By MARTY GOODMAN
This May Day, a day of celebration of the workers’ struggle, many unions were rallying at New York’s City Hall, but the news from inside was not good for workers. The unions backed “progressive” Mayor Bill de Blasio (Democrat), and Michael Mulgrew, president of the United Federation of Teachers (UFT), announced a tentative contract agreement between the city and the 100,000 member UFT.
De Blasio, who assumed office in January, has been hailed by labor “leaders” as a “friend of labor.” Labor waited for a change of faces in City Hall instead of fighting for a decent contract. Since the election campaign, de Blasio has demanded union givebacks (concessions) to pay for all public union raises, as did his predecessor, the billionaire Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
The extraordinarily long nine-year tentative UFT contract contains a mere 18% in raises. The first two years, teachers receive retroactive or back pay of 4% and 4% to cover the city “pattern” in 2009 and 2010, years in which Bloomberg refused to negotiate with the UFT. But the “retro” will be paid out through 2020 in depreciated dollars. Worse, the contract contains zero raises in 2011 and 2012, the zeroes camouflaged by a “lump sum” payout (nicknamed “chump sum” by many New York transit workers), which is not added to the base pay rate, a standard bosses’ trick.
The UFT deal averages about 2% raises, below current inflation rates and projected increases. A New York Daily News editorial headlined “Good for the Budget” called it, “responsible increases that are sure to fall below inflation. This should set the pattern for other unions.”
The tentative pact also contains an ominous $1.3 billion in as yet unspecified health care “savings.” If the union and the city cannot agree, an arbitrator may be called in to impose the healthcare “savings.” The contract also contains increases for bonus or ‘merit pay,’ an ill-defined rewards system that teachers see as a divide and conquer tactic. One provision will streamline the discipline process.
Lastly, there is a provision to suspend city and union rules in 200 schools—about 10%—a dangerous provision. The New York Times said it was to “encourage innovation” in a system under attack by the for-profit “Charter Schools” movement—ostensibly opposed by de Blasio. One veteran teacher activist, Marilyn Vogt-Downey, told Socialist Action that suspending union rules is “an obscenity.”
Since the deal was announced, a rank-and-file caucus within the UFT called MORE (Movement of Rank and File Educators) has called for a “Vote No” on the outrageous proposed contract (morecaucusnyc.org).
Since the tentative teacher’s contract was announced, the Transport Workers Union Local 100 leadership has used the appalling UFT terms to sell its own rotten contract, which creates a second-class membership for new employees (see the TWU article).
All public and private, city and state unions need to unite to fight concessions unleashed by a capitalist class in crisis. Despite the many obstacles, a giant “vote no” movement needs to be built and mass union meetings organized to discuss a fightback. Stop relying on the Democratic Party to save us! Organize instead for mass pickets, marches, and strikes.
New York is the richest city in the world; the needs of all working and unemployed people could easily be satisfied. But the twin parties of the rich will never get us there. We need our own worker’s party to fight for it!