New York City’s teachers union is gearing up for its contract negotiations in the fall, sending out thousands of questionnaires to poll its members about what they want.
The negotiations will be the first serious test of newly elected UFT president Michael Mulgrew who, in the survey’s cover letter, warns that the talks will be “tough” at a time when the city is slashing budgets and laying off employees.
The survey, which at a bulging 35 pages long barely fits in its return envelope, lists a series of desirable changes to the contract under headings like “Class Size,” and “Respect and Professionalism,” and asks respondents to rate the importance of each on a scale of one to five. It must be returned by August 13, and may surprise more than a few union members who could return from summer vacations to find the deadline has passed.
Absent from the survey is any mention of tenure or the Absent Teacher Reserve — the pool of over 2,000 teachers who have lost their jobs and have yet to find work within the city’s school system.
“The questionnaire was designed by our negotiating committee, and it’s a key part of the process because it allows members to weigh in on the issues important to them,” UFT spokesman Brian Gibbons wrote in an email. “The information we’ll get from this survey will help us shape our goals, priorities and demands as we move forward with collective bargaining.”
Jeff Kaufman, a member of ICE, an opposition party within the UFT, sat on the union’s negotiating committee in 2005, but he said he never saw the survey results.
“If they get 10% response, I would be shocked. And the response they get back, you can’t tabulate — there’s no way they sit for hours putting these numbers together and reading the comments,” he said. “We do everything else electronically. I am certain a good percentage of these end up in the garbage.”
For a sample of their public’s opinion, union officials may also rely on phone polling they conducted in May. Calls to union members asked them their opinion of Mulgrew and how they felt about seniority and paying for health care.
The current union contract expires October 31 of this year. In a side deal, negotiated by former UFT president Randi Weingarten in June, the union agreed to roll back pension benefits for newly hired employees, but preserve them for current teachers. In exchange, teachers will return to work after Labor Day in the coming school year.