An independent arbitrator on Oct. 9 overturned City Hall’s attempt to avoid paying deferred wages to thousands of city educators for work they performed dating back 10 years ago. The city was ordered to pay half the amount owed by Oct. 31, 2020, and half by the end of July 2021.
The arbitrator, Martin Scheinman, also awarded a no-layoff pledge for the remainder of the school year and a guarantee that the city will not challenge the 3% contractual wage increase due on May 14, 2021.
UFT-represented educators eligible for a lump-sum payment in October 2020, covering the final 25% they are owed, will receive the new July payment regardless of any change in employment status.
“This is far from a perfect solution for thousands of our members who are still owed deferred wages that can go back as far as 10 years,” UFT President Michael Mulgrew wrote in an email to members. “The decision recognizes the city’s difficult financial circumstances because of the coronavirus pandemic, but makes it clear that the city must find a way to meet its financial obligations to its educators.”
The schedule for the initial half of the lump-sum payment has now been released. Eligible UFT-represented Department of Education employees will receive half of the lump-sum payment on the following dates: Active Q- and H-bank employees, Oct. 30; Q-bank retirees, Nov. 16; H-bank retirees, Nov. 2; Per-session employees, Nov. 2; F-status employees, Nov. 19. The remaining half of the original lump-sum payment is scheduled to be paid by the end of July 2021.
Because of a dispute-resolution clause the union insisted on including in the 2014 contract for just such a possibility, the UFT took the city to immediate arbitration.
At the Oct. 9 hearing that lasted four and a half hours, Mulgrew argued that his members were entitled to this money and the city was obligated to uphold the agreement. City officials countered that the city could not afford to pay given the fiscal emergency and a budget deficit of nearly $9 billion.
The deferred wages are the result of a decision made by former Mayor Michael Bloomberg in a previous fiscal downturn in 2009 and 2010 to withhold from educators a wage increase that had been granted to other city workers in that round of municipal bargaining.
After Mayor Bill de Blasio was elected mayor, an agreement was reached to pay the deferred amounts in a series of lump-sum payments over six years. The final lump-sum payment — worth an estimated total of $900 million — had been due in October to 90,000 active and retired UFT members.
In a video sent on the day of the arbitrator’s decision, Mulgrew said it would have set a dangerous precedent had the city been able to disregard its obligations due to a financial downturn. “We will continue to do the work of caring, nurturing and teaching the children of our city,” he said. “But we will also insist at all times that we are treated fairly. And if that means that we have to fight, then we will fight.”