofficial minutes:

Open Mic:

Norm Scott: A number of issues that the UFT has let us down. Healthcare. We hear the word choice – somehow we don’t have the choice because of lawsuits. But choice with a price. The choice you can have is you stay in Medicare and pay for what you had free (people who can afford it only). There are people in this union who didn’t have great pay and don’t have great pensions – they’d be forced into a MAP. Mayoral control: Mike made a nice presentation – I contend Mike doesn’t really want changes, he wants tweaks, I would contend. I’ve been in this union since 1967 – may have part ownership of this building (I’ll take the kitchen), have never seen the union support anything other than mayoral control. Difference between leadership and members with ending mayoral control – for leadership it’s easier to work with one or two people, but the members are being screwed. You need to offer us real choice – not phony choice.

Sean Caffrey (John Dewey): Holiday season is upon us. Two main wishes are empowerment and enforcement – so far these wishes have been granted. Sally has come in about micromanagement of common planning time. We’ve been able to come together and make changes. SPED committee has also empowered members in the building so that our students could get the programs correct. Since meeting, that has all been fixed. Last thing, holiday season is PPO season – although there were many onerous wish lists, but thanks to our new contract, we don’t have to be Santa’s elves. Contract states we don’t have to make new papers for this – we’ll work this out. Have a good holiday season.

Raul De Joyo: Concern about congestion pricing – undo burden on them in terms of commuting. Pay raise – but there will be a burden. Pollution in lower Manhattan will now go to the outer boroughs and cause more issues in Brooklyn, Bronx, and Staten Island. These members are very concerned about that. $15 is a huge burden on working people. MTA taking this money, but can’t even deal with their budget, still working on 2nd avenue subway, and they’ve been working on that since we were born. Something Robert Moses would have enjoyed. We’re still paying tolls on all that.

Name missed: Sharing what school is doing. Decided we were doing Thanksgiving baskets for people in shelters. Since then have made phone calls to shelters – have packed 10 baskets. We have staff members who are also in need. We’re doing about 100 baskets for Christmas for students in need. Confirmed families who have accepted our offer for Christmas and Hannukah. Still doing more outreach. Next step is to do a scholarship fund. Lost a colleague last year – will be starting a scholarship.

Ilona Hutchinson: Visual artist teacher in Bushwick. Have been a teacher there for several years. Second year as a chapter leader and grateful for that opportunity. Proud that I have the support from my district rep, Veronica. Teacher had all ineffective ratings with no feedback, brought to attention of DR; my observations also not so pleasant; brought attention to DR, addressed of DR. Had a day of action – school morale is not doing so well. DR talked with superintendent to rectify issue. I wanted to work with my principal, so I did an anonymous survey to share the concerns of the staff. Grateful to have support from my district rep.

Minutes Approved.

President’s Report:

Michael Mulgrew: had functional training – great to have all in one weekend. Next week the ten year anniversary of the PROSE program. There are 217 schools in PROSE – makes it one of the largest districts in America. It has taken on collaboration. Big, big thing. At the DA next week, I’ll be doing a report on the in-service healthcare process, where it’s at, what we’re doing about that. So I’ll do a report on that – next Wednesday. We’ll have a town hall on December 19th, where we’ll lay out the Fix Tier 6. We have 89 CEC representatives….Need to talk about the conflicts in the schools, students targeting teachers. Can’t shy away. Told chancellor. Don’t want principles shying away saying don’t say anything. When people ask me what side am I on – I’m not on any side, we are schools. Our job is to make our children have a better life than we had. Not going to comment on our generation, because right now looks like we haven’t done so well. But, we have to teach our kids how to understand respect and dignity. Anything that’s happening, we do that in the schools. We have to have those conversations. School must be a safe place. Met with numerous Muslim and Jewish leaders – all are telling me we aren’t doing enough to do our children safe. They send exactly the same. I say to them, you have to help us. Want to make sure schools safe. Going to push this with the chancellor. Don’t care which side you are on – hate is wrong. Don’t going into all the details, but we have done what we need to do. Not just teachers, also students targeting students – all based on hate. Not here to foment hate in any way. Trying to get together – different leaders from Muslim and Jewish faiths – come out with school has to be the safe place and not a place of hate – not disgusting behavior of adults. That’s where I’m going. Going upstairs to work with CEC people.

