In a move that seemed preordained from the date four months into his administration when he reached contract terms with the union that ended a 54-month stalemate triggered by his predecessor’s refusal to honor longstanding traditions regarding bargaining patterns and retroactive raises, the United Federation of Teachers Feb. 8 endorsed Mayor de Blasio’s re-election.
While UFT President Michael Mulgrew never specifically mentioned that contract, from the time it was reached it re-established a bond between union and Mayor that had been broken by Michael Bloomberg during his final four years in office. While he had stressed the importance of pattern bargaining during previous arbitrations in which his administration sought to limit raises for the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, the then-Mayor refused to give the UFT the two four-percent raises he had previously agreed to with two-thirds of the city’s workforce, including the PBA, when the Teacher-union contract expired on Nov. 1, 2009.
Changed Rules Midstream
Mr. Bloomberg contended that the 2008 financial meltdown by that time had compromised the city’s economy to the degree that he could not honor that bargaining pattern unless the union agreed to concessions in other areas to offset its cost. He also declared that the city could not afford to grant retroactivity for raises for the UFT or any other municipal union, claiming it would create an unsupportable burden on the city budget.
Mr. de Blasio soon after taking office in 2014 had his Labor Commissioner and Budget Director craft a package that would restore pattern bargaining and uphold retroactivity, two concepts that over the previous four decades had proven key in maintaining stable relationships with the city’s unions, ending a brief period in which police and fire unions took turns leapfrogging each other in arbitration proceedings, with the more-generous awards they received driving up the city’s costs.
Because the back-pay liability had grown to the point where senior Teachers were entitled to as much as $54,000 on top of the two 4-percent pay hikes, Labor Commissioner Robert W. Linn and Budget Director Dean Fuleihan created an unorthodox structure to spread out the city’s costs. Mr. Mulgrew agreed to have the bulk of the retroactive money—which ordinarily is paid within a month of a contract being ratified—delayed until near the end of the nine-year deal, with 75 percent of it to be implemented in a three-year period starting in 2018.
Took Lesser Raises Late
He also agreed to raises for the final seven years of the pact totaling just 10 percent over seven years, which figured to fall below the inflation rate for that period. The overall package created dissonant reactions: some watchdog groups and critics of the Mayor branded it a giveaway, but many unions—most notably the PBA—grumbled that it was an untenable pattern for their members.
Although several bargaining experts said the UFT would almost certainly have prevailed on the issues of bargaining patterns and retroactivity had it gone to arbitration, the union was happy to have reached a quick settlement affirming those rights and strengthening its ties to the new Mayor, whom it had not endorsed in the Democratic primary the previous year.
Mr. Mulgrew made the endorsement announcement surrounded by members holding “de Blasio For Mayor” and “Public School Proud” signs at the union’s lower-Manhattan headquarters hours after the vote by the delegate assembly to back him.
The union did not endorse Mr. de Blasio in his 2013 run until the general election, after supporting former City Comptroller William C. Thompson in the primary.
‘Breath of Fresh Air’
Mr. Mulgrew said the UFT delegates had gone through the usual procedure and had chosen to back the Mayor early in the game despite several investigations hanging over his administration because of his support for the city’s public schools, calling it “a breath of fresh air.”
“It was an easy decision,” he told reporters. “After 20 years of fighting, we’re glad to finally have a Mayor that’s on our side.” The union had a difficult relationship with Mayor Rudy Giuliani as well.
The announcement came the day after the confirmation of President Trump’s choice for U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, whom the union vehemently opposed due to her advocacy for school-choice vouchers and lack of knowledge of public schools.
Mr. Mulgrew said that was part of the reason the UFT endorsed Mr. de Blasio, but also cited many of his education policies.
“Mayor de Blasio’s creation of the largest pre-K program in the nation, his respect for Teachers and their work, and his commitment to ensuring that all our children have access to a school that meets their needs make him the clear choice to lead our city for the next four years,” he said.
Mayor: ‘A Tough Moment’
Mr. de Blasio told the gathering, “We’re at a moment of time that’s really tough for anyone who cares about public education,” he said. “We have an Education Secretary that doesn’t know anything about public education…it’s not the first surreal thing to happen with this administration, but it’s certainly painful.”
In a familiar refrain, he promised to resist both Mr. Trump and Ms. DeVos.
“We’re all in this together…when Betsy DeVos says ‘tear down the public schools,’ we can show off the public schools in New York City and say, ‘look, this works,’” he said. “It’ll be a tough few years, but I like our odds, because we have right on our side.”
Mr. de Blasio has been notably less friendly to charter schools than Mr. Bloomberg, leading many charter advocates to accuse him of denying schools space to expand and “softening” the requirements of traditional district schools at the expense of students.
Jeremiah Kittredge, CEO of pro-charter group Families for Excellent Schools, said in a statement that the union’s endorsement made sense.
Sees Unholy Alliance
“Given how Mayor de Blasio has repeatedly used the offices of New York City to support UFT priorities, from putting bad teachers back in classrooms to eliminating independent checks to see if students are actually learning from their Teachers, it’s no surprise that the UFT is revving up their political operation in exchange,” he said.
Jenny Sedlis, executive director of another pro-charter advocacy group, StudentsFirstNY, also slammed the endorsement.
“It’s no surprise that the Teachers union would pay back Mayor de Blasio’s steady stream of sweetheart deals with a political endorsement, but the sad reality is that no one in this equation is looking out for underserved students,” she said in a statement.
The UFT joins the Professional Staff Congress, which represents workers at the City University of New York, and District Council 37 in endorsing Mr. de Blasio. Several private-sector unions, including the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, and the Laundry Distribution and Food Service Board, are also backing him.