Let’s make a deal

What’s on the table as New York City and the teachers union negotiate a new contract

PHOTO: Alex Zimmerman
United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew, right, says the union is negotiating with Mayor Bill de Blasio, center, for a paid family leave policy.

The clock is ticking on the city’s contract with the United Federation of Teachers, the largest local union in the country representing more than 100,000 members.

With the deal set to expire in November, negotiations between the city and the UFT have already begun.

But the backdrop this year is much different from 2014, when Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration and the influential union first met. Even though de Blasio and the union still enjoy a friendly relationship, the political and financial realities this time around are very different.

For one thing, the talks come amid national turmoil as teachers strike in some states, including West Virginia and Oklahoma, to demand better pay and benefits. New York City teachers are relatively well compensated, but the current labor climate could embolden the local union to push for more.

In addition, de Blasio is solidly into his second term, and while it’s hard to imagine a mayor more sympathetic to labor unions, the UFT could choose to wait until his replacement takes office to settle on a new contract. There’s little immediate cost if no deal is reached: The current contract will simply remain in place until a new one is negotiated, even if it’s after the expiration date.

Here is a primer on what is likely on the table in New York City, how the fiscal climate may impact negotiations, and what a new city chancellor and pending state changes to the teacher evaluation system could mean.

The backdrop

The first time the union and de Blasio administration came together, de Blasio was fresh off his first election. After years of acrimony and an expired contract under the previous mayor, Michael Bloomberg, the UFT endorsed de Blasio, who made it a priority to bring all of the city’s labor contracts up to date.

At the time, the city was dusting itself off from the economic crash. And after going so long without a contract, there was an eagerness on both sides to make a deal, said Maria Doulis, vice president of the Citizens Budget Commission, a nonprofit watchdog group. The unions agreed to healthcare concessions, she said, which helped pay for salary increases.

Now, some of those contracts have already expired. And unions, including the UFT, may not be so willing to bargain this time around.

“It’s a whole new world,” Doulis said.

Property taxes are once again flowing into city coffers, and the de Blasio administration has dramatically increased the size and spending of local government. There are already signs that labor might not be willing to accept more concessions on healthcare. The Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association has filed for arbitration in its negotiations with the city — a move that could set the tone for the UFT and other unions. Among the sticking points cited by the PBA in a press release: a city proposal to increase health insurance co-pays and deductibles.

“I don’t get the sense that labor is in a give-back kind of mood,” Doulis said.  

The UFT declined multiple requests for comment on negotiations. “Negotiations are confidential and so we don’t comment on them,” union spokesperson Alison Gendar wrote in an email.

The UFT has spent months talking with members to set its contract priorities. In an online survey this winter, teachers were asked for their thoughts on class size, performance evaluations, and school schedule changes that set-aside time for teacher training. Teachers say it was the first time that leadership had asked for input from their rank-and-file before heading to the bargaining table — perhaps because the union is bracing for a looming U.S. Supreme Court decision that could drain members and money from its war chest.

The case — known as Janus, after the Illinois public employee who filed it — could end mandatory dues for non-members. Some states, including New York, allow unions to collect fees from non-members to help cover the cost of bargaining contracts that cover all workers.

“It’s absolutely new and different … which is a great thing,” said John Giambalvo, steering committee member MORE, a dissenting caucus within the UFT. “We’re very happy to see that members are being asked.”

The issues

Some issues, like pay and insurance benefits, are perennial. In the previous contract, the current city administration agreed to retroactively pay UFT members for raises that were given to other municipal unions while the teachers union contract was expired in 2009 and 2010. The city is still doling out much of that backpay.

Another issue that is sure to be on the table: paid parental leave. The union has already begun to push City Hall for the benefit after a high school teacher’s petition calling for paid leave went viral online.

New York City teachers do not have paid leave. Instead they must use saved sick time — and only birth mothers are allowed to use that time, putting a strain on fathers, adoptive parents and same-sex couples. While de Blasio has extended parental leave to City Hall employees, the union could face an uphill battle in convincing the city to treat teachers the same. City workers gave up some benefits to pay for the leave, but the UFT has said it isn’t willing to offer any concessions.

