What We Know (And Don't Know) About The UFT Contract

What We Know (And Don't Know) About The UFT Contract

What We Know (And Don't Know) About The UFT Contract
May 2, 2014

Billed as the dawning of an education reform era in New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio and United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew announced yesterday that they reached a preliminary contract agreement with a deal that put an end to the often acrimonious relationship between union leadership and City Hall. 

"I don’t accept the status quo in this town when it comes to education," de Blasio said. "To really achieve a greater reset, we needed a contract like this that gave us a strong platform for change and today we’ve achieved it."

While the contract in part serves as a vehicle for the type of education reform de Blasio has espoused for months, the 9-year contract also satisfies the union's major priorities, including retroactive pay increases, changes to the terms of teacher evaluations, and additional professional development hours. 

Still, despite the fanfare with which the deal was announced, there was a puzzling lack of key details provided, namely on the question of concessions made by the teachers union on healthcare costs, an area that the city had targeted during talks as a way to offset the pay increases. And while it is widely assumed that the UFT contract will set a pattern for negotiating the remaining municipal contracts, it is still unclear whether the other public unions will accept contributing more for their healthcare. The administration is also reportedly less willing to give out retroactive wages to some of the uniform unions. 

We parsed some of the contract details provided by the union and the mayor's office to bring you a few key highlights of the deal and zero in on the remaining question marks. 

 

What We Know

 

1. The Numbers

The total length and gross cost of the contract is nine years at $5.5 billion, which covers the past four and a half years in which teachers went without a contract, and extends until 2018. On the face of it, the UFT received every last cent of the four percent retroactive pay increases it sought from the previous bargaining round, though the raises will be phased in incrementally. For the current round, the annual increases are one percent for the first three years (2013-2015), before jumping to 1.5 percent in 2016, then 2.5 percent in 2017, and 3 percent in 2018. As soon as the contract is ratified, each teacher will receive a $1,000 ratification bonus as well. The annual raises will be paid in May of each year. The $5.5 billion total cost will be partially offset by $1.3 billion in healthcare savings. Mayor de Blasio's chief labor negotiator Robert Linn indicated that the city had also identified targeted amounts in healthcare savings for each of the next four fiscal years, starting with $400 million in Fiscal Year 2015, $700 million in 2016, $1 billion in 2017, and $1.3 billion in 2018.

The contract also establishes a career ladder for top teachers through new Ambassador, Model and Master Teacher positions, compensated with an additional $7,500, $7,500 and $20,000 per year, respectively.

 

2. New Programs

Mayor de Blasio often talks about being a public school parent and conveys his frustrations about not being able to have a voice in improving his children's classroom experience. Directly addressing that concern, the UFT contract creates a 40-minute period 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. There will also be an increase in the length of parent-teacher conferences from 2.5 to 3 hours and the number of evening parent-teacher conferences will double from 2 to 4 each school year.

Both Mulgrew and Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña talked up another new program designed to serve as an incubator for innovation in the classroom, with the primary goal being to improve student achievement. The new contract provides a pathway at up to 200 schools in the city for these innovations, which range from extending the school day to giving teachers greater say in shaping a curriculum and having a voice in hiring decisions. A joint panel comprised of UFT members and Department of Education employees will review proposals and select schools for the program, and for a school to participate, the principal and 65 percent of UFT staff in the building must agree to the proposal.

The agreement also establishes a pilot program allowing for 80 minutes of professional development time each Monday for teachers. 

 

3. Reforms

Mulgrew firmly stated during his initial remarks at the press conference that New York City is in "education reform mode," and the language in the contract seems to back his claim. To that end, teacher evaluations, one of the major points of contention between Mulgrew and the Bloomberg administration, have been streamlined, with evaluations now focused on eight components, instead of the current 22. Teachers in non-tested subjects or grades will also now have the ability to be graded only on the performance of students they actually teach, instead of having their test results lumped in with other students. The agreement also includes new rules to reduce excessive paperwork, including the creation of duplicative and unnecessary electronic records.

The UFT agreed to major changes to the Absent Teacher Reserve Pool, including the requirement that it will now take no more than 50 days to permanently remove teachers from the pool for "behavior inconsistent with the expectations established for professionals." Hearings for those individuals will not exceed a day.

Mutual consent hiring, a process in which teaching positions are filled at schools based upon the agreement by both the teacher and the principal, is preserved in the contract, and Fariña was also very firm on the fact that there will be no "forced placement" of teachers—when teachers are assigned to schools by the DOE.

 

What We Don't Know

 

1. Healthcare Concessions 

The de Blasio administration danced around exactly which parts of the teachers' healthcare package would be different under the contract agreement, with Linn and Budget Director Dean Fuleihan providing targeted numbers for saving and speaking mostly in broad strokes about "menus" of options for making the delivery of services more efficient. Linn mentioned utilizing centers for excellence to provide services, as well as central purchasing of prescription drugs as two ideas that will likely be included on that menu. The details on the healthcare savings are crucial to the mayor's ability to settle the remaining contracts smoothly. 

 

2. Municipal Labor Committee 

One caveat looming over the contract announcement was that the agreement is "preliminary" and must be ratified by the city's Municipal Labor Committee. The MLC's leadership will first deliberate on the deal Friday, and then committee members will seek approval from the memberships of their respective public unions.

Mulgrew added that if the MLC ratifies the deal, there will be a joint "transparent" Labor Management Healthcare Committee with union members and members of the de Blasio administration that will work toward a common goal of finding savings on healthcare and ways to deliver more efficient service.

 

3. Where's The Money?

It is safe to say that Mayor de Blasio cannot afford to give away the farm to every single municipal union seeking a new contract, and it is still unclear where the rest of the savings will come from in the executive budget to offset the huge price tag of the UFT agreement. There is already an indication that the mayor is playing hardball with some of the uniform unions, with the state's Public Employment Relations Board granting the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association an impasse after its contract talks with the city stalled. Reports indicate that the administration offered the police union no raises over the first three years of the deal. However, the city may have no choice, as the impasse means the PBA will enter binding arbitration, meaning if an arbitrator determines that the union deserves the retroactive raises it desires, and the city has the ability to pay, then the decision is final.

The situation bears watching, and the release of the executive budget next week will likely reveal more about precisely what the city can afford to pay.

 

 

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Nick Powell
20201030