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Tying Their Hands

November 19, 2022 am30 1:27 am

Resolutions to bind their hands

Every few years a United Federation of Teachers (UFT) delegate suggests a resolution that the UFT take up front a position on something that is part of contract negotiations. Resolution to make class size reduction a negotiating priority. Resolution to get raises that at least keep up with inflation. Resolution not to trade more time for money. Resolution not to cut health care.

The leadership typically points out that the item is subject of collective bargaining. They further point out that we have a 50-member or 100-member or 300-member or 500-member negotiating committee. To take a position in advance on what our committee should be negotiating would bind their hands, when we don’t know where negotiations might be going. And then they get the delegate to withdraw the resolution, or they vote it down.

There was an exception. A delegate asked “no more time for money” and Unity approved that one. We voted on it. It is UFT policy. Why was Unity willing to make an exception? Because they had already traded away a huge amount of time for a not-quite commensurate amount of money in the horrible 2005 contract. Unity extended our school day, and then called the extra pay for the extra hours “a raise” – despite it meaning less time with our families – and frustratingly in spite of the fact that the extra time has not been super valuable. Anyway, I’m off track. A delegate stood up with a resolution that we don’t bargain away time for money, and Unity agreed because they’d already traded as much time away for money as they could.

But every other time Unity has said “do not tie the hands of our negotiating committee.”

The negotiating committee

Each contract these committees get larger. And over the years the committee has moved from being just a bunch of observers, to having conversations with the actual UFT negotiators, to actually playing some role in the discussions with the City. Yet most of us get the feeling some of the important dealing is being done out of earshot. Maybe most of it.

The committee members have to sign a confidentiality pledge. I’ve discussed this before. The pledge stops rank and file members from knowing what is going on. But the leadership and the City leak the negotiations to the press. And the Unity leadership lets the City know our demands before we officially give them to them.

Health Care

Arthur Goldstein was on the Negotiating Committee for the last contract. So when he wrote a piece in the Gotham Gazette last week, saying the health care changes were kept secret from us, Unity paid attention.

An officer requested a meeting with Arthur. Five Unity members (or union officials? not sure what capacity they were meeting with him in) met with him and tried to convince him he was wrong about Medicare Advantage. Plus, according to them, they were no longer trying to get retirees onto Medicare Advantage. Also, they pointed out, yes Arthur did know about the health care aspect of the 2018 contract – he wrote about it on his blog.

I checked Arthur’s blog. Yup, he wrote about the health care aspect of the agreement. He had written that Mulgrew said there were no givebacks. The New York Teacher wrote the same thing. Arthur had also written about the Exec Board, where Mulgrew didn’t even mention health care. And Arthur eventually wrote about the appendix where the health care changes were hidden. Arthur (and me) did see the appendix, eventually. But not because Mulgrew/Unity shared it. James Eterno found a source.

It turns out, Unity made a side deal six months before the contract.

  • Unity made a deal outside of contract negotiations (Spring 2018) for health care cuts.
  • The 2018 Negotiating Committee did not negotiate health care – even though health care cuts appeared in the appendix to the proposed contract. (Unity said “Contract negotiated by membership who sat across from DOE.” This omits health care)
  • The cuts were not formally ratified until the October/November 2018 contract vote.
  • Mulgrew did not tell the Executive Board the health care cuts were in the proposed contract.
  • Mulgrew called it a “no giveback contract” (but there were givebacks)
  • Mulgrew told the Delegate Assembly “Healthcare has nothing to do with this agreement”
  • The Executive Board heard about the contract and voted to recommend it in the same meeting, without a chance to read the language, and never having seen Appendix B.
  • The Delegate Assembly was rushed to recommend the contract to the membership without time to review the agreement. Importantly, the leadership hid Appendix B from the delegates,
  • Arthur eventually learned that health care was in the contract, but not from the Unity leadership. It was from another blogger. Unity did not share Appendix B until later, although some sources did leak it before the contract vote.

Because the UFT officials/Unity members correctly pointed out that Arthur knew about health care being in the contract, he wrote a correction in Gotham Gazette (at bottom) and published a correction on his blog.

Here’s Arthur’s Gotham Gazette correction:

Correction: There was a health agreement made by MLC six months before the 2018 Contract, and UFT members were informed if it. Rank and file had not voted on it, and we were not aware of the particulars or implications. It was incorporated into Appendix B of the contract, which was not shared with us before the contract was ratified.

Tying Their Hands

We need an intrepid delegate to offer a resolution:

  • No more healthcare givebacks.
  • Get back the health care we gave up.

A negotiating priority should be to undo the healthcare givebacks. It is very hard to get something back once we’ve given it away. It will take an extraordinary effort. It will take great creativity. And it requires rank and file oversight.

But in order for this to happen, we need to control the process.

  • All health care negotiations must go through the negotiating committee.
  • All health care deals must be completely explained to Exec Board members and Delegates, with time for reflection, research, and conversation with members before any vote.
  • And that means no back door health care negotiations.

We do not need to tie the hands of the Negotiating Committee. They did not do this. But Mulgrew’s free rein to wheel and deal behind our backs? No. In that sense we need to place limits.

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