Thursday, May 25, 2023

We Demand a Sub-Inflationary Raise and Inferior Health Care

The UFT was out demonstrating yesterday, for a "fair contract." I want a fair contract, but it's hard for me to see exactly how we get there from here. The city pattern is 3% a year. However, inflation was pegged by Social Security at 5.9% for 2022 and 8.7% for 2023. So personally, I'm not taking time out from my busy schedule to demand what is effectively a pay cut.

Now sure, Michael Mulgrew is out there talking about paperwork, and I like paperwork as much as the next person. But if Michael Mulgrew doesn't know that money is the first concern of every working person in most contract negotiations, he's even more out of touch than I thought. Now sure, you can say that DC37 set the pattern. And you can further say that pattern bargaining is tantamount to the Ten Commandments in city bargaining.

You may well be right. It is highly unlikely that we will beat the pattern. I'm not counting on it at all. But our union is weakened by demonstrations that are essentially just for show. There are times to stand up, and when those times come along, we're either asleep or being stabbed in the back by the Municipal Labor Committee, including our esteemed leadership. More likely, we're asleep and being stabbed in the back by leadership.

It's nice to get out and do something spirited. I'm sure every Unity Caucus member, most of whom have or aspire to union gigs, were out there. I'm sure they dragged everyone they could. I also know a lot of opposition members who went. Good for them, I suppose. Personally, I could not muster the spirit to spend my time doing something so patently ridiculous. Paperwork sucks, but it's not what members complain to me about. 

Now I don't know precisely what paperwork complaints we're talking about here. Everything the big negotiating committee discusses is Top Secret, so I'm not privy. The fact is we've made some good progress on redundant paperwork complaints. Debbie Poulos initiated a complaint process for chapter leaders that's faster and more efficient than multi-stage grievances that take forever. As chapter leader, I filed a grievance that sat around for several years. When UFT finally got around to discussing step two with me, I was no longer chapter leader and the point was moot. Maybe fixing our grievance procedure is something we should be looking at. This notwithstanding, there are vital concerns that go well beyond paperwork.

UFT Unity leadership, along with their BFFs at the MLC, just tossed the retirees to the dogs, replacing standard Medicare with a corporate Advantage plan. Soon, they'll replace the popular Emblem GHI plan with something 10% cheaper, saving money for Eric Adams. In case you haven't noticed, Adams is supposed to be our adversary in contract negotiatons.

It's fine that UFT is out there. But the fact is, the overwhelming majority are not. The overwhelming majority of us are essentially asleep. That's been a feature of our union for decades. You can tell when people speak about it. People say terrible things about the UFT, not realizing they're describing themselves. Sadly, pathetically even, a lot of us feel no responsibility for anything whatsoever regarding our union. For many of us, the union is somehow the people sitting in offices. 

That's one reason I'm wary of people talking strike. Here's one of those people:

It's great to imagine that we won't accept the crap pattern increase, but it's sheer fantasy. Mulgrew may not be proactive. He may not bother trying to organize the MLC to demand a reasonable pattern. But has a lot of time to sit around reading blogs. I know this because after I wrote something particularly critical, he had his lawyers (technically our lawyers) threaten me with civil and criminal penalties for parodying him on this blog. 

Frankly, I don't believe the UFT, constituted as now, could carry out a strike. I think we have a whole lot of outreach to do before membership could be activated to that point. Most of us don't know what union is. That's why I, as chapter leader, saw multiple members indicate they wouldn't strike, even for safety. I was shocked when one member casually mentioned it, expecting me to smile and accept it. But this member is representative of a whole lot of us. Leadership is as aware of this as I am. They do nothing about it because they're good with it. They could never survive an activist membership. But we would all benefit. 

So here is what Mulgrew and the Unity Caucus will do. They will cave completely to the pattern, and then blame the 500-member negotiating committee. In the video he pretends they make all the decisions. However, I was on the committee during the 2018 negotiation, and I had no idea we were approving draconian cuts to health care. Our leadership deceived us.

