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The UFT Contract — Heads I Win, Tails You Lose

It’s odd to see the New York Post up in arms over the possibility of teachers receiving the same pattern of raises established by Mayor Bloomberg for other city unions. Usually, there’s a highly undesirable pattern, and the papers insist we’re lucky to get it. That’s what happened in our 1995 double zero contract, which resulted in city workers getting no raises for two years as the dot com boom swept the nation. I don’t recall a whole lot of tabloid outrage over that.

The first union to be offered the double zero was the UFT. We rejected it, though then-UFT President Sandra Feldman had sent a stern letter warning anyone who thought we’d do better must be “smoking something.” The contract next went to DC37, which voted it up, followed by every city union, including a second-round UFT. There was a modification though-UFT teachers reached maximum salary in 22 rather than 25 years. As someone who’s now been on maximum for two and a half years, I’d like to personally thank every single teacher who was “smoking something.”

But there was more to the double zero contract, and I’m not certain the Post ever picked up on it.  It turned out that particular DC37 election was rigged. And though every single union after DC37 voted up this stinker, I never heard crusading mayor Rudolph Giuliani express a word of outrage about it. In fact, DC37’s then-leaders were jailed as a result. Sir Rudy was busy with other priorities, like trying to force welfare recipients to work in public schools. Apparently, people chronically unable to find work were adequate role models for public school kids. And why not? His kids, like Mayor Bloomberg’s and Chancellor Klein’s, never set foot in public schools anyway.

So here we are, over a decade later, with another four years of working-class hero Michael Bloomberg, whose recent commercials claimed he was all about jobs. But jobs for a union that endorsed his opponent were not a high priority. Even before his election, Mayor Bloomberg fired 500 of the lowest-paid workers in the city to save 13 million dollars, while he spent 14.5 million to have custodians lock and unlock gates, amounting to 50 thousand bucks a gate.

The UFT, on the other hand, remained neutral during the mayoral election. That, along with an endorsement of mayoral control by then-UFT President Randi Weingarten, led many to believe there was some sort of quid pro quo, and that a teacher contract was an inevitability.

Now, of course, Mayor Mike has put that rumor to rest by laying out his same old laundry list of demands: more charter schools, tenure based on test scores, ATR teachers fired, and other teachers fired whenever he feels like it, seniority and tenure be damned. Naturally, the Daily News editorial board thinks this is a fabulous idea. After all, non-unionized charter school teachers can be fired for any reason whatsoever, including telling colleagues how much UFT members earn.

When tabloid editorial writers declare their abiding love for charter schools, they rarely mention inconvenient facts like that. Here’s another thing you won’t see in tabloid editorials: In 2005, the pattern was bad, and Mayor Bloomberg asked the UFT to give big to surpass it. In 2009, the pattern is good, and Mayor Bloomberg asks the UFT to give big just to get it.

The Mayor’s posturing notwithstanding, in 2005 PERB asserted that pattern bargaining was essential. Now, UFT President Michael Mulgrew has got the right to once again go to PERB and negotiate. GothamSchools seems to think such negotiation could ultimately favor the UFT:

If the mediation fails, then the fact-finding process would begin – something that the union isn’t exactly looking to avoid, as fact-finding commissions in years past have recommended wage increases and prevented the city from laying off teachers who are excessed and can’t find new positions.

Perhaps that’s true. But if it isn’t, it means that PERB is willing to insist teachers take the pattern when it’s unfavorable, and ignore it when it’s relatively attractive. If that’s the case, there’s hardly any reason for PERB to exist-it’s little more than a rubber stamp for the mayor, like the PEP.

Call me cynical, but that wouldn’t surprise me in the least.

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