Within the union, different caucuses are also pushing for their own priorities to make it to the bargaining table, including more protections to enforce class-size limits and solutions for educators who are in the Absent Teacher Reserve — an expensive pool of employees who don’t have permanent positions and often act as short-term substitutes.

Open questions

At the state level, teacher evaluations are once again under discussion. A moratorium on using state tests in performance reviews is set to expire, and education leaders in Albany recently laid out a plan to retool evaluations by next year. Once they do, it is up to every school district to create its own plan within the state framework. But the livewire issue probably won’t get decided by the time the UFT and the city strike a deal, so the two sides could settle the issue of evaluations with an agreement that is separate from the contract.

The new chancellor, Richard Carranza, may also want to leave his mark on the contract. His predecessor, Carmen Fariña, had a hand in negotiating a change in the school day to give teachers more time for job training — a move that has been met with mixed reviews. Just like Fariña, Carranza already seems eager to help boost teacher morale. But it may be too early to expect Carranza to get involved: He only started last week and has no previous experience in New York City schools.

Future of Teaching

Tentative contract includes big raises for IPS teachers

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy
Teachers would receive significant raises under a tentative new contract with IPS.

A month after voters approved a vast funding increase for Indianapolis Public Schools, Superintendent Lewis Ferebee’s administration and the district teachers union have reached a tentative deal for a new contract that would boost teacher pay by an average of 6.3 percent.

The agreement was ratified by union members Wednesday, according to a statement from teachers union president Ronald Swann. It must be approved by the Indianapolis Public Schools board, which is likely to consider the contract next week, before it is final.

Swann did not provide details of the agreement, but it was outlined in union presentations to teachers on Wednesday ahead of the ratification vote. The deal would cover the 2018-19 school year, and teachers would receive retroactive pay back to July 2018. The prior contract ended in June.

Raising teacher pay was a key part of the sales pitch district leaders used to win support for a referendum to raise $220 million over eight years from taxpayers for operating expenses. The referendum passed with wide support from voters last month, and although the district will not get that money until next year, the administration can now bank on an influx of cash in June 2019. Teachers could receive another raise next year, once the money from the referendum begins flowing.

The proposed deal would bring pay raises for new and experienced teachers. First year teachers in the district would see their salaries jump to $42,587, about $2,600 above the current base salary, according to the presentation to teachers. Returning teachers would move up the pay scale, with most receiving raises of about $2,600.

The deal also brings a reward for teachers who are at the top of the current scale. The top of the scale would rise to $74,920 by adding several stops above the current maximum of $59,400. That means teachers who are currently at the top of the scale would be able to move up and continue getting raises.

Many longtime teachers in the district also earn additional pay for advanced education, but teachers who joined the district more recently are not eligible for that extra money.

Teachers who received evaluations of ineffective or needs improvement in 2017-18 are not eligible for raises.

The new contract is the second time in recent years that teachers have won substantial raises in Indianapolis Public Schools. After four years of painful pay freezes, Ferebee negotiated a contract in 2015 that included a large pay increase. Teacher pay is especially important for the district because it is competing with several surrounding communities to staff schools.

Health care costs would go up this year, a policy shift that was advocated by the Indy Chamber, which urged the district to reduce health insurance spending as part of a plan to shift more money to teacher salaries.

The contract includes a provision that was piloted last year allowing the district to place newly hired teachers at anywhere on the salary schedule. It’s designed to allow the district to pay more for especially hard-to-fill positions.

Teachers at some troubled schools, known as the transformation zone, would also be eligible for extra pay on top of their regular salaries at the discretion of the administration. That money would come from state grants specifically targeted at transformation zone schools.

The idea of allowing superintendents to pay some teachers in their districts more than others is controversial.

