I was a newly elected chapter leader in 2014, and I remember having to tell members in my building over and over that the retro pay agreement is better than not getting what Bloomberg denied us, but it is really nothing to celebrate either. We worked without a contract from 2009 to 2014 because the Bloomberg administration would not negotiate in good faith and made at will employment a condition for a contract for educators. The 2014 contract was never really going to ‘make us whole’ as the loyalty oath bound Unity Caucus representatives claimed. Waiting six more years for what you’ve earned, which no other city union had to do, is not a victory, and the police and firefighters’ unions were angry at the UFT for accepting such paltry raises that it weakened their own ability to ask for just compensation.
In the six and a half years since the ratification of that 2014 contract, some teachers missed out on their retro pay because they retired or died before making it to October 2020. Those who risked their health and safety to come in to unsafe buildings in September 2020 were rewarded for it with a condescending last minute email from deputy mayor Dean Fuleihan informing the UFT that the city was not going to make good on the last retro payment, citing the pandemic and budget deficit with no word as to when the final payment would take place. Again, no other city union was treated this way because they got contracts earlier and received their retro in full, not spread out over six years_like teachers- so the city can get as many teachers off the payroll as possible before it is obligated to pay up.
The UFT took the matter to arbitration, and the city is ordered to pay half of what is due by October 31st and the rest at the end of July. I remain skeptical that the money will actually be there in our bank accounts October 31st and will believe it if and only if I see it, because there is no confirmation from UFT leadership that this agreement is binding. The UFT’s Facebook page has also let members know that there is nothing they can do about the fact that many educators who maxed out their TDA for October as TRS’ email advised them to do will have a very reduced paycheck on October 15th. Many paraprofessionals who took that advice will be going home with less than $500.
Predictably, the UFT’s Unity Caucus leadership is hailing this as a great victory and saying this shows how well the UFT stands up and fights for its members. We at UFT Solidarity continue to pay our dues and support our union, but we are under no illusion that a further nine month delay in receiving contractually obligated wages is any kind of victory.
We know that the city’s own expensive and poorly conceived reopening plan, and inept leadership and corruption and misplaced priorities across the board, created the fiscal hole which the deputy mayor used to justify an attempt to throw UFT members under the bus. We are well aware what two terms of attempting to win favors from the De Blasio administration, who thinks so little of us that he couldn’t even tell us himself that he’s trying to evade on time payment, has gotten us.
We will continue to fight for our members as we struggle to survive a pandemic,an economic crisis. The city has no regard for us. The UFT leadership that thinks it can escape blame by barely putting up a fight while the city puts us in danger has no regard for us. The city tries to evade its obligations to us. We will not forget what current UFT leadership has done and failed to do when it comes time to vote in 2022. Until then, solidarity with all the hard-working and underappreciated educators of New York City.