The city teachers union declared this afternoon that its contract talks with the city are deadlocked and asked a state employment panel to intervene.

The move takes the negotiations one step closer to fact-finding and arbitration, a complex process that observers say could mean nearly a year before a new contract is reached.

“Despite weeks of meetings and discussions, we have not been able to make real progress in our efforts to reach a new contract with the Department of Education,” United Federation of Teachers president Michael Mulgrew said in a statement.

“The UFT has no choice but to reach out to a neutral third party to help resolve the differences that are preventing us from a new agreement that is fair to our members and to the parents and children who rely on the New York City public schools,” he said.

A spokesman for the city, Jason Post, would not comment on the UFT’s move.

The declaration of impasse comes at a sensitive time for the relationship between the teachers union and the city. The city is currently pushing for legislative changes that would change how teachers are evaluated and make it easier for them to be fired.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg has pitched those changes as necessary to make the state more competitive for federal Race to the Top grants, which would mean changes would need to be inserted into a bill that Governor David Paterson wants passed before Tuesday’s federal deadline.

State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, on the other hand, has said that how teachers are judged, hired and fired are “contractual issues that should be dealt with at the bargaining table.”

Long-time UFT member Peter Goodman said the timing of the declaration may also simply be a practical matter if the union wants to reach the fact-finding stage by the end of the school year.

“There’s sort of a clock,” Goodman said, noting in the past it has taken six to nine months from the declaration of an impasse to the beginning of the fact-finding process. “The longer you wait, you push the fact-finding back. I think they’ve already waited a long time.”

In November, the union passed a resolution giving Mulgrew power to declare the impasse, signaling that this step was on the way. The next step is for the state’s Public Employment Relations board to confirm that talks have indeed stalled and then bring in a mediator to re-launch negotiations. Failing mediation, a fact-finding panel would then be called in to make recommendations for a settlement.

The UFT’s contract with the city expired last October, but a statute allows teachers to continue to work under an expired contract until a new one has been negotiated. That contract was reached through negotiations in 2007, but the UFT’s prior two rounds of contract talks with the city, in 2005 and 2002, went to fact-finding panels before they were resolved.

The full press release from the union is below:

UFT DECLARES IMPASSE IN CONTRACT NEGOTIATIONS

Asks state panel to intervene in stalled talks

The United Federation of Teachers, saying that talks to replace its
expired contract had reached an impasse, today asked the New York State
Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) to intervene in the
negotiations.

If PERB finds that an impasse exists, the state agency will appoint a
mediator to bring the sides together.  If mediation fails, PERB would
then appoint a fact-finding panel to hold hearings and make a
recommendation for a settlement.

UFT President Mike Mulgrew said, “Despite weeks of meetings and
discussions, we have not been able to make real progress in our efforts
to reach a new contract with the Department of Education.  The UFT has
no choice but to reach out to a neutral third party to help resolve the
differences that are preventing us from a new agreement that is fair to
our members and to the parents and children who rely on the New York
City public schools.”

The UFT’s most recent contract was a two-year pact that expired October
31, 2009.

If mediation were to fail, a fact-finding panel would have three
appointees.  Fact-finding produces non-binding recommendations designed
to help the parties craft a final settlement.

Under the Taylor Law that governs relations between management and
public employee labor unions, wages, benefits and all other provisions
of contracts continue in place until new agreements are reached,
including during the impasse/mediation/fact-finding process.

Three times in the last 17 years — in 2005, 2002 and 1993 — the
recommendations of fact-finding panels have helped the UFT and the
DOE/city reach agreements to replace expired teacher contracts.

HISTORY OF UFT/DOE FACT-FINDING

1993 — a contract dispute between the UFT and the Board of Education
(during the Dinkins administration) was submitted to the fact-finding
process. A fact-finding panel made a recommendation for a pay package
that slightly exceeded the city “pattern” of 8-1/4 per cent;  that
recommendation became the framework for a settlement.

2001 — In March the UFT asked PERB to declare that an impasse existed
in its contract talks with the Board of Education and the administration
of Mayor Giuliani.  A mediator was appointed in April of that year.
Mediation failed, a fact-finding panel was appointed, and the panel
began hearings in December.

In April 2002 the panel issued a series of findings, including a
recommendation that the administration abandon its demand for individual
merit pay and that the union consider adding more paid time to the
school day.  These recommendations were part of the settlement of the
contract in June of that year.

2004 — In April, after months of contentious meetings between the UFT
and the DOE/city over the Bloomberg administration’s demands for an
abbreviated contract that would have reduced teacher protections and
eliminated measures like class-size caps, the UFT again asked PERB to
declare an impasse in negotiations.

Under PERB pressure the administration eventually abandoned its demand
for an abbreviated contract.  In December PERB determined that an
impasse existed and appointed a mediator.  When mediation failed, PERB
appointed a fact-finding panel in April 2005.

That panel’s report, issued in September of 2005, recommended a total
wage increase of 11 percent over three years, a slightly longer school
day, changes in work rules and the grievance and discipline processes,
and a school-wide performance bonus program.  These recommendations were
part of the basis for a contract agreement reached in October 2005.