Two weeks ago following the announcement that the DOE and UFT had come to terms on a contract agreement, I immediately went up with this post. Breaking down each part of the proposed contract, I felt it was clear that this was a bad deal and that I and everyone else should vote no. I still see the same problems with the deferred money, bad pattern, and givebacks (particularly as it relates to the ATRs), but as I began tweeting the past few days I am starting to wonder what happens if we are successful in voting this down. When I first read this deal, and after the disgusting display by Unity at the Delegate Assembly, I was 95% certain this thing was passing. Now I do still think it will pass, but I definitely do not believe it is a sure thing. 90% of the teachers in my school say they plan to vote no, and 90% of what I hear on Facebook and twitter are no votes, but this could just be the people I associate with. I have no idea what is happening in the functional chapters, elementary schools, Queens, Staten Island, and all the other strong Unity bases.
Still, if we do succeed in getting it voted down, I want to know what our next step is. Reality Based Educator did a post on this same topic over the weekend and I was honestly very disheartened by the comment section. No one seems to have any reasonable answer for how to make sure we get a better contract, and instead just chose to attack anyone who questioned the vote no plan. Getting a contract voted down can certainly be the first step towards a better contract, but if we are not careful it can also be the first step towards waiting a very long time for a contract, or getting an even worse one. The key players in this fight will be the rank and file teachers (of course), the UFT leadership, Mayor de Blasio, our local media, and the other NYC Unions. Now call me cynical, but I am looking at that group and the only ones who seem to have a strong interest in getting us a better deal are the rank and file, and the other NYC Unions. Here is why:
1) The Media - I am starting with the easiest one. Almost every local media outlet in NYC has attacked teachers for years. Many of them are shills for the reform movement, and they have all already turned on our current deal. They want a deal that is way more reformy, and looks like the abysmal contracts we have seen in Newark, Baltimore, and DC. Michelle Rhee also thinks are new contract doesn't have enough reform in it (although I am not sure anyone cares what she thinks these days). The Post claims that there are still too many protections for teachers and ATRs and even called the contract "satanic" (seriously click on the link if you think I am being facetious). They also believe we deserve even less money then we are getting not more.
2) Mayor de Blasio - Now de Blasio certainly has a mixed track record as mayor so far, but one thing is definitely certain, he has been far less politically savvy as Mayor than when he ran his campaign, and really wants to get those approval ratings up. The media killed de Blasio in the charter wars against Eva and eventually he caved. (I partially blame the UFT for this, because we should have backed him on this and instead left him high and dry). So despite what many people think, I believe de Blasio will side with the media on this if the contract fails. The UFT barely supported him in the election, didn't support him against Eva/Cuomo, and will make him look like a fool again when this deal fails. He might decide it is better for him to suddenly take a tough stance, and only give us raises for further concessions.
3) The UFT Leadership - If Mulgrew is sent back to the bargaining table by the rank-and-file of course he can spin it as a big victory for him and The Unity Caucus because he can claim that he got us an even better deal than the first one. The problem is, this current deal is as much Mulgrew (and likely Randi) as it is de Blasio. If the contract fails, Mulgrew looks really bad in the media, and it clearly is as much a referendum on him as it is on the contract. (I know many people voting no, more on lack of trust in the Union at this point, than on any particular issue in the deal). So who is to say that Mulgrew doesn't get us an even worse deal, to then turn it all back on us? A bunch of "I told you so", and "I got us the best deal possible, and those evil lying bloggers ruined it by getting you to vote no". So maybe just maybe, Mulgew doesn't push for a better deal. Maybe he caves to help himself politically, and screws us all in the process. (After all, him and most of the UFT leadership are so far removed from the classroom that they really don't give a damn about what we are going through.)
4) The other unions in NYC - Now this is a group that definitely does want to see our contract voted down, and a better deal and pattern to come out of this. After the 4+4% that we were owed anyways, we really are setting a bad precedent with 10% raises over 7 years. The question is, how do we get these other unions to back us (or to back each other) when our UFT leadership has thrown everyone else under the bus time and time again? Working with the other unions and putting up a united front would go a long way towards securing a better deal, but how do we accomplish this? We should have extended an olive branch to our union brothers and sisters across the city a long time ago, and and work with them, rather than in isolation.
5) The rank and file - Of course we the teachers of NYC have the most to gain from a better contract. Despite what some astro turf groups claim, most teachers would take stronger protections for all members (including ATRs), real improvements to the evaluation system, smaller class sizes, and better raises for this current round, over merit pay and increased PD any day. So my question is this? How do we push for this better deal? What specific issues are we most concerned with and willing to fight for? What are we willing to concede? (because it is certainly wishful thinking that we will just get everything we want and more money, by saying no).
I wrote this post, not to be an alarmist or spread the Michael Mulgrew message of (we vote no and go to the back of the line), but rather to be pragmatic about the whole thing. If this contract really does get voted down then we need to have a specific action plan to make things better or the whole thing blows up in our face. Worst case scenario is we end up with an even worse contract, the reformers and media get their way, and Mulgrew comes out looking even better for the next election. Best case scenario is we get a better contract, more respect, the UFT opposition grows stronger for the next election, and we build bridges with our union brothers and sisters. (That is a pretty big gap if you ask me so we better make sure we get the latter rather than the former). In order to make this a win...
We need to find a way to take back the message from the media and the politicians. (Teachers are not greedy, or resistant to change, we just want fair pay and the type of change that we know in our hearts is best for our students).
We need to work with the other unions to show the mayor, and the media that a fair deal is not just best for us it is the best for our city. We are the backbone of NYC and without a vibrant middle class that can afford the outrageous cost of living this city is doomed.
We need to find a way to work with the mayor and not against him. We should show him that we can be a strong political ally but only if he is willing to work with us and listen too us.
Finally, we need to get parents and students on our side. Parents are becoming a stronger voice in education everyday, but we need to make our issues their issues. Most parents get their information on education from the media that attacks us daily, they see some of the things that hurts their children (like over testing, common core, and large classes). We need to build off that momentum and again build bridges.
So what does everyone out there think? Is there any chance this deal gets voted down? If it does, what would you need changed to vote yes on the next one? How can we be sure that the next deal is better and not worse?