Teacher Pay

‘Our teachers have waited long enough’: Educators say Indiana needs to act now on teacher pay

PHOTO: Shaina Cavazos
Students in Decatur Township work on physics problems with their teacher.

Educators and advocates are pushing state leaders to take action this year to raise teacher compensation — not to wait for additional research, as Gov. Eric Holcomb proposed last week.

“Our teachers have waited long enough,” said Teresa Meredith, president of the Indiana State Teachers Association, the state’s largest teachers union. “It doesn’t take a two-year study to discover what we already know: teachers need to be valued, respected, and paid as professionals.”

Holcomb’s proposal last week to study raises in the upcoming budget-writing session and make bigger steps in 2021 didn’t sit well with some, since lawmakers and advocates spent the fall talking up the need to make teacher salaries competitive with other states. But given the state’s tight budget situation, Holcomb suggested studying the impact of raises for at least a year, as well as looking at how much money would be needed and how districts would be expected to get the money to teachers.

Read: Raising teacher pay likely to be at the forefront for Indiana lawmakers and advocates in 2019

The proposal drew quick criticism. Education leaders and advocacy groups took to Twitter to express their hopes that Holcomb and lawmakers would find ways to address teacher salaries this year as well as into the future.

“IN must respond now,” State Superintendent Jennifer McCormick tweeted Friday morning, remarking that too many teachers across the state are leaving the profession because pay is too low. “Kids deserve & depend upon excellent teachers.”

“We can’t wait to act because Hoosier children are counting on all us to come together to ensure our schools can attract and retain the best teachers,” Justin Ohlemiller, executive director of Stand for Children Indiana, said in a blog post titled “The time to act on teacher pay is now.

ISTA’s 2019 legislative agenda, released Monday, will continue pushing for lawmakers and state leaders to find creative solutions to raise teacher pay and make Indiana competitive with other states.

And ISTA says they might have voters on their side. A recent ISTA poll of more than 600 Hoosiers, conducted by Emma White Research, shows that funding for education is a priority across the state, with more than 86 percent of those sampled supporting sending more money to public schools. About 72 percent of people polled believe educators are underpaid.

But it’s unclear if there would be enough money in the budget to spend on across-the-board raises after other funding obligations are met, such as funding needed by the Department of Child Services to deal with effects of the state’s opioid crisis. Senate Democrats have called for $81 million a year to ensure 5 percent raises for teachers and counselors over the next two years. Republicans have strong majorities in both chambers.

Neither ISTA, lawmakers, Holcomb nor other education groups have released specific plans for either how much they’d like to see set aside for teachers or strategies for how a pay increase could feasibly be carried out. However, the effort has brought together some unlikely allies — the union, a vocal advocate for traditional public schools, rarely aligns its education policy with groups like Stand and Teach Plus Indiana that have favored increased school-choice options, such as charter schools.

With limited dollars to go around, the focus will have to also be on how to make existing education dollars go farther, Meredith said. She, along with Republican House Speaker Brian Bosma last month, pointed to the need to curtail spending on administration, which, they argue, could free up money for other expenses such as teacher compensation.

Some have also pointed to the state’s recent budget surplus and reserves as evidence that Indiana could spend more on education if there was political will to do so.

“The surplus has come on the backs of educators and their students,” Meredith said. “Elected leaders must do more. They must do more to declare teacher pay a priority in this session, and they must take action.”

ISTA is also hoping lawmakers will act to:

  • Restore collective bargaining rights so educators can negotiate work hours and class size, as well as salaries and benefits.
  • Remove teacher evaluation results from decisions about salary until the state’s new ILEARN test has been in place for a few years.
  • Invest in school counselors, psychologists, and social workers
  • Strengthen regulations for charter and virtual charter schools, including putting a moratorium on new virtual schools until those safeguards can be enacted.
  • Study districts that have focused on how to best teach students who have experienced trauma.

Indiana’s next legislative session begins in January.

Correction: Dec. 11, 2018: This story has been updated to reflect that Stand for Children Indiana doesn’t take a position in regards to private school vouchers.