Wednesday, February 24, 2010

This the City Believes

Gotham Schools has a list of the city's contract demands in their now-stalled negotiations with the UFT. Scroll down to the comments section and you'll see that the demands are not exactly being well received by the teachers in the crowd (there's a abnormally high proportion of Nazi comparisons in the ranks). I'm not about to pop off with Herr Bloomberg comments, but the demands did strike me as asking for a whole lot without much inclination to give anything back in return. Normally, that's not the kind of position that leads to happy smiles all around and I can see why both sides are saying that they're at an impasse. So what is the city thinking?

Well, if I had to guess, they're thinking that they hold all of the cards. And they may even be right.

Here's how things look to someone not directly involved or with a personal stake in the negotiations:
  • The city's budget is extremely tight and cuts need to be made.
  • Layoffs and budget tightenings are happening in households all across the city and country.
  • Teacher salaries have gone through the roof in recent years and they're still asking for more.
  • There are a whole lot of teachers (ATR pool) who are getting paid for not teaching.
  • There are another group of teachers (the rubber room) who shouldn't be teaching but are still getting paid to not teach.
  • Mayor Bloomberg has done a good job with the schools.
Now, you can argue many of these points, but the fact is that the city has already won most of those fights in the public sphere. The PR battle is over and the union has lost. They're now negotiating for raises when many are looking at layoffs. They're negotiating to protect the salaries of teachers who aren't teaching at a time when the city is looking to impose fiscal discipline. They have been painted for years as a special interest group that will now be opposing the well-regarded school leadership of the Mayor.

No wonder they're going for it all.

The fact is, the city is risking very little by holding firm to their demands because they are confident that the public will back them up. So they win more PR points against the union by sticking to their guns and "standing up for what's right for our city." Then, when through arbitration they don't get everything they want, they win even more PR points by being able to turn the union's victories into examples of them screwing the city at the expense of themselves.

I'm not saying they're right. I am saying, they're sitting in a pretty good spot right now.


Philip Nobile said...

"There are another group of teachers (the rubber room) who shouldn't be teaching but are still getting paid to not teach."

This comment is simply dumb: Almost all rubber room teachers,including me, are WAITING for investigations or hearing to be completed. Many are returned to schools when the allegations are not substantiated. Others win their hearings.

Your rush to judgment is disgraceful. Please retract.

John said...


Before we get into throwing around terms like "dumb" and "disgraceful", let's look at what I'm actually trying to say.

The point I'm making in that section of the post is that the city has won the PR battles on each of those issues. The rubber room is a great example of that. You're absolutely right that the people in the room haven't been proved to have done anything wrong and, as such, are presumed to be innocent. Or at least that should be the presumption. But is that the way it's being viewed as the public watches these negotiations take place? My sense is no. If you don't believe me, go up to people the next time you're on the subway. Tell them that you're in the DOE's rubber room and see how they respond. Fair or not, the assumptions are out there.

Obviously negotiations are a tough thing and there are multiple sides to each of the contractual sticking points. The point I tried to make in my post is that the city has won the PR battle on each of those points and they think that will give them the upper hand in the negotiations.

I won't ask you to retract your comment because I appreciate the chance to explain myself a little more fully. Thanks for reading.

SupportKidsnotAdults said...

Good commentary John!

Philip - rubber rooms and the ATR are a waste of my tax money. It's crazy to pay you to sit and wait. You should be suspended without pay until your investigation is done and you are proven innocent or guilty, but let's face it, most of these teachers are guilty of something...

If you're innocent, then give you backpay. Until then, don't complain about waiting around in a room doing nothing while you collect a paycheck. Easiest unemployment ever - atleast real unemployment they make you look for a job!

Philip Nobile said...

I got the obvious PR point of your post. But you sounded like Steve Brill when you condemned rubber roomers like me who haven't had a chance to answer charges. Thanks to your clarification all is forgiven.

Matthew said...

John and Phillip,

As a NYC public school parent and taxpayer my interest in the success of my (and all our) children's educational outcomes balances my concerns for fiscal restraint at a time when the City is clearly not as flush as before.

Phillip, to John's point the Mayor has won this battle. While I often question whether the rise in test scores is truly an indication of improved educational outcomes, most voters and pundits in the chattering classes do not.

As tax payers many of us see the salaries and benefits that UFT members get as generous in this day and age (and mind you I am married to someone who is a F-status position, so I am indirectly feeding at this trough.) I am an at will employee in my job, have a defined contribution (not defined benefit) retirement and no more job protections than my 14th amendment rights to due process and the lawyer I can afford to hire to help me. As humiliating as you may find the rubber room, it's more than most workers get, so there is an irony that you don't necessarily 'appreciate' what you have.

By failing to address (effectively) the split between the needs of more senior and new members, the UFT has done all its members a diservice, allowing itself to be painted as out of touch and self-interested. And the people at ICE sure don't help matters.

If the deck is stacked in favor of labor at New York state arbitrations, the union may prevail. But as John says, in the court of public opinion the battle is much harder.

Like John, I am not judging Philip guilty of any crimes. But I'm confident the general public feels little sympathy for the plight of the UFT in these negotiations

Philip Nobile said...

If the UFT has lost public opinion, it's because the UFT has not fought
back. For example, The Teacher has not done a story on rubber room atrocities since 2007. Mulgrew NEVER attacks the school cops (OSI & SCI)for their corrupt investigations. Though he promised a big pushback at yesterday's DA, I wonder how committed he is to the defense of us

John said...


Couldn't have said it better myself.


You're right, the UFT has not done a good job fighting back. They let the DOE define the battleground and then act surprised when it doesn't favor them. Frankly, if I were them, I wouldn't want to talk about the rubber room at all. It's too easy for the DOE (or the Post) to caricature the union's position on that one. Half of winning a PR battle is making sure it's on territory and using terms that favor you. The DOE has done this very well. The UFT has not.


Philip Nobile said...

The DOE's slant on rubber rooms reminds me of Orwell's critique of political language as "designed to make lies sound truthful ... and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind."

You underestimate the ease with which the UFT could refute the the lies of the DOE and Post.

Mulgrew need only borrow the very smart posts on Chaz School Daze, Accountable Talk, and the ICE blog.