Thu Jul 7, 2011 12:58 pm
Razzle Dazzle Good Will Or Not, UFT Contract Still Elusive
The Chief-Leader/Pat Arnow
A Bridge to Somewhere?
A BRIDGE TO SOMEWHERE?:
United Federation of Teachers President Mike
Mulgrew, whom Mayor Bloomberg may owe for allowing him to save face by offering
concessions that helped avoid massive Teacher layoffs, is hoping to parlay that
good will into a long-overdue wage contract that would give his members the
same two 4-percent raises received by other workers before the Mayor reined in
spending. Funding for such raises hasn’t been budgeted, and an
exceedingly cheap state contract deal might make it tougher politically for Mr.
Bloomberg to honor the bargaining pattern, though the UFT leader said,
‘There could be ways to do this, but it’s going to require
willingness on both sides.’
Posted: Friday, July 1, 2011
5:00 pm | Updated: 11:32 am, Wed Jul 6, 2011.
By RICHARD STEIER | 0 comments
Norman Seabrook, the most vocal skeptic about the city proposal that would
have taken hundreds of millions of dollars from the employee Health Stabilization
Fund to avert more than 5,000 layoffs and the closing of 20 fire companies, had
a decidedly cynical reaction to the much-cheaper deal made by Mike Mulgrew of
the United Federation of Teachers that saved Teachers’ jobs and the fire
“It means they could have done this deal all along,” the
president of the Correction Officers Benevolent Association said June 29, even
as the City Council was enacting the budget accord Mayor Bloomberg and Speaker
Christine Quinn reached five days earlier. “There’s a big
difference between $57 million [the estimated savings from the UFT’s
concessions] and the $440 million they were asking for. They literally tried to
shake down the unions—the Mayor and the City Council. The only ones who
took a raw deal here was District Council 37,” which represents many of
the roughly 1,000 employees who will be laid off.
MLC Chairman Harry Nespoli said it didn’t bother him that Mr. Mulgrew
was able to step in so quickly to reach a deal after his own efforts foundered,
even though it indicated the UFT leader had been actively negotiating on a
second front. “I honestly feel that Mike was working and planning to
protect his members,” Mr. Nespoli, who is also president of the Uniformed
Sanitationmen’s Association, said from Las Vegas, where he was attending
the International Brotherhood of Teamsters convention.
‘Wanted Their Chips to
Fund a Raise’
Mr. Seabrook, however, was among the union officials who cast a
somewhat-jaundiced eye at Mr. Mulgrew, suggesting that he had pushed the Health
Stabilization Fund deal in the hope of not having to give up anything that
directly affected his members. “They wanted to use our pot of money so
they could hold their chips on the side to fund their raise,” Mr.
Seabrook said. “What we see now is that monies should be available for
the upcoming round of bargaining.”
Mr. Mulgrew, speaking a day later in his lower Broadway office, agreed with
the COBA leader on that last point. He scoffed at the implication, however,
that he had manipulated his fellow labor leaders by pushing for the health
deal, arguing that the two sets of talks proceeded on “a double
track” and that there was no indication until shortly before his deal was
consummated that the Bloomberg administration would accept it.
The offer of a year’s moratorium on Teacher sabbaticals and allowing
the city to use instructors placed in the Absent Teacher Reserve after they
lost their classroom lines as per-diem substitutes was first made back in
January, the UFT leader said, adding wryly, “You can imagine how that
He said he broached the idea with Ms. Quinn in late spring, shortly before
Mr. Nespoli and she began considering a health-fund deal that would have
generated enough money to save all municipal jobs at risk.
“I thought the better deal for the city would have been the MLC
deal,” he said. That would seem obvious: besides generating more money
from the health fund than the UFT plan saves the city, it would have been
immediate savings. The temporary ban on sabbaticals saves no money right now,
since it will not apply until the 2012-13 school year.
Mr. Mulgrew added another reason. “What’s the domino effect of
layoffs?” he asked, then responded, “It’s not good.”
A prime reason many union officials balked at the original Health Stabilization
Fund proposal was that they didn’t take the Mayor’s threat of 4,100
Teacher layoffs and the fire-company closings seriously, knowing that beyond
the political damage he’d be courting, the Council was dead-set against
Didn’t Want to Over-Extend
Mr. Mulgrew acknowledged, “The City Council was clear that they did
not want to do a budget that included Teacher layoffs.” But if Mr.
Bloomberg stood his ground or yielded only partway, that would have forced the
Council to devote an inordinate amount of its budget funds to saving the
Teachers and the fire units, and the UFT leader said he did not want that to
lead to other important programs being gutted to compensate.
