As we each individually look at the proposed contract and try to understand its plusses and minuses, it is important to remember the context in which this contract was negotiated. This round of bargaining was nothing like the normal course of bargaining. The City and DOE delayed the start of negotiations, only agreeing to meet and hear our demands three months after the expiration of the contract because we complained to PERB about their failure to negotiate.  Five months later they came back to the table and instead of telling us where  they wanted changes in the existing contract, the Klein and Bloomberg administration came to the table with a brand new eight-page contract and said this is what we want.  They wanted an end to tenure, to any voice for teachers and total discretion for principals on transfers, excessing, layoff, administrative duties and on the number of teaching periods.  They basically wanted us to work an eight period day and a much longer school year.  In addition, for stripping us of all our rights and protections they were prepared to give us a 4.17% increase; the below inflation pattern established with DC37. 

Nineteen months and many un-kept promises to negotiate a contract quickly later, they finally come to the table and engage in real discussions using the fact finders report as the starting point.  Many people in the press and the administration will say this proves the Taylor Law works.  The process outlined in the law from negotiations to impasse to mediation to fact finding worked to generate a contract.  We know better.  The Taylor Law allowed the Klein/Bloomberg administration to drag out negotiations without penalty to them but at a real cost to our members who worked without raises for more than three years while the cost of living continued to climb. 

If the pundits want to applaud the Taylor Law, then they must also urge the governor to sign the legislation that we lobbied for that will allow either party to declare an impasse and begin the mediation/fact finding process six months after the expiration of a contract so that no one can drag out negotiations this long again.  We all know that, despite his protestations that the election had nothing to do with it, the Mayor was only willing to conclude these negotiations to prevent us from running the attack ads that might have lowered his poll numbers the way a similar stream of ads did to David Dinkins when he failed to negotiate a contract with us. 

Moreover, that last fact is why we have to look very carefully at this proposed agreement.  I can’t do a better job of analyzing the gains and losses than Leo Casey did in his October 4 post, “Taking Stock of the Contract Agreement,” and I won’t repeat his analysis.  Everyone should read it for her/himself.  What I want to focus on is the question that those who are attacking the contract don’t ask.  “If we reject this agreement, then what?” 

The obvious answer is we go back to the table as we did once before.  However, those negotiations took place with an administration that was willing to negotiate and that respected labor.  This time around, and after an election that seems certain to restore the incumbent Mayor (and Chancellor) to office, we will be negotiating with an administration that did not really want to give us this contract and there will be no pressure on them to improve on this settlement. 

What Klein wanted (and didn’t get) was much worse than anything in this contract offer.  It is my opinion that this contract offer, albeit flawed, is the best deal we can get at this time. Unlike the vocal opponents of this contract who blithely say we can return to negotiate a better deal, I have met the people on the other side, negotiated with them, and know  that they are out for something other than the best interests of the system. When Chancellor Klein proposed to reorganize special education and eliminate the Education Evaluator position, the Union developed a plan that would have met all their stated goals, but in a way that wouldn’t hurt us, and they turned it down because their goal was to hurt us. The ensuing chaos and disorder in special education and the denial of basic rights to students is a minor concern to them.  They sweep it under the rug by having an outside auditor come in, speak only to their chosen administrators, and proclaim that progress is being made.  Deep in the report are suggestions for improvements which mirror all the ideas we presented at the negotiating table which they rejected.   Their goal was, and is, to cause the Union and its members pain.

The biggest proponent of a No vote on this contract is Joel Klein, who wants us to reject the offer the Mayor forced him to accept so that he can refuse to re-negotiate and force us to wait four more years without an increase or go on strike without any public support (Because we rejected what everyone perceives as a fair offer).
When re-negotiation fails (as I believe it inevitably will), do we wait four plus years without raises while the price of necessities like gas and heating skyrocket?  I don’t believe this is a real option because the real goal of the Chancellor throughout these negotiations has been to provoke a strike.  (Just look at how he is trying to poison the waters for this contract by describing the UFT initiated Lead Teacher program as "Merit Pay," which it clearly is not.)  A strike is the only way he can legally impose his eight page contract on us.  He believes that a strike would fail, allow him to impose his contract on us, and ultimately break the Union.  He truly believes that “anyone can teach”  so he will have no trouble replacing striking teachers (and is virtually assured of a waiver on the NCLB requirements for highly qualified teachers from the Mayor’s Republican friends in Washington).  Given this goal, rather than negotiate a new settlement, he will continue to erode your rights, vitiate the grievance process, and try to provoke a strike by ignoring the contract and dragging out the grievance process.

Do we strike then, if we reject this agreement?  This is really two questions. What part of this agreement are you prepared to go on strike to try to eliminate?  Would you strike because of the two days, the ten minutes, the change in Circular 6R, the change on responding to Material in the File, or the end to a seniority transfer plan that was used by less than one percent of the teachers each year?  The second question is how likely would this strike be to succeed?

When they had failed to negotiate and the Delegate Assembly set a deadline for considering a strike authorization vote, it was clear that a vote to strike was necessary because it was the only means left to get to a contract.  Negotiations, mediation, fact-finding having failed, we would have nothing left but the ability to collectively withhold our labor.  The public would have been upset, but they would have seen the reasons as legitimate and the pressure would have mounted on the administration to settle.  Striking because we don’t like the terms of the settlement will have a different stink and will not generate pressure on the administration to settle.  The Mayor, like Ed Koch in the last transit strike, will lead the charge against greedy labor and will find many supporters.

This is the context, as I see it, in which we have to weigh and measure this contract proposal.  It is not enough to say it has minuses.  It is important to have a strategy for dealing with those minuses should it be defeated.  That is what I don’t hear in the opposition literature. 

I will vote for this contract proposal because it gives me a fifteen percent increase in real dollars, does not give Klein the unbridled authority he was seeking, and because the Union will be able to come back to the table and try to negotiate better terms in the next contract.