Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Compare and Contrast

I may have mentioned somewhere on this space that I am a member of the UF of T. That's the NYC city teacher union. From time to time, I may have a question or two about leadership, and I occasionally post said questions on this space. The other day I pointed to a union that actually made demands, and went on to point out how different that was from the UFT approach.

A fellow UFT member sent me a letter from PSC President Barbara Bowen, and it appears that she, right here in New York City, has taken a similar approach. This is an excerpt:

Dear Members,

Earlier today I sent a formal request to Bill Thompson, Chairperson of the CUNY Board of Trustees, to begin negotiations for a new contract. 

The letter calls on the CUNY Board to settle a contract with a 5% raise in each year; additional salary increases for those who are lowest-paid; an increase to $7,000 per course for adjuncts; improved job security; material support for department chairs; and improved working conditions for all. The letter also reminds the Board that we will not tolerate excessive delays in this round of bargaining.

Now it’s up to you to show how serious you are about winning these demands. Make a commitment right now to be part of the PSC demonstration outside the next Board of Trustees meeting, on Monday, December 4 (download a flier). We need to start strong\

The letter goes on, but I'm sure it's evident to you that Ms. Bowen is asking for something--to wit, annual raises of 5%, and additional raises for lower paid workers. This is a stark contrast to the UFT policy of not asking for anything, at least as far as we know. It kind of makes me wonder whether the UFT policy of making no public demands whatsoever is the best we can do.

Let's look back a little. In 2014, we publicly asked for nothing. While we did ultimately get more than nothing, we managed to establish the lowest pattern bargain ever--10% over 7 years. You can argue that we got retro payment, though Howard Schoor at Executive Board insists it isn't. He calls it "lump sum payment." The reason, I suppose, is because a retro payment would be payable to everyone. This particular payment is unavailable to members who resign, are fired, or die. In fact this was a great bargain to the city.

While it's great that we get the money, a lot of people get left out. I'm thinking of all of the above, plus an adult ed. teacher I spent some time with. She was recently fired by a superintendent who appears to be less than reasonable. How is it fair that she worked all those years and will now be left out of money she seems to have earned? That's why, I guess, it's a lump sum payment, and not retro, even though it's based on salary and time worked.

In any case, there appear to be two ways of bargaining. You make demands, like the city does, like PSC does, or like the communication workers do. Alternatively, you create a 300-member committee, discuss things only within that committee, tell absolutely no one outside of it what you asked for, and hope for the best. That's the tried and true approach. And hey, maybe a year or two after the contract is signed, you'll learn that UFT asked for something you didn't know about. For example, Mulgrew told the DA, last year I think, that UFT had asked for a minimum of 2 observations as per NY state law. I was pretty surprised by that. After all, it was already two years after the contract was signed.

Oddly, despite Mulgrew's claim, which I happen to believe, and despite the fact that UFT originally asked for fewer observations when we allowed Reformy John King to arbitrate for us (one of the worst decisions in my living memory), many Unity supporters passionately defended excessive observation. Fortunately for them, UFT members won't find out our demands, if at all, until and unless Mulgrew blurts them out at some future DA.

Will UFT demand anything you or I want? Who knows? It's an open question. PSC knows what their leadership is asking for. If they don't get it, at least they'll know leadership tried. Generally, negotiation is one side asking for more, the other offering less, and meeting somewhere in the middle. It boggles my mind that UFT leadership finds it unacceptable to let membership know its demands. It boggles my mind that said demands are supposed to come from a 300-member committee dominated by people who've signed loyalty oaths to do whatever Unity Caucus instructs them to.

This is not remotely democratic, and when Janus comes down the road it's gonna be a tough sell. "We will decide what's best for you, we won't tell you what it is, and we will negotiate a Contract based on information we didn't and won't share with you." Maybe leadership thinks people will jump all over themselves to pay $1400 a year for that service.

I don't share that particular optimism. There's still time to correct it.
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