This is the prime reason I will vote no on the contract. I believe it's coming soon, and I believe the Unity Caucus will claim these rallies had something to do with it. I believe the rallies are entirely for show. If we had real demands, we'd take real actions.  It's nice that Mulgrew pays lip service to strike, but the fact is we haven't heard him say much about it until he was put on the spot.

I don't know about you, but I'm not energized by lies. I'm energized by fighting for real progress.  Our leadership, Mulgrew included, is moving us backward. We should be a vibrant force, the "powerful teachers union" the tabloids are always complaining about. Instead, we're a sleeping giant

Step one in awakening this sleeping giant is tossing the Unity Caucus out of power. We'll begin that process with the retirees. I hope to be one by election time.

Wednesday, May 17, 2023

MLC--What Is It Good For?

The city unions have an umbrella organization called the Municipal Labor Committee, or MLC. I may have mentioned them once or twice on this page. This group acts on its own, It does not seek approval from rank and file.

That, of course, is an issue when they make deals. At some point, to save money for the city, they agreed that all new city employees would be in HIP for the first year. I was not that upset by that. Many employees don't last longer than that. Of course, many disagreed, suggesting it was a slippery slope. 

It turns out they were absolutely correct. 

Emboldened by this agreement, MLC made a new money-saving deal in 2018. So far, this has resulted in retirees being dragged out of Medicare and dumped into an Advantage plan administered by Aetna. It's hard for me to understand how giving Aetna the right to pre-approve our care will make it better. It's hard for me to understand how having fewer available doctors helps city employees. Of course, I'm not on the MLC. 

Now they're looking for providers that will offer health insurance for us at 10% less. It's impossible for me to imagine that we will not pay for that, either with higher copays, fewer providers, or more likely both. The prime directive of MLC, like that of UFT President Michael Mulgrew, appears to be saving money for Mayor Eric Adams. You can't make this stuff up.

I've worked for New York City for the last 38 years. When I started teaching, my salary was around 13K. In fact, I was offered a job driving for FedEx that paid more. Nonetheless, what everyone told me was that while I wasn't making a whole lot of money right now, we had a great retirement plan and health coverage. This didn't matter much to me at the time. I really couldn't picture being retirement age.

And yet, here I am. I'm thinking about retiring July 1st. If I do that, I'll be among the first group of retirees to have diminished health coverage.  Of course many unions disagreed. However, they were voted down by UFT and DC37, who supposedly represented more members. Never mind that not a single one of them was consulted about this. All things considered, I don't love the MLC. Don't ask me to send them a Christmas card.

You'd think, though, that MLC could get together and work in the interests of membership. Specifically they could work to improve our contracts citywide. This year, for example, DC37 agreed to 3% a year for the next five years. However, considering cost of living, we won't catch up to this year's inflation until the contract ends. That's a bargain basement deal for Eric Adams, at our considerable expense. 

Now I'm sure DC37's members need more money. Many of them are paid close to minimum wage. It's tough for them, and a 3K bonus surely sweetens the pot. I understand why they voted overwhelmingly to ratify. I think UFT will vote to ratify as well. This notwithstanding, MLC could do better. It's tough to imagine how they can do worse.

Why can't they put their heads together and decide, for example, on a minimum they will accept for a round of pattern bargaining? And why can't this keep up with inflation, at the very least?

There are some trust issues, I'm sure. For example, in 95 there was this pattern that was total crap, and DC37 voted it up, supposedly. Later, their leaders were convicted of vote-rigging. I think that was the year we voted down the contract and got a letter from then-President Sandy Feldman that we must be "smoking something" if we thought we could improve on it. (But I also distinctly recall hitting max salary at 22 years rather than 25, as the original would have made me wait. I'm glad we voted it down.)

Now I shouldn't just beat up on DC37, because we're not without blame either. We accepted and established a crappy pattern in 2014.  We did this because we were so absolutely desperate to recover the two years of 4% that many of our colleagues had received. It would have made much more sense to have simply gone to arbitration. We'd almost certainly have gotten what everyone else did. And in the highly unlikely event we didn't, we'd have finally put an end to pattern bargaining. 

Our negotiators are awful. They fancy themselves brilliant. Mulgrew frequently gets up on his hind legs at the DA, boasting of how smart they are.

