Now is the Time for Action
Most politicians know that even the best poll ratings can be undone by a crisis. Sometimes the crisis can be foreseen and averted, sometimes not.
Rarely does a politician ignore a looming crisis with no thought about the consequences, but it can happen. Consider, for example, Mayor Bloomberg’s approach to negotiating a new contract for New York City’s teachers.
City educators have been working almost two and a half years without a contract and three years without a raise, but they still rolled up their sleeves and helped students achieve record gains on English and math tests—gains the mayor touts in television commercials and in campaign appearances as he runs for re-election.
Teachers are understandably frustrated and angry at this lack of respect from the city. Despite the sinking morale of the city’s teaching force, Mayor Bloomberg is showing an alarming lack of urgency on contract talks. He pays lip service to teachers, praising their efforts and saying he is optimistic a contract with “substantial raises” will be negotiated soon. But his actions belie that claim.
On September 12, an independent state panel of fact-finders issued a report with nonbinding recommendations for a new contract. Despite misgivings about some of the recommendations, teachers quickly approved using the report as a vehicle for resuming negotiations and finalizing a contract. Within days, top local elected officials gathered on the steps of City Hall to urge the mayor to return to the bargaining table to negotiate a contract as quickly as possible.
Only then did the mayor agree to schedule an official negotiating session, which was held on September 26, 2005. It was the first face-to-face bargaining meeting since October 8, 2004, almost a year ago. Conversely, the union has been – and continues to be – willing to negotiate every single day until an agreement is reached.
Surely the mayor must realize the effect his nonchalance has on teachers. They have worked hard, spending their own salaries on supplies and working long beyond the normal school day, grading papers, preparing lessons and helping their students. They have gone three years without a raise, earn 15 percent less than teachers in the suburbs and must cope with the largest class sizes in the state. The teachers have never turned their backs on their students, and they cannot understand why the mayor is turning his back on them.
Mayor Bloomberg apparently feels there are no consequences for failing to settle a fair contract. But the public is not amused. Parents and other concerned New Yorkers have said in overwhelming numbers that teachers deserve a raise. They want the schools to flourish, and everyone knows that it will be difficult to sustain that effort if teachers are repeatedly taken for granted.
And just this week, an editorial in the New York Times said, “Teachers are understandably demoralized and angry” and called the UFT “a cooperative partner in New York’s most successful education experiments.”
We have reached a time of urgency for our schools and our children. Educators and the children they teach must be made a priority. Mayor Bloomberg should not have waited for this crisis to take the contract matter seriously.
It is time for Mayor Bloomberg to heed the advice he gave Rudy Giuliani to do four years ago: Both parties should be locked in a room until they work out the compromises needed to get a fair deal. If the mayor is serious, that’s exactly what he’ll do—and we stand ready to join him there.#
Randi Weingarten is the President of the United Federation of Teachers in New York City.