Mayor Bill and the UFT Kumbaya Deal

Mayor Bill and the UFT Kumbaya Deal

Mayor Bill and the UFT Kumbaya Deal
May 5, 2014

The habitually tardy Mayor was so eager to share the news about the billions he was turning over to the United Federation of Teachers, that he actually surprised the City Hall press corps by entering the Blue Room two minutes before the 4PM news conference he convened last Thursday.

No one can fault the novice 109th Mayor of New York City for standing tall about negotiating in earnest with the teachers union. After all, most neoyorquinos are familiar with his predecessor's disdain for collective bargaining in general and his failure to be respectful of the UFT and its leadership.

Mayor Bill had pulled all sides together in record time and negotiated what we now know is a nine-year contract estimated to cost NYC taxpayers $5.5 billion.

The Mayor clearly relished the moment and the adulatory rhetoric overflowed. The Mayor's narrative was so jovial that I expected a mariachi band to burst into the room and blare away as City Hall flacks handed out beers in pre-Cinco de Mayo fiesta mode.

There the Mayor stood as ringmaster with another five white males—among them UFT, President Michael Mulgrew, First Deputy Mayor Tony Shorris—and a giggling Chancellor Carmen Fariña (the only female), all just gabbing their way through generalities of the historic deal.

Details were lacking about how it is that the $1.3 billion that they said will be paid for through healthcare savings would actually be done. Then there's at least another $1 billion that's been pulled from the city’s labor reserve pool that had been unveiled by the Mayor in his preliminary budget in February, which is expected to be presented this week by the Administration as part of the Executive Budget, along with the $3.2 billion in uncovered costs that is part of the UFT deal.

Any way you slice or add it up, it's still a whopping $5.5 billion for only one portion of NYC’s municipal labor force.

Almost lost in this tableau of joviality, verbal backslapping, congratulatory hugs and a giggling Chancellor were the needs of the parents of the over one million students that this labor deal is also allegedly supposed to benefit.

This is all the contract has for the parents, according to the Mayor’s press release: "The agreement repurposes existing time through a pilot program that dedicates 40 minutes every Tuesday for teachers to reach out to parents by email, letter, telephone, or face-to-face meetings. Teachers can also use this time to create newsletters, school or class websites, or other strategies to increase contact between parents and teachers. It increases the length of the parent-teacher conferences from 2.5 to 3 hours and doubles the number of evening parent-teacher conferences from 2 to 4 each school year. Evening conferences will be held in September, November, March and May."

In addition, while most reasonable people and some labor experts seem to agree that the increases are in step with the city's fiscal reality, there should also be great concern for what the proposed healthcare savings contains. On the surface, they appear to be, at minimum, dubious and unsubstantiated.

I'm not convinced that this tentative agreement is all it's cracked up to be in terms of its impact on the city's coffers. It's sure to guarantee labor peace for the incumbent Mayor and, for certain, it buys Bill de Blasio loyalty and support in 2017.

I think we have to turn to the one citywide elected official who thus far has comported himself as an adult. This is why I'm taking to heart the last two sentences from the statement issued by the NYC Comptroller Scott Stringer: “… As I have said before, clarity on the city’s labor agreements prior to adoption of this year’s budget, is necessary to secure our economic future. A review of this contract will be part of my budget analysis of the City's overall fiscal health in the days ahead.”


City & State columnist Gerson Borrero (@gersonborrero on Twitter) is a regular contributor to NY1 and NY1 Noticias, and the former editor-in-chief of El Diario La Prensa.

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Gerson Borrero