UFT Members: There’s a 0% Chance We Vote Yes to 3%!

 UFT Members: There’s a 0% Chance We Vote Yes to 3%!

Inflation is out of control. Educators, who have never made enough to begin with, know this acutely. We feel it while stocking up at the grocery store and while searching for even the most modest apartments. We feel it while trying to buy a used car or while saving for the college education of our children. Everything costs more, except apparently the labor of educators. That’s why “fair pay with raises we deserve and pay parity” is the first of United for Change’s big 5 contract demands. 

We can turn to the mayor himself to paint a picture of the gravity of our financial situation. In 2007, when then NY-Senator Eric Adams gave his infamous “Show me the money” speech, he told an audience of New Yorkers that $79 thousand isn’t enough to live on. Flash forward almost two decades later and that same figure is worth $115,000 – almost the top salary for DOE teachers ($128,657 with a Masters +30). Starting teachers today make $61,847, worth only $42,271 in 2007 dollars. That’s about half the figure Adams was calling poverty wages. And, because it takes teachers twenty-two years to reach top salary—(police, in sharp contrast, make theirs after 5 ½)—it takes new teachers decades to make a reasonable wage. For paraprofessionals, the situation is even more bleak. With starting paras making $27,920 – but a fourth of Adams’s poverty figure in 2007 dollars ($19,083), and with senior paras never exceeding the wages of first year teachers, career-long paraprofessionals never make close to a living wage.

Today, Adams is on the other side of the negotiating table. While he and Chancellor Banks hire each other’s romantic partners to make absurd salaries of which New York UFT members could only dream, all Adams is likely to offer us is a measly 3% to 3.5% increase per year. 

Yet, Mulgrew’s Unity-led UFT has told us to accept the pattern. Indeed, when it was being set, they did nothing to stop it. At contract meetings, they’ve told us that asking for cost-of-living adjustments is ‘political’ – that it doesn’t necessarily match how unions negotiate salary increases. At the Brooklyn contract rally of May 24th, chants of ‘3% is not enough!’ were suppressed by union leaders making salaries of $200,000 and $300,000+. ‘Stay on message!’ they countered, redirecting rank-and-file unionists to demand vague changes to working conditions. 

Easy for them to say. Yes, we need changes to working conditions. But we also need to survive. Inflation is astronomical. Social Security adjusted their COLA increases at 5.9% for 2022 and 8.7% for 2023. And yet for New York City municipal workers, we’re likely to get a pay increase lower than the mostly non-unionized national average. But, in cities where unions fight, raises are far higher. Los Angeles, for instance, whose teacher union does not argue that its members should lack the right to strike, just got 21% increases over a three year period. We don’t have to accept 16.21% over five years (roughly 3% per year), because we know we’re worth more than that.

We can do better. We can vote no, regroup, use real union negotiating tactics to fight for the raises we deserve, and get a contract worth a yes vote.