A Season of Hope Denied
The start of school
is usually a season of hope as students, parents and educators
look forward to building on the gains of the previous school
year. New York City’s teachers
certainly had reason to be hopeful because of statements Mayor
Bloomberg made at a town hall meeting just last month.
Noting the significant
improvements in student test scores that teachers helped
achieve despite working 2 1⁄2 years
without a raise, the mayor said he expected to have a new contract
with “substantial” pay raises in place by the start
But the mayor’s public outburst of optimism has not
been followed by the effort needed to get to closure. The contract
negotiations never materialized, despite repeated attempts
by the United Federation of Teachers to get them going again.
As a result, both sides are still locked in non-binding arbitration
and are awaiting contract recommendations from a state panel
This means there will be no contract before the start of the
school year because the panel has told us it will issue its
findings after Labor Day. How ironic that the mayor uses the
hard work of teachers to crow about the improvement in student
test scores as he runs for re-election while refusing to engage
in the work necessary to close on a contract for those very
I am profoundly disappointed. If the mayor of the City of
New York tells the public to expect a teacher contract before
the start of school—which is in everybody’s interest—that
means he should try to negotiate to closure. The failure to
do so is a bad thing for the kids, the teachers and anybody
who believes that education is important. Doing what’s
best for kids shouldn’t be aligned with the political
season. It should be aligned with the school year to build
on the momentum of academic success.
That success was achieved even though teachers in the city
have the highest class sizes in the state. Our teachers are
paid the least in the region, 14 percent to 26 percent below
teachers who have similar jobs in surrounding counties and
towns just two minutes across the city borders. The city—despite
the police arbitration award which gave cops a retroactive
salary increase of 10 percent over two years while prospectively
cutting new cops’ salaries—still insists that teachers
receive 4.17 percent over three years with no increase in the
The UFT has been trying to negotiate competitive salaries,
but we’ve also been dealing head-on with really tough
issues. For example, I have said consistently—publicly
and privately—that any teacher who sexually abuses kids
should be kicked out of teaching for good.
We believe the proposal the UFT made to help incompetent teachers
or, if unsuccessful, to counsel them out of the profession,
is better than anything the city has put forth.
But rather than act on these proposals, the city is dragging
its feet. Sadly, state law allows the mayor to get away with
it. That’s why the UFT asked the State Legislature to
change the Taylor Law governing local governments’ contract
negotiations with their municipal employees. The current process
that allows the city to delay negotiations for years should
be changed so that the impasse procedure would begin within
six months after a contract expires. That bill has passed the
state Legislature and is under consideration by the Governor.
Such delays demoralize teachers and drive many of them away.
Not counting retirements, last year 3,500 seasoned city educators
left the system. Many resigned because they didn’t get
paid enough and could earn much more in nearby towns or in
other professions. A recent report noted that teacher attrition
is costing New York State more than $350 million!
But even in the face of two and a half years without a raise,
New York City teachers continue to work hard for the kids and
they have not let the contract battle affect the classroom.
Thanks to teachers’ hard work, the mayor and the chancellor
get to celebrate the results, but they continue to treat teachers
Those of us at the UFT were encouraged by Mayor Bloomberg’s
statements about having a new contract with substantial raises
in place before September. We had hoped we would be able to
wipe the slate clean and start the academic year with a fair
contract to create a can-do atmosphere in the school system.
But it won’t happen unless there are face-to-face negotiations
and a deadline.
The UFT is willing. Where is the administration?#
Randi Weingarten is the President of the United Federation
of Teachers in New York City.