DC 37 Settles, Impasse in City Talks with UFT

By Peter Hogness

CLARION

MAY 2001

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DC 37 Settles, Impasse in City Talks with UFT

Ray Markey Talks About the Librarians' Contract

TRS Mess

 

To the surprise of many, Mayor Giuliani and AFSCME DC 37 announced a tentative contract settlement on April 11, covering over 100,000 city employees. Days later, the 500 librarians of the New York Public Library Guild made headlines when they won an additional raise. But talks between the city and public school teachers seemed headed in the opposite direction: An impasse was declared and the resulting mediation process might last for months, perhaps even to the end of Giuliani’s final term.

The agreement with District Council 37, made up of 56 different locals, calls for a 27-month contract with increases of 4% in the first year, another 4% in the second and 1% in the final three months for an “equity fund” that each bargaining unit will decide how to distribute. Since DC 37’s previous contract expired in March 2000, the 27-month agreement will have little more than a year to run. Members will thus receive much of their raises in a large retroactive payment.

In addition, a majority of members will see their pay go up by an additional 3%, a result of a change to the public employee pension plans passed last year by the state legislature. The proposed contract also includes a no-layoff clause and improvements in health benefits. (The health and pension gains were secured by the Municipal Labor Committee, a multi-union coalition that includes the PSC.)

UFT bargaining team at April 25 session with mediator.  Armbands say "No Contract = No Respect."

“Sisters and brothers, we have just moved a mountain,” DC 37 Administrator Lee Saunders said in a message to members. When combined with the pension and benefit gains, “the pay raises and no-layoff protection are a monumental achievement for the members of DC 37,” Saunders said, noting that the agreement came “amid daily reports of an economic downturn.”

“We surveyed our members and asked them what they wanted,” DC 37 spokesperson Chris Policano told Clarion. “The top priorities were salary increases, job security, and health benefit improvements—and we got them all.” Policano said the bargaining process had been unusually open: “All 56 local presidents were on the bargaining committee, so they were all in the room,” and he added that a 300-member bargaining caucus was also involved.

DC 37’s last contract was approved in a vote that was later found to be tainted by fraud. Several former DC 37 officials are now in jail as a result, and the episode led AFSCME to appoint Saunders as Administrator. Saunders stated that the vote on this proposed deal would be entirely conducted by the American Arbitration Association, “a highly respected, independent outside monitor,” and he stressed that “every member’s vote will count.” The votes had not been tallied when Clarion went to press, but approval by a wide margin was expected.

When the MTA settled with the transit workers union in December 1999, Giuliani had said that the deal—a three-year agreement with raises of 3%, 5% and 4%—“has nothing to do with us.” He insisted that “the overall percentages would be much too high for the city and it would cause significant deficits.” In January 2000, Giuliani declared that city workers would receive no across-the-board increases whatsoever: “That era is over,” he said, explaining that “the city will only agree to merit pay increases.” Both statements proved to be wrong.

“As much as he said the transit settlement wasn’t a marker, it was an absolute marker,” said a source close to the negotiations. “Transit was three and five, ours was four and four. The bargaining committee made it clear from the start that the transit settlement was where we had to be.” Had the contract  gone to binding arbitration, the transit settlement would have played an important role, a fact which strengthened the union’s position.

On merit pay, the city gradually softened its stance during the last year of negotiations, with proposals for tiny across-the-board hikes of one or two percent. The proposed contract does include language on merit pay, but it is limited to the general statement that the city has “the right to pay additional compensation for outstanding performance.” This came after DC 37 rejected an earlier city proposal, which would have specified a structure for merit raises of as much as 7%.

Giuliani hailed the merit pay clause as a major victory, while DC 37 described it as a “tradeoff” in which it had given up very little. Union officials pointed out that most job titles in mayoral agencies already have a range of salary levels.

Who is right? According to the pro-business, anti-union Citizens’ Budget Commission, it’s not Giuliani: “The merit pay language is a toothless, face-saving device,” the CBC concluded in an April 25 op-ed in the Daily News. The CBC, a big booster of merit pay, called the proposed contract “profoundly disappointing,” and complained that “the mayor hasn’t delivered.”

So why did Giuliani cut a deal? One factor, said library union leader Ray Markey, is that “it was possible for Giuliani to give DC 37 a pact that they could accept, but which the teachers and police could not.” Both public school teachers and police have emphasized that their salaries are far below those of their suburban counterparts, and argued that the city must provide large wage increases to remain competitive. Certainly the city will cite the DC 37 deal in an effort to blunt this argument, but the UFT and PBA have already rejected the comparison.

It is unclear whether Giuliani and the UFT can come to an agreement. In March the UFT declared that its talks were at an impasse and on April 6 the state Public Employee Relations Board (PERB) agreed—over the city’s protests. A few sessions have now been held under the auspices of a mediator, a process which could lead to fact-finding and arbitration by a PERB-appointed panel if no agreement is reached.

“The whole process could take about five or six months,” UFT Special Representative Jeff Goldstein told Clarion, “though one side could potentially drag it out.” To the union’s advantage, a PERB panel would look at suburban teacher wages as well as those of other city workers. But unlike the arbitration that DC 37 might have faced, which would have been governed by the city’s collective bargaining law, a PERB panel’s arbitration report is not binding.

Giuliani has also declared his intent to get merit pay language in the teachers’ contract, and UFT President Randi Weingarten has said that this “would be counterproductive.” But the April 25 issue of the UFT’s newspaper indicated that the union would be open to discussion of some new forms of incentive pay. In line with a newly-adopted policy statement of the AFT, a four-page supplement on the topic drew a sharp line between “traditional merit pay,” awarded to individual teachers, and “group incentive pay” that gives more money to workers at an entire school or unit. The latter could be acceptable or even desirable, the paper said, depending on such factors as whether schools are analyzed on a single test or a variety of measures, or whether they are measured against a fixed standard or against their own past performance. A UFT-supported experiment with group incentive pay is now under way in two school districts in Brooklyn.

Though it applies only to a small group of workers, the New York Public Library’s settlement with its librarians made front-page headlines. On top of the 9% increase in the DC 37 pact, librarians in AFSCME Local 1930 won an additional raise of 8% (see p.12). Current pay scales for city librarians are so far below those in the suburbs—or even in the public schools—that the system suffers from huge shortages of trained personnel. The NYPL agreement thus drew sharp interest from other workers whose pay is less than that of their counterparts.

“The bottom line for all of us,” said Local 1930 President Ray Markey, “is [that] to give quality service you have to pay quality wages. If you don’t do that, everybody gets hurt.”