We, along with DC37, dominate the MLC. With great dominance comes great responsibility. And yet, the geniuses over there have not figured out how to come together and face down the pattern. There is absolutely no downside in demanding a compensation increase, for all, that matches cost of living. Perhaps there's a trust deficit in UFT and DC37, and perhaps it needs to be repaired. If that's the case, our leaders need to make that priority one.

What will our leaders say? That's easy. It's never been done that way. It's always been done this way. Someone on Twitter mentioned the other day that doing nothing is not a winning strategy. Yet that appears to be the only strategy MLC has for getting us paid. They're pathetic. All they do is hurt us. 

MLC need to change its MO, or it needs to be replaced with something that serves us, the people who serve the city.

Monday, May 15, 2023

Two Things You May NOT Request in a #FairContractNow!

Hi it's me, your esteemed UFT President, Mike Mulgrew. First, don't mess with me or I'll sue your worthless ass. Getting down to business, we're negotiating a contract, and it's very important that you all join me in a fight for a #FairContractNow!. 

That's one of those hashtag thingies they use on Twitter. And hey, everyone should be on Twitter. Except me. I don't like it because people might say nasty things to me and hurt my feelings. But you do it. What's the worst that could happen? (Look at the bright side--it won't be happening to me.)

The other reason I'm not on Twitter because I have Very Important Stuff to do here on the 14th floor at 52 Broadway. But that's where you duespayers come in. So get out there, and we'll let you know when and what to tweet. Until then, just keep demanding that #FairContractNow! I want you to know we are laser-focused on getting some kind of paperwork thingie done for you, so feel free to demand paperwork stuff. I can't tell you exactly what paperwork stuff because everyone on the negotiating team has signed an NDA. But you get out there and demand whatever it is anyway. That's what we call union activism.

By the way. I'd just like to mention a few things you may not demand in our #FairContractNow! One of them is money. Money comes and goes, but it doesn't look like much of it is coming to you. As you know, DC37 got three percent a year. Now that may not sound so good when you consider that social security rated the cost of living at 5.9% for 2022 and 8.7% for 2023, but hey, does social security give those folks a bonus? Of course they don't. But DC37 got a three thousand buck bonus along with the three percent. So there you go. That's maybe enough to buy the sort of used car I see a lot of you out there driving.

Don't you want a new used car? Don't listen to those frigging fearmongers in the other caucuses, the ones telling you that getting a 3% raise when there's 8.7% inflation is a 5.7% cut in pay. First of all, are you going to be persuaded by mere arithmetic? Arithmetic is for first graders, and you are all college-educated. Let's grow up here, shall we? I am the President of the United Federation of Teachers, and as far as you know, I didn't get here by behaving like a first grader. Let me tell you, there were all kinds of maneuvers I had to make to get here. 

And look, it's not like this doesn't pay off. I make three times your salary, I still get paid as a full-time teacher though I don't teach at all, and I have these jobs at NYSUT and AFT too. Also, when I retire I will collect not only one pension from the DOE, but also another from UFT. So are you gonna sit there and whine about getting a 3% compensation increase, or are you gonna start running for UFT President? Make no mistake, I can't do this job forever, and once I step down everyone in my caucus is gonna pretend I never existed and take no responsibility for either this contract, your health care reductions, or anything else. Never mind that all of them expressed full-throated support, and none lifted a finger to stop me.

Anyhoo, the other thing that you may not ask about in #FairContractNow! is health care. Look, you can't spend all your time worried about your health. After all, this job is a calling, so start getting your mind in the game. Health is all a state of mind. Start thinking about what I think about, which is how I can save money for Eric Adams. How can I satisfy that visionary deal I made in 2018 to save the city 600 million dollars a year forever? Get with the program, folks.

I just dumped all the retirees into some Medicare Advantage plan, and now they'll need preapproval for stuff, and can't see all the doctors they used to see. Don't feel neglected. I'm working on improving your health care as well. The way I'm going to do that is by cutting 10% off of what we pay to insure you. Now sure, that sounds like a lot, but look at it this way. It's gonna save a crapload of money for Eric Adams, and he really needs it, among other things, to pay police double what the city allots for their overtime. 