Mr. Bloomberg’s decision to walk away from the health-fund talks, ostensibly
because of a union demand that some of the money be shifted to employee welfare
funds—which actually was similar to a condition of an earlier deal that
the city wanted but the unions rejected—seemed like it was motivated by
Governor Cuomo’s agreement on a contract with the Civil Service Employees
Association that increased employee health-care contributions while freezing
wages for three years.
Asked whether he questioned Mr. Bloomberg’s rejecting that MLC offer
only to accept the lesser savings from the UFT deal or was inclined not to look
a gift horse in the mouth, Mr. Mulgrew smiled and said, “I think it was a
good-faith effort on our behalf.”
The compelling question is whether offering the Mayor a soft political
landing bought the union enough good will to finally settle a major piece of
unfinished business: a new contract to replace the UFT deal that expired on
Nov. 1, 2009.
It would have seemed a given that the union could expect two 4-percent
raises under a new agreement that would match those won by numerous uniformed
and civilian employee unions prior to that point. As Mr. Mulgrew noted,
“The pattern has been set.”
Yet Mr. Bloomberg, citing the difficult fiscal circumstances, has played
hardball, contending that the city could no longer afford such raises and that
any pay hikes would have to be offset by productivity gains. It’s a
contradiction of his past position—one shared by other Mayors over
decades of bargaining and arbitration—that once a pattern is reached it
must be adhered to or the city runs the risk of contract chaos as unions try to
leap-frog each other’s deals, like scheming poker players raising the pot
to bust out the sucker in the game.
Would Make PBA’s Day
The UFT lacks the right to binding arbitration, meaning that even if it
makes its case in fact-finding that it’s entitled to the same raise as
other city unions, it couldn’t force Mr. Bloomberg to honor that ruling.
But the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, long the city’s prime
target in calling for the sanctity of the pattern to be upheld in arbitration,
could have a field day turning the Mayor’s position against him while
arguing its members need raises far above what any other employee group has
gotten in order to approach the salaries paid to their suburban colleagues.
On the other side of the ledger is Mr. Cuomo’s deal with the CSEA.
State settlements are hardly binding on the city, but they are not without
influence. This was amply demonstrated when Mayor Rudy Giuliani 16 years ago
used two-year wage freezes that Gov. George Pataki bullied the state unions
into accepting to gain similar freezes from the municipal unions.
Mr. Mulgrew argued that current circumstances are different from in 1995,
when the city’s fiscal problems were more acute. “We’re in
this very strange time,” he said. “We have a state with a very
large deficit, and we’re in a municipality that has the largest surplus
in the country.”
Editorial Pressure on Mayor
But he knows the impact the CSEA deal has already had on newspaper
editorials imploring Mr. Bloomberg to also toe the hard line, and for the
moment, anyway, the difficulty this has created in getting raises that while
they look generous would merely reflect the equity that has been a key
throughout city bargaining history. He has no problem pointing out the other
difference besides financial disparities between city and state: the CSEA pact
covers “a new round” of bargaining, while his union is looking to
conclude the “old” one. That doesn’t make him optimistic that
the Mayor will be rushing to the table to give him what he wants, “good
will” or not.
And so in the short-term, Mr. Mulgrew said, “My concern is, how do we
get through one more year without decimating the school system?”
Even though none of his members are being dismissed, there will be a
significant loss of Teachers for the coming school year. The Mayor has already
said he will not look to replace the 2,600 instructors expected to retire, and
Mr. Mulgrew said that number could climb, since an additional 800 have
indicated some interest in leaving the system.
Evokes Fiscal Crisis
“I do not want to be the Sanitation Department in the
snowstorm,” he said, referring to how being shorthanded had hampered the
response to last December’s blizzard. “We’re getting
dangerously close to not being able to provide for the day-to-day needs of the
children in the school system. “ Alluding to the dark days of the
mid-1970s fiscal crisis, he added, “Are we going to be 1976-77
Mr. Seabrook, making the same argument that the state deal should have no
impact on city bargaining, nonetheless said, “I will not be doing a
contract with this administration.” Then again, his members are working
under a deal that doesn’t expire until Nov. 1, and have already received
the twin 4-percent hikes that Mr. Mulgrew is chasing. The urgency for them does
not yet exist, and Mr. Seabrook, the only prominent union leader to endorse Mr.
Bloomberg the first time he ran for Mayor a decade ago, has been critical
enough of him since that patience may be his best option.
In the UFT leader’s case, waiting for a change of administrations
would leave his members more than five years from their most-recent pay raise
in the fall of 2008. When asked whether he could envision waiting until Mr.
Bloomberg was gone, he said, “I don’t negotiate in public. We will
do what we feel is the right decision at the time. One of the things I enjoy
about this job is the changing of circumstances is constant in New York City.
It allows for some very creative things to be done.”