City officials entered Shanker Hall on Oct. 13 for their first negotiating session with the UFT to face the 500 members of the union’s bargaining committee all dressed in union blue in an impressive display of solidarity and strength.
“We are united, prepared and ready to fight for the contract we deserve,” said UFT President Michael Mulgrew.
The prior DOE-UFT contract expired on Sept. 13. By state law, the terms of the old contract remain in effect until a new agreement is ratified by members.
The UFT has been preparing for negotiations since last spring. The union’s 500-member negotiating committee began meeting in March, and subcommittees for key areas and each functional chapter were assembled over the summer. A survey conducted for the union by the national polling firm Hart Research Associates generated 32,000 responses from union members in May. The priorities identified by the rank and file will direct discussions and strategy.
City officials told the UFT at that first session that before pay raises could be discussed, the city and the unions would need to be on the path to a health care agreement that offers major savings. The city took the same stance with District Council 37, the city’s largest union, at their first bargaining session.
“This turn of events isn’t a surprise as we know the spiraling cost of health care has become a national crisis,” Mulgrew wrote in an Oct. 14 email to members. “But we made it clear to the city that we are prepared to fight to make sure we get the raises we deserve while avoiding health care premiums in the coming years.”
The Municipal Labor Committee (MLC), the umbrella group of 100-plus municipal labor unions including the UFT, negotiates health benefits for all municipal employees and retirees.
At the Delegate Assembly a day before the negotiating session, Mulgrew acknowledged the financial burden placed on both the city and the municipal unions by rising health care costs. But, he said, it wouldn’t deter the union from pushing hard for solid wage increases.
Even though the city has $9 billion in reserves and is facing a teacher shortage, he noted at the Delegate Assembly, Mayor Adams has claimed the city doesn’t have the money to provide raises of more than 1% a year.
“This is going to be a tough negotiation, very difficult,” Mulgrew said.
Looming over the wage-related negotiations is pattern bargaining, the city’s longtime practice of negotiating a contract with one union that sets a pattern for all other contracts in the same round of bargaining.
The city looks to reach a deal with a union that is both large enough and respected enough that it can use that contract as a benchmark that all agreements in that round are expected to follow.