Monday, September 28, 2015

The Curious Case of Mike Mulgrew and His Deceptive Piggy Bank

If you're on the UFT mailing list, you probably got the same email that I did. The UFT President wants you to know that you're finally going to see a little bit of the money that most city workers got over five years ago. Mulgrew blames Bloomberg, of course, since it could not possibly have anything whatsoever to do with the lack of negotiating skill of leadership. After all, they are Perfect in Every Way.

Many of us who watched the AFT Convention, when Mulgrew got all punchy defending Common Core, wondered where all that punchiness was as we went years without a contract. In fact, not only did we fail to get one, but we agreed to an APPR negotiated by Reformy John King rather than use it as leverage. After all, it was important to allow teachers to be judged by junk science. Had we not allowed that, we'd have risked losing federal funds to judge teachers by junk science.

Mulgrew's letter explains what a wonderful job he and his Unity Caucus ducklings did in making UFT members "whole." This is certainly true if you fail to distinguish between having money in 2009 or having it in 2020, and indeed Mulgrew's letter ignores this distinction utterly. After all, what's the difference between building a deck on your house this year or eleven years from now? Sitting on the grass isn't so bad, and you're only doing it for eleven years. And, as Mulgrew himself said, retro pay isn't a God-given right, so you'll take what you get, like it, sit down and shut up like good little teachers. What, did you think UFT leadership was going to fight for fairness when they could settle for a substandard contract? Don't you know there are conventions that need to be planned for?

Here's how Mulgrew explains his piggy bank:

Think of it as a large piggybank. If you have been continually employed, you have been depositing money in this piggybank since Nov. 1, 2009 and will continue to deposit money until the two 4 percent increases are fully phased in in 2018. This October, you’ll make your first withdrawal.

Now I have a daughter and I know a little bit about piggybanks. She kept one until she was around eight, at which point I decided she was old enough to have a real account at a bank. After all, money in a piggybank collects no interest. This notwithstanding, an enterprising seven-year-old could finance a lemonade stand with what's inside. Said seven-year-old could buy a gift for someone, or perhaps help finance sporting equipment, a laptop, or even a video game system for herself. She doesn't need to leave all the money in the piggybank for eleven years, or make withdrawals on a completely inflexible schedule made by Daddy.

And that's where the analogy wears even thinner. There is no money in that UFT piggybank. None at all. On October 15th, hopefully, 12.5% of the money that isn't in your piggybank will be reflected in your paycheck. After that, it's two full years before you see a dime.

One of the reasons it took so long to get any contract at all was that the city was having its seasonal financial crisis. This crisis comes up whenever it's contract time. As Mulgrew put it, "The cupboard was bare." (It's unusual that Mulgrew said that, or the remark about retro pay, because those remarks are supposed to come from management.) Of course, as usual, money was found in the sofa cushions at Gracie Mansion, and it turned out the city had a whole bunch of money after all. We didn't discover that, of course, until Mulgrew and his Unity Caucus sold us this contract based on logical fallacies. In this case, it was appeals to fear, to wit:

1. Retro pay is not a God-given right, and
2. If we don't take this piece of crap contract, we have to get back in line behind another 151 unions.

You can bet every one of those 151 unions wishes we weren't first in line, because we dumped the worst pattern in my living memory on them, 10% over 7 years. James Eterno told Mulgrew it was the worst pattern ever at the DA. The ever-gracious UFT President said it wasn't true and turned off Eterno's microphone, but I've yet to see evidence there was ever a less favorable pattern.

If you're on maximum salary, the city owes you about $54,000. That's some serious scratch For a working UFT member, it's a car, or several cars, it's a big part of a down payment on a house, and you will get it in dribs and drabs over the next five years. Goodbye cars, goodbye house. Too bad. You can always pay rent and hope housing prices don't explode more than they already have.

Of course, the contract stretches into the next mayoral term, and Bill de Blasio may or may not win. I'd suppose de Blasio would honor the terms of the contract. After all, despite all the talk about him being a communist and whatnot, he turned out to negotiate the contract with the lowest compensation increase ever for the city's largest union. Sure, some of the other unions managed to do better than we did, but it's still relatively chicken feed.

The thing is, though, that we have to anticipate someone reformy could be mayor. For example, I see Eva Moskowitz being bandied about. Don't you think it's possible Mistress Eva might determined we're having yet another seasonal financial crisis, and that we therefore can't afford the balloon payments to those awful teachers? Contracts have been breached before in times of crisis.

The good thing for Mike Mulgrew, or whoever Unity Caucus puts in his place, is he can always blame the mayor. You know, like he did in that email. It's Bloomberg's fault. It's Eva's fault. Perhaps it's my fault for questioning their judgment.

Because nothing is ever the fault of union leadership, and you can ask any of 800 loyalty-oath signing rubber stamps if you don't believe me.
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