UFT Contract 101: What makes a giveback a giveback?

Unless negotiations between the UFT and the City completely break down, all indications suggest that a tentative contractual agreement is near. United for Change, of which New Action Caucus is a member, published a combined list of five demands we need met before voting yes. I wrote a piece detailing the first demand, on wages. Unfortunately, we are almost positive that the first contract draft will concede to an inflation-adjusted pay cut. For many members, this is not just unacceptable – it is also a good example of what unionists call a ‘giveback.’

Defined loosely, ‘givebacks’ are “a previous gain (such as an increase in wages or benefits) given back to management by workers (as in a labor contract).” Based on that definition, the likely wage ‘increases’ in our next contract will be a ‘textbook’ example of a giveback. After all, if we ratify an agreement with roughly 3% wage hikes per year in a time of record inflation, that means doing the same work but for less. Others may counter that since ‘the pattern is the pattern,’ and since that pattern was set by DC-37 rather than by the UFT, our inflation-adjusted pay-cut is not a giveback, at least not per se. I disagree with that line of thinking, particularly since UFT leadership opted not to fight to set a better pattern than DC37’s, but I digress.   

So, what are some other types of givebacks that the UFT has seen over the years? Many of them were tallied in an infamous presentation made by some MORE members and linked to here by New Action. As the writers of the PowerPoint put it “By 1990, the UFT had won these contractual rights, and by 2020 we had given up all these rights:

  • An excessed teacher was placed and appointed to the closest vacant position in their license.
  • Teachers could transfer to vacant positions in other schools based on seniority, without the approval of any principal.
  • A member could grieve a disciplinary letter on grounds it was unfair and/or inaccurate.
  • The five-day workweek was 31 hours and 40 minutes (today, it is 34 hours and 10 minutes).
  • Teachers could take sabbaticals for travel.
  • There were no “professional activities” (C6 assignments). Most high school teachers had two prep periods a day.
  • We have made substantial concessions in health care via MLC.
  • We have made many non-contractual concessions like new pension tiers (Tier 6, changes to tenure rules).”

The Unity-led UFT leadership ended up hiring lawyers paid with our dues to try and scare opposition unionists into deleting the presentation under the pretense of ‘copyright infringement.’ But, when confronted with the question as to why UFT leadership had a problem with the PowerPoint, one prominent Borough Representative responded that “the UFT obviously doesn’t agree that we’ve had givebacks.” The UFT, you see, can’t admit to givebacks, even when they’re as plain as day.

And that should worry us, especially because covering up our losses is not a minority opinion. Indeed, at the most recent UFT Executive Board Meeting, a prominent District Representative suggested it would be a problem to allow delegates two weeks to review changes to contractual language before voting, because then opposition unionists might publicize negative things about the contract. To opposition unionists that’s precisely the point – if there are negative things in the contract, delegates deserve to know about them before we vote on them, no? But, to Unity, ignorance is apparently bliss.

We likely won’t have much of a chance to go over changes to the contract before we vote on it. Unity has made this very clear. That means that we’re likely to get givebacks we don’t notice, like the 2018 line in a hidden appendix that committed us to hundreds of millions of dollars in annual contract savings. That giveback, in the deal that Mulgrew told us had no givebacks, is now well known. But there are other lesser-known givebacks. And those lesser givebacks have the effect of combining to elicit a compounding effect over time, which means we need to see them, catch them, and prevent them from being signed into any new deals.

An example of a giveback that flies under the radar but shouldn’t is the 2018 change to requirements for obtaining the Masters +30 Salary Differential. Whereas previously, UFT members like myself could obtain a MA+30 through a number of avenues, including an additional (non-teaching) Master’s program or unlimited CLEP exams, this new change added something called ‘A+ credits’ to the mix. In theory, A+ credits could have just been one new option of many that made it faster and potentially cheaper to get a +30. And that’s what leadership made it seem like. Check out slide 27 of the PowerPoint that UFT leadership gave Chapter Leaders and Delegates at the fatefully rushed emergency DA at which we were sold the 2018 contract. A+ credits weren’t just framed as a ‘non-giveback’; they were framed as a new option for members – a contract ‘win’ that would give us “more freedom, more options.” But that wasn’t true. It turned out that after the 2018 contract was ratified, new teachers were obligated to get 18 of their MA+30 credits—more than half of them—through the A+ program. That means less freedom and fewer options. For many teachers, it also means less money. I meet newer teachers who came into the DOE with additional MA degrees all the time. They would have qualified for a MA+30 under the old model. Now, they must wait longer and go through pricey red tape to be paid the +30 differential. Despite already coming in with a Masters and 30 additional credits, they are nevertheless forced to spend new money and invest time which they might not have on classes that are limited in scope and which may not be of interest to them. For those teachers, the creation of the A+ process is an extremely expensive and bureaucratic give-back that makes it harder to reach top salary, even if it was potentially a win for patronage jobs at UFT Teacher Center.

So, when we finally see the new contract draft, as many of us expect we will later this month, look out for givebacks—not just the big ones, like pay-cuts or healthcare concessions, but the seemingly little ones, like A+ credits. Because these givebacks, which UFT leaders insist aren’t givebacks, add up. They compound to harm us, often falling hardest on new and future members. And look beyond the official UFT PowerPoint and summary, which are likely to obfuscate the negative ‘giveback’ aspects of changes in favor of getting a ‘yes’ vote. We just can’t vote to let our rights erode further, especially in the context of an assured pay cut.


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