Mary Vacarro: Plans for the SEL curriculum. We had a role out for D75 and special education. On Dec 31 will be rolling out more. Will hand out documents about where you find stuff etc. Math curriculum, many issues – illustrative math in high schools. Also have modifications there. Have been a lot of issues on logging on. A lot of problems here – log ins, internet issues. Want everyone to know to print out materials on the math curriculum. Had to go through several steps.

Leo Gordon: Start by thanking high school DRs – started CTE committee. ACTE was a national conference – through those connections, NY showed up and showed out. Sparked a whole conversation about educators in healthcare. This week, Wednesday and Thursday we are on the precipice of something big in New York – developing a semiconductor/advanced manufacturing curriculum (UFT developed framework / not curriculum – now a statewide initiative). Micron will be announcing a multimillion dollar endowment. Four of our schools, hopefully five. CTE is alive in New York.

Karen Alford: On your table, have our catalogue for CTE. Community school lens. Also electronic. Toy drive is still going. Dec 16 we will have 150 students in this room, all students residing in homeless shelters. We will create a day of fun for our kids. If you can make it for the day of fun, please come. 30 of districts doing creative curriculum. Set of modules that schools are using. We think all schools have gotten their books – creative curriculum books. Paraprofessionals, some are being asked to do data entry, think we’ve stopped it. P.S. 30 in District 5 work to not lose funding. First went outside of charters, but kids there didn’t take the bait. Then went to shelters, told them everything that was happening – a united community school, one of ours, and students started coming in. Got so many students that now DOE owed them money.

Shawn Rockowitz: Some of you may be aware of a petition floating around on change.org about eliminating early voting in SI schools. Staff are asking for this – access issues, security issues, adults using student restrooms, adults found in basement, getting aggressive with our staff members. Lunch rooms not able to be used, gyms, etc. Bring this to you for awareness. Staff/community asking for it, so if you have any interest, and if you’re of a like mind please sign.

Question Period

Nick Bacon: We are finding that the difference between Tier 6 and Tier 4 goes into the millions of dollars once you go into the contributions, length of time we work, money we could have invested in our TDAs if we weren’t overcontributing to our pensions. One thing our research is unclear on is if the money we overcontribute goes to other pension members in anyway. So do Tier 4 members benefit from our overcontributions? Does Tier 6 subsidize Tier 4?

Debra Penny: In short, yes. Money all goes to the same place. Tier 6 retirees will also benefit from future retirees contributing.

Ed Calamia: Recently we saw the UAW pull off some amazing victories, even in some right-to-work-states you saw people saying ‘I want in – I want union!’ We have the AFT, but we also have teachers who don’t have unions. We saw that a bit in the red state revolt. What can we do to organize the unorganized? Every place you see politicians bringing down other unions – that brings down our salaries. Want to see our cope money going to organizing, buses, showing up.

LeRoy Barr: May be calling! We went to Texas to do just that. May be calling you about that. Not only bad in those states. Miami-Dade struggling, Houston, struggling to keep certification. I’ll talk to AFT – get you on those trips.

Ilona Nanay: Had privilege of seeing Mike on PEP. Curious about our UFT budget. Don’t recall one last year.

LeRoy Barr: We will have one, don’t know when.

Ilona Nanay: Didn’t receive an email about showing up to some of the mayoral control events – like the Bronx one tomorrow?

Mike Sill: It was a good PEP meeting. About getting on the record with our perspectives. There is a registration period – it’s closed to show up. Written testimony period still open. That’s probably why you don’t see an email – because registration

Ilona Nanay: Will we meet to discuss as teachers – what testimony should look like, etc?

Mike Sill: Something we want to raise…In some ways that makes yes Bronx a test run.

Ibeth Mejia: NYS has registration links – can register there.

Sill: Times there, registration not open yet.

Reports from Districts

Michael Friedman: Last meeting moment of silence, another this time. Roberto Fongo. Remarkable person. Truly remarkable. D79, almost entirely at one site. Students going to wake and funeral.

Rashad Brown: Friday, members came out to PS3 the 35th World Aid Days. Went as chair of pride committee. Eric Botcher came – spoke about funds losing, then marched, various sites.  

Faiza Khalid: D5 had an amazing ugly sweater gathering, Harlem nights. Well attended. Donors Choose workshop.

