Friday, February 15, 2008

Ms. Weingarten Delivers (in Her Style)

Over two years after having negotiated the worst contract in the history of our union, UFT President Randi Weingarten is finally presenting city teachers with a 25/55 retirement program. That's a great achievement, of course.

Only it isn't actually a 25/55 program. New hires will actually have to wait 27 years before they can benefit from this program. Therefore they, who will soon outnumber current teachers by overwhelming margins, will not receive what the UFT so frequently promised.

It's always instructive to read the viewpoints of Unity patronage employees, many of whom earn double what most teachers do, and all of whom must invariably agree with Ms. Weingarten's every whim or risk losing their jobs and second pensions. On Edwize, one cries about the injustice of the 1.75% cut in school budgets. Concurrently, the UFT feverishly pushes a bill that will cut most teacher salaries by 1.8% on a nearly permanent basis. Some teachers, like me, will have an opportunity to opt in (or not). And though I'd actually like to work past the age of 55, I'll have to buy in as an insurance policy. After all, who knows what the future will bring?

But this program appears to be a bonanza for the city's coffers:

In the latest city budget on page E-117, there is a category called "55/25 Program Savings: Savings generated by increased retirements as a result of the new age and experience retirement policy." For fiscal year 2009 the city will be saving $43,100,000 because of 55/25-55/27; for fiscal year 2010 that will jump to $68,600,000; for fiscal year 2011 it spikes to $87,500,000 and for 2012 the city will be saving $101,000,000.

The city saves over 100 million dollars because current teachers who want to take advantage of 55/25 will have to pay into the system to fund their early retirement while new hires will be required to pay pension contributions for their entire careers, not just the first ten years. The added contributions amount to a 1.85% pay cut for employees not yet hired and they won't be able retire after 25 years of service at age 55 as the contract says they should be able to; they will need 27 years. What did we get in return for allowing the city to save this huge sum of money with their de-facto new pension tier? School-wide merit pay

In fact, according to The Sun, Ms. Weingarten gave away even more. One of her prime bragging points about the awful 2005 contract was that she accepted a sub-cost-of-living increase rather than indulging in the process of "eating our young," or giving reasonable pay increases to experienced personnel at the expense of new hires. But an effective 1.85% pay cut is probably not the best way to entice young teachers, most of whom will be unlikely to work long enough to reap any benefit whatsoever.

There also appears to be a side-deal with the devil, specifically an agreement on the union's part to back a Republican hopeful who supports tax credits for private school parents:

On January 28, the state teachers union announced it was endorsing Republican Assemblyman Will Barclay's bid for an open Senate seat that will be decided in a special election on February 27. The race is viewed as a must-win for Majority Leader Joseph Bruno's conference, which holds a fragile 32- to 29-seat advantage over the Senate Democrats.

In the past, the UFT has endorsed such stellar candidates as Serphin Maltese, a State Senator who was responsible for breaking parochial school unions on at least two occasions. Why? Who knows? Why are they backing Barclay?

The union said it favored the Republican because he had "demonstrated a commitment to public education."

Does that sound as vague to you as it does to me?

NYC teachers paid heavily for that 2005 contract. Many, after that, and after Ms. Weingarten's merit pay deal with the city, will now pay even more. I wish Ms. Weingarten well as AFT President, and I sincerely hope her UFT successor will do everything possible to eradicate the legacy that endears her the the likes of union-bashers like ex-US Secretary of Education Rod Paige.
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