Now I may ask you to wear blue one day. It could be orange. You never know. But doing stuff like that is important in our quest for a #FairContractNow! So don't forget to do whatever we tell you to do, whenever we tell you to do it. If you don't, you're against union activism! Then we can trash you on Twitter and elsewhere, and stereotype you and all your friends (and your little dog too). 

So get out there, wear blue or green or whatever when we tell you to, and loudly demand the city grant us some unspecified something or other about paperwork. Do not ask about money or health. Remember, this job is a calling, That means you can't be worried about your selfish needs. You just worry about serving those students. I'll focus on making more money for Eric Adams. 

You follow these ground rules, and we'll get along fine. Otherwise I'll sic my lawyers on you. Remember, union activism is you doing whatever I tell you to do, whenever I tell you to. Don't step outside those lines, and we'll get along just fine.

Your Dear Leader,







Michael Mulgrew

Wednesday, May 10, 2023

Blogging Is Slow Right Now BUT... can read my new piece in City Limits, giving chapter and verse as to how UFT leadership behaves in a distinctly anti-union fashion. 

“Those of us teaching the children of New York City do the work. Not only are we not getting the support we need, but we have leadership that actively works against our interests. This has to change.”

You can even read their response, which disputes absolutely nothing I wrote, and insinuates those of us critical of their outlandish actions are a bunch of crybabies.

Thursday, May 04, 2023

Me, Aladdin, and 110 Newcomers

There's nothing quite like seeing a show with a bunch of students. I was lucky enough, after years of trying, to get into a program sponsored by TDF. The program dried up with the apocalypse but has finally reappeared. TDF buys out entire theaters and fill them with NYC students. It's a remarkable program, and likely the only way a whole lot of students like mine will ever see a Broadway show.

This year, we were slated to see Six, which, judging from the soundtrack, seemed a little more like a concert than a standard musical. It's a very clever play on Henry VIII's six wives, all together, dishing the dirt and standing up for themselves. It surely would've gone over the heads of many of my kids.

I was lucky enough to note they had a later showing of Aladdin, and was able to swap out our show. My students are all very recent newcomers, beginners or near-beginners in English. It was a whole lot easier to get them involved with Aladdin than the story of the six wives of Henry VIII.  They could likely find the cartoon film in their first languages. Just in case they didn't, I showed it in English and we discussed it. TDF sent us a great theater pro, four times, who showed the kids a lot about what staging a play entails.

There's a lot of work involved in taking 125 students anywhere. You have to enlist more chaperones, one for every 15 students. That's not so hard when you're seeing a Broadway show, though. There's a whole lot of planning and paperwork, which I hate. I'm really not very good at this stuff. But for this, I'll do it. 

There are a whole lot of kids who have second thoughts. I have a test that day, they say. It's kind of cool to be able to say that tests come and go, but you won't get this opportunity every day. Anyway, you can make up a test. You can't see a Broadway show for free every day. 

Some kids just didn't want to go. Why should they when they could go home and play video games? Almost every one of those kids had a change of heart as the date approached. I had a hard deadline to report our attendance, though, and a few of them missed it. Maybe they learned you have to grab opportunities when they come. Or maybe they're just more pissed off at me than usual. Who can say?

But those who were there loved it. Teenagers are a lot more demonstrative than we are. When Aladdin says maybe he won't free the genie, as promised, you could hear the audience scream, "Ohh...," and some kid near me shouted, "Oh no you DIDN'T!"

You can see the magic carpet above. When they sang A Whole New World, while flying on the carpet, it amazed everyone. I kept looking for the cables that suspended the carpet but couldn't see them anywhere.  When Aladdin and Jasmine shared a relatively chaste kiss, the crowd went wild. It was the most amazing thing anyone had ever seen, in the entire universe ever, even though it was entirely predictable.  

The best, for me, though, was when we finally got back to school. A whole bunch of boys, several of whom had ridiculed the idea of this trip, one of whom had refused to go until almost the last minute, raved about it. They said it was fantastic. 

I'll follow up by showing them how to enter theater lotteries, how to find discounted tickets, and even how to join TDF. I'll make theatergoers out of at least some of these kids yet.