Name Missed: D20 tenure workshop, just under 80 members and hear about UFT liaison speak about achieving tenure.

Servia Silva: Hispanic Affair Committee Chair – we are having a friendly Coquito making event. You do need to register before – it’s at a school. When you go home you can blend it with whatever you want.

Charles Di Benedetto: an 11 having Brooklyn high school workshop. We’ll be there to help people achieve tenure.

Yona Adika: Functional chapter weekend in Westchester, beautiful place. Fixed issues with hotel rooms using cheese platters. Beautiful seeing all the functional chapters together learning about organizing – doing the work. On your tables is a handout for the SRP celebration , Dec 7 from 4-8.

Ashley Rzonca: PEP last Wednesday. Some of us may have seen that 398Q principal announced stepping down. In October, CL Kaitlyn Kelly came here to let us know what was happening there. Among many of their actions, one was letters shared with the mayor/chancellor documenting their experiences – unsafe learning environment, unfollowed protocols, retaliation, etc. Went to multiple platforms to state their message, because they weren’t being heard. Principal message is of a step down, but this is not a voluntary step down. What we believe was the last straw was the teachers coming to the PEP, followed by an inappropriate response by the principal. We have spoken about abusive principals – asked what is the union doing. Look no further than what this chapter did – mostly untenured teachers who were empowered. When principal said if you don’t like it you can leave, they said we are staying here. This body needs to understand that this community is going to see a lot of changes, feeling lots of emotions. This community is going to need support. You will see a school transitioning and we will be there every step of the way. This Thursday, I will go to the school in new beginning. We are cognizant that principal is still there – they’ve been strategic all along. Thank anyone who has helped. Would not be able to do what I did without support of Queens Borough Rep, Amy Arundell. Quite rewarding.

Camille Edy: Sadly, Vanessa Tucker, sub para died. Family called about benefits  – as sub para nothing. Brought this up in consultation, because too many sub paras aren’t promoted.

Tom Brown: If you have any sub paras, they are able to join the Board of Education retirement system. When they are appointed, their time will transfer over.

Dave Walter: Tenure info/celebration events.

Name Missed, Functional Chapter: Book, climbing left of the mountain, good conversation about book, which included a UFT section. Civil rights history. So many moved.

Vaneesa Williams: City Council held annual retreat at Museum of Jewish Heritage, panel on education held with legislative members, in particular Rita Joseph (chair of education committee) as well as Sen. Robert Jackson and President Michael Mulgrew. Same day, what came into my mind was Marvin Gaye, when you hear of politicians who Politrick  makes me want to throw my hands up – George Santos removed. There will be a special election – will need some labor. Will be a budget hearing, we do know they will be too much for us.

Special Order of Business:

Debra Penny: Proud to be UFT treasurer, will be retiring and joining happy people over there. Treasurer deals with finances, legislation, improving benefits, heading up pension dept, amazing job. One person who I think would be awesome taking my place – Victoria Lee. Have worked closely with her over the last 8 years. She is everything that I’d want to take my place.

Tom Brown: Bittersweet moment to me to say goodbye to Debra Penny. She started out as an elementary school teacher, elected chair of teacher retirement system. Applause. Also proud to endorse Victoria Lee as treasurer. She’s started out in 1997 as a teacher at PS143, moved on to PS 16, where she became a CL and pension consultant. Knowledge and stability was instantly recognized, quickly became a full time pension rep. Has given consultations to thousands of our members. Now she oversees the management of TRS and distribution of TRS benefits to retirees and beneficiaries. Strong presence at national organizations. Smart, strong, competent. Will be a great treasurer. Fellow trustee Dave Kazansky and I have complete confidence.

Tom Murphy: Welcome Debbie to retiree chapter – already an intricate part, going to keep her involved as possible. Proud to also nominate – take something like Medicare Part B and IRMA, Victoria helping put together all sorts of videos to help explain. Oversees call center so we can make phone calls to all sorts of people. In many unions, treasurer and secretary are almost superior to president. So this is an important position to fill – need confidence.

Seung Lee: Victoria Lee only person in UFT to ever make me cry – beautiful speech at teacher union day. So excited to have Victoria Lee. Have organized Asian American Heritage events with her.

Michael Friedman: Victoria Lee does a brilliant job.

LeRoy Barr: Congratulations to Victoria Lee.


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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