Where do we begin with United Federation of Teachers president Michael Mulgrew's chutzpah? First, we have the matter of his arrogance at the delegate assemblies, and his patronizing, sexist treatment of alternative caucus (MORE) delegates.
Next, we have his contract, which famously got its first attention as an ATRs under the bus contract, garnering an early denunciation as such from a top activist at MORE.
Yet, the controversy over the union's abandonment of the ATRs has overshadowed other objectionable aspects of the contract. There is the head-scratching stimulating plan to stretch out increased pay and retro over several years, so that the repayment is not settled until 2020, two years after the contract has expired. Note this MORE leaflet of the pay schedule, which sways members that initially supported the contract to a no vote. In chapter and borough-level meetings members are putting the details together and are calling this a cynical plan to improve teacher retention; rank and filers and vets alike are calling this a no interest loan to the city (and are pointing out that in past instances, 1976, 1991, of union loans to the city we got interest).
Perturbed union heads
Even more close to home for Mulgew, he is burning his bridges with other New York City labor leaders. The poor retro repayment issue has many union heads upset at Mulgrew and his apologist Unity caucus lieutenants. The Unity caucus is the dominant caucus of the union, and it is the group that actually produced this contract. You know things are bad when other labor union leaders are openly criticizing another union's contract deal. Indeed, the May 16 Chief issue is rife with stories of union heads upset with Mulgrew because of the UFT offering a weak contract. The issue carries a stinging, long editorial column, extending over the better part of two pages, "Uniformed Unions Can't Get Past 0 in UFT Deal." The column echoes Captains' Endowment Association President Roy Richter statement, "I go back to the classic 'no zeroes for heroes'" referring to Giuliani's two-year wage freeze.
The other New York City municipal union leaders fear that weak contract elements will set a precedent, making it more difficult for other union leaders in the other trades to seek acceptable contracts.
Stretched out retro, ignoring the phenomenon of interest, ignoring the past precedent of interest collection from the city
The UFT's give-away will alienate the other local labor leaders from Mulgrew as they now have to negotiate with the city, which will take advantage of the UFT's weak precedent-setting contract. How can other unions get good pay terms when this disaster precedent is established?
Thus, The Chief reports, "They noted that this would likely fail to keep pace with the rise in the cost of living, and police-union leaders were at least as unhappy that an 18-month period of the UFT deal--which would potentially constitute the very start of their own contracts--features a wage freeze, although a $1,000 bonus would be paid."
Tongue-tied district reps and other contract promoters
It is rather pathetic to see the parade of cheerleaders for this contract. Way too often the reports are that the various promoters are stumped when it comes time to answer specific questions about retro, pay increases and undisclosed health premium increases. The confused reps are left having to tell the confused members that they'll have to get back to them after talking with the union's experts downtown. We should however, applaud one long time Unity chapter leader for breaking with the no-dissent tradition and opposing the contract.
You doubt this? Take a look at Urban Ed blog's latest installment where he points to how the anxious Unity gives the impression that they have to sell Yes even to their loyal flock. The Urban Ed blogger recounts anecdotes of confused Unity reps having to consult issues of NY Teacher in order to answer some questions about the contract.
A desperate rush to pass the contract
The presenting of the contract bore repeated hallmarks of a desperate leadership, unconfident of trusting even its leading cadre with contract details. The contract was announced, May 1. President Mulgrew got the Executive Board to vote May 5 to approve the contract, in spite of the fact that the Executive Board had not even read the contract's preliminary Memorandum of Agreement (MoA). The MoA was only released at the close of business May 6, 24 hours before the Delegates Assembly had their special May 7 meeting at the Hilton to vote on the contract. The final MoA was not released until the close of business May 15, and for days the initial MoA was online, instead of the new, expanded MoA. Why cannot the leadership trust the membership with reading the contract? By contrast, in Chicago, teachers were able to pour over and discuss the contract. Here, even the top representatives seem confused by the contract.
To get a sense of just how the Unity caucus -the secretive job machine that runs contract negotiations and everything else in the union-- operates read this piece from ICE. To understand why Unity minions fall into lockstep behind the decisions of the group's elite, one must understand that every member of the caucus must swear by the Unity oath to brook no public dissent. Watch this video of a speech at last month NYSUT assembly by one of MORE's Lauren Cohen, where she cites the Unity loyalty oath (and the union's insistence on winner-take-all elections) as reasons for the UFT's lack of authentic representation of the members. Note the raucous response by the Unity stalwarts, embarrassed that the truth is out.
Deceivious talking points
So we get these incredible talking points that are sounding increasingly desperate. For days the union has been trumpeting the fairy tale myth that a no vote meant going to the back of the line, behind 150 other unions. This is forgetting the fact that the city was simultaneously negotiating several contracts prior to May 1. "We don't want to bankrupt the city." But prior to release of this contract it was known that the city had an ample surplus. Yet that was before this bombshell from the Daily News, "City faces larger budget surpluses in next two years than Mayor de Blasio projects: Independent Budget Office." Then there's this laughable doozy: "The choice is between this deal and no deal. There is no second choice being offered." This opinion never heard of a renegotiated contract, such as in 1995 when the UFT members voted down the contract. Read at the MORE Caucus site, "Some Lessons of Previous Contract Struggles." Part 1 and Part 2.
Lost labor head allegiance; lost member allegiance
Mulgrew with his precedent setting delayed retro and his open door for medical give-backs (the potential for health premium increases is an issue only recently gaining attention, see this story in Capital New York) has burned his bridges with labor leaders that now must negotiate their contracts with this weak precedent. He's burned his bridges with his peers with this contract.
There may be too many bowled over members that already voted Yes for the contract. Yet, when UFT members notice that their paychecks fail to keep pace with inflation then they will realize that their union's Unity leadership sold them a terrible bill of goods. Then over the next two years this contract will be the unraveling of the Unity caucus' stranglehold on the United Federation of Teachers.