NYC teachers sue Eric Adams over school budget cuts

The United Federation of Teachers filed a lawsuit Thursday to block planned spending reductions.

The teachers union is suing the mayor over budget cuts.

The teachers union is suing the mayor over budget cuts. Lindsey Nicholson/UCG/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

New York City’s largest teachers union is suing Mayor Eric Adams and his administration over cuts to education funding, describing officials’ claims that the city’s fiscal crisis has been caused by the influx of migrants as a “false narrative.”

The United Federation of Teachers is the second powerful labor union to sue Adams this month over the planned cuts rolled out by his administration to address a $7 billion budget deficit. District Council 37, which represents 150,000 city employees and nearly 90,000 retirees, was the first to sue last week, citing the proposed elimination of the city’s Job Training Participant Program. Both unions have been important allies to the mayor, and both unions are suing after the mayor gave their members raises – further straining the city’s budget. Earlier this year, Adams inked overdue new five–year contracts with DC 37 and UFT, giving workers raises of at least 3% roughly each year and a $3,000 one-time bonus. 

The legal pushback to the cuts is the latest sign that the city’s sweeping response to the budget gap is eroding support even in the mayor’s own political coalition.

“The administration can’t go around touting the tourism recovery and the return of the city’s pre-pandemic jobs, and then create a fiscal crisis and cut education because of its own mismanagement of the asylum-seeker problem,” United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew said in a statement sent to reporters the morning of Adams’ celebratory end of year press conference Thursday. “Our schools and our families deserve better.”

The lawsuit, filed in Manhattan Supreme Court, urges a judge to block this year’s cuts and to restore funding to the level that was appropriated in the budget upon adoption. 

Adams pushed back against the idea that the lawsuits signal deteriorating relationships. 

“From time to time friends disagree, and sometimes it ends up in a boardroom and sometimes it ends up in a courtroom,” Adams said at an end of year press conference Thursday morning. “We should not mix up a point of disagreement with the point that we both want what’s best for the city.” 

Last month, the Adams administration cut nearly $550 million from the education department’s budget in the current fiscal year, which the UFT says has already affected after-school and planned summer school programming, universal pre-K, and services like special education and computer science instruction. Additional cuts are expected in January and spring 2024, meaning the department could end up facing up to $2 billion in total. The education department’s overall budget was around $37.5 billion this school year. 

Pointing to a state law, the UFT’s lawsuit charges that the city can’t cut education funding while its revenue last fiscal year was higher than expected. The state also increased school spending this year, further complicating the cuts' impacts. It also argues that the city’s claim that dealing with asylum-seekers will cost $11 billion over the next two years is false.

Adams said he’s looking forward to talking with Mulgrew and DC 37 President Henry Garrido to try and come to an agreement. 

“They know exactly what we are facing and they are very smart guys. They understand government. They’ve been there a long time,” Adams said. “I hope that all of my union leaders would add their voices to the national government that this should not be happening in New York City.”