UFT: Let’s Organize for a Fair Contract

UFT members need a decent contract. With inflation at sky high levels and our pay rates stuck in the 2021-2022 school year, we frankly need that contract yesterday. On Jan. 30, many chapters across the city will engage in ‘teach ins’ to learn about and organize around the contract. Hundreds–if not thousands–of UFTers took part in initial trainings, so I’m optimistic that chapters will actually do them. Like my fellow UFT executive board member, Mike Schirtzer, I want these to be successful. Rather, I want these events to be a part of ensuring that our actual contract is successful.

Of course, readers likely know that I’m rather pessimistic on this subject. That isn’t to say I already plan to vote no on the next contract. Indeed, without seeing the final version, I can’t comment on whether it is a good contract or a bad contract. What I can say is that if we don’t organize and the City doesn’t see us organize, we’re less likely to get a good one. UFT leadership is therefore right to have organized these ‘teach ins.’ However, we always need to take what leadership gives us with a grain of salt. Back in 2018, I believed Michael Mulgrew when he said there were no givebacks. Heck, I turnkeyed his powerpoint back to my chapter and sold it to them. As we all now know, it turned out that in a hidden appendix there was a huge trojan horse with dangerous healthcare givebacks. Needless to say, I deeply regret organizing that ‘yes vote.’

We don’t yet have the UFT’s powerpoint on the next contract. We do have their powerpoint and lesson plan for the ‘teach in’ meant to organize for that contract. There’s some good here. The sheer fact that it encourages members to think about the contract and how it affects their lives as well as the broader New York City community is fantastic. For that reason alone, I think the ‘teach in’ is worthwhile. When teachers are conscious of the contract, they’re more likely to appreciate the rights they have, make sure those rights are enforced, and fight for rights they should have but currently lack.

Of course, back to that grain of salt. Is this just the 2018 powerpoint all over again? Is what seems like a presentation about organizing ourselves to fight the City for the best possible contract, really just propaganda by UFT leadership to organize us into thinking that whatever contract they come up with is worth fighting for? Is that why they’re asking us what we want in the contract despite knowing that negotiations have already been going on for months? Is that why they’re talking about organizing a fight, even though they’ve given us no reason to believe that the City is fighting our demands? Is that why in their official materials, the current contract is painted as the culmination of decades of brilliant bargaining and not the watered down shell of former contracts that it actually is? Is that why the parts explaining the negotiation process make it seem so fool-proof that a teacher would be crazy not to accept whatever comes out of it? Is that why nothing is said about a no-vote?

Maybe. But we should still do the ‘teach-ins.’ Members need to know about their contract. They need to think about their contract. And they need to be organized in case of a need to mobilize for a contract fight. That also means being ready to vote no and push for something better if the contract we’re given ends up not being worth the paper it’s printed on. Luckily, many of us in the progressive wing of the UFT have been thinking about this. On Sunday, Jan.29 at 7:00 PM – the night before the teach-in – please join Educators of NYC for their Contract Teach-in Pep Rally. Prepare to discuss: “

  • What does a fair upcoming contract look like? What does an unfair contract like?
  • There are items in any contract that require costing … are there some working conditions that we can demand for this contract that don’t really cost the city anything? What are they?
  • What does saying “no” to an unfair contract mean? Does it mean we strike?
  • In our teach-ins we will be sharing what actions we should take collectively. Do you believe we are prepared to take meaningful actions? Why or why not?
  • Some believe that the biggest obstacles for us taking meaningful actions are fear and apathy …How do we overcome fear and apathy in our union?”

These are just the things we need to discuss to make sure that the ‘teach in’s in our schools are not just infrastructure for an undeserved ‘yes’ vote, but a true means for chapters to think about what the contract means to them – and what sorts of contracts are worth that ‘yes’ vote.


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