Monday, May 26, 2014

Mr. Talk Predicts: 2014 Contract Passes in a Landslide

It's been a while since I've made any predictions on this blog. It used to be my trademark, kind of, until the agenda of the Unity folks became so transparent that just about anyone could predict what they would do next. Still, I pull out the old swami hat on occasion when the need arises, and I think we're there with this proposed contract. People want to know whether this contract will pass.

Mr. Talk predicts: Yes. Yes it will. In fact, it will be a landslide victory (for Mulgrew, but not for teachers). It will be at least 75% in favor.

There are several things that lead me to this conclusion:

Most teachers don't even know what an ATR is. Really. Ask around your school. You'll be amazed at the level of ignorance of educated people regarding what's happening to their peers. While I'm not a chapter leader, many teachers come to me to ask about union matters, because I know more than most actual CLs and people trust me. I remember telling one teacher friend of mine about ATRs. She was surprised that the union could allow this to happen, but she wasn't concerned because she believed it could only happen if you were a lousy teacher. A few months later, she was brought up on absolutely trumped up charges, fined, and told never to darken the doors of our school again. She has been in limbo ever since, despite being quite a good teacher. To sum up, most teachers think like my old friend. If they even know what an ATR is, they believe it can't happen to them. Until it does.

This contract is better than most teachers thought it would be. Since the 2005 contract disaster, most people who understand the union believed that the 2014 contract would cheat us out of the 4 + 4% increases that all other municipal unions got. Even those who know nothing about the union assumed that money was a lost cause. And although I hate to admit it, even the venerable Mrs. Talk thought I was crazy when I said we'd get it for sure. Not to brag about my fortune telling skills, but I predicted before the election of de Blasio that the new mayor would shoot for a long term contract. I thought it would be 7 years, with increases of 4, 4, 0, 0, 1, 2, 2. I wasn't far off. The new mayor had to make such a deal, because there was no way he could break the pattern. That would have meant chaos when dealing with the 150 other unions waiting for their new deal. By giving us the 4 + 4 we were owed and giving us crap for the rest of the years, the city could claim (rightly) that they didn't break the pattern and then impose the new low pattern on the rest of the unions. This is exactly what happened, except it was stretched to 9 years, with 7 years of below inflation raises.

Since expectations were so low, getting the 8% back money, as well as some money going forward, will entice many teachers to vote yes.

There's a bribe included. Just check yes on your ballot, and win $1,000 immediately, just in time to put it towards your summer vacations! In a way, this is the most cynical, despicable part of the contract. It won't be part of our permanent salaries, it likely isn't pensionable, and it's designed to push teachers in straitened circumstances to approve this contract.

The "Back of the Line" Myth. Mulgrew and his minions claim that if this contract is rejected, our union will go to the back of the line and have to wait until all other unions have settled. Many teachers believe this, but it's absurd. First of all, does anyone really believe that de Blasio wants to deal with the PBA or the Firefighter's union before he settles with us? Those are pretty strong unions with binding arbitration. If they set a higher pattern than teachers are getting, it would be a disaster for de Blasio. Secondly, we have experience here. The membership rejected a contract in 1995, and it was settled about 6 months later, if I recall correctly. Finally, even if the myth is true, what of it? You're going to have to wait for the vast majority of your money until 2016, when it will begin trickling in, and you won't get the full amount owed you until 2020. Even if de Blasio foolishly puts us at the end of the line, the line itself doesn't extend until 2020.

You think you might get some of that juicy "totally not merit pay" money. Yes, you're a great teacher. Many of you probably deserve the title of master teacher. But you won't get the job. Not unless you are the favorite of your principal or are willing to brown nose your way to the top.

We'll get murdered in the press as "greedy" teachers if we reject this contract. I hear this one all the time. Whenever someone offers me this argument about how the press will crucify us if we do/don't do something, I have to ask myself--does this person even READ the papers? The NY Daily News and the Post crucify us every day. Both rags recently harped on the "teacher" and the EMT who had been busted for selling heroin. Here's the opening paragraph from the Daily News:

A Fire Department EMT and his gal pal, a city teacher, were busted for peddling heroin and prescription drugs during a police sting operation, officials said.

It sounds as if this "gal pal" was teaching by day and dealing by night, doesn't it? What you don't learn until you dig down to the bottom of the article, is that this woman has not taught in SIX YEARS, and when she did, she taught as a sub for a total of TWO DAYS. But why pass on the opportunity to smear teachers? The NYDN and the Post never do. Are we really afraid that they're going to say bad things about us this late in the game?

We finally lose the 37.5 minutes of small group instruction. Yes, but it's reconfigured as PD. You can bet that these long, long PD sessions will be used to give you new mandates that you'll be told to carry out. You'll be begging for those kids back in short order.

We can't do any better than the current contract. Now, this one I almost believe. Given that the union has had years to formulate a plan and a union friendly mayor to deal with, it's hard to understand how we ended up with this turd of a proposal. I have little faith that Mulgrew could do any better if we sent him back to the negotiating table.

I am one of the few folks who would probably benefit by voting yes for this proposal. I am of retirement age now, and thus assured of a higher pension as well as getting my back pay, eventually. Yet, I'd never vote for a contract that sold some of our members down the river, nor would I vote for a de facto merit pay contract that would pit teacher against teacher.

But 75% of you will. You heard it here first.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

UPDATED: Retirement Disincentive, Part II?


It took some digging, but I finally found  a definitive answer about whether those who retire AFTER June 30, 2014 will receive a pension based on the 4+4 that is not being paid out in full to in service members until 2020:

Pending ratification, the contract provides that members who retire on or before June 30, 2014, will receive payment in full for the retroactive raises in one lump sum. Members who retire on or after July 1, 2014, will be paid the retroactive money on the same schedule as in-service members: beginning Oct. 1, 2015, and ending Oct. 1, 2020. In both cases, the pension calculation at the time of retirement will include the entire 8 percent rate increase arising from 2009 and 2010 and any other pay increases that occurred during a member’s employment.


Something just struck me about the way the proposed UFT contract deals with retirement. I hope I am wrong--if anyone knows, please reply in the comments.

Yesterday, I posted how someone like myself, or anyone else set to retire in the next few years, will have to wait for retro pay as if we were in service, thus creating a disincentive to retire. The more I thought about it, the worse it became. You see, pension is based on your FAS, or Final Average Salary, which is generally the average of your salary for the final three years you worked. Here's what the union's FAQ says about that:

You will receive your full retroactive pay in a lump sum only if you retire on or before June 30, 2014. If you retire after that date, you will receive your retroactive pay on the same schedule as in-service employees. Retroactive raises would be included in the calculation of final average salary.

OK...that's fine if you've already retired. But what if, like me, you're eligible to retire AFTER June 30? What exactly does this line mean: Retroactive raises would be included in the calculation of final average salary.?

So if you retire before June 30 and your FAS is 100K (which is likely, since that's the highest salary), then your retirement benefits will be increased to reflect the retro money, i.e., your FAS will be 108K. This will increase one's pension about 4K a year (50% of the 8K). That's great.

But if you retire AFTER June 30? That part is unclear. Yes, you will receive the retro money over time like everyone else. But how will your pension be calculated? Will your FAS be 100K or 108K?

It's not a small question. That 4K difference would add up to a LOT of money over time. A person enjoying a 25 year retirement would enjoy it a whole lot less, because they would lose 100K over that time period.

So, does anyone know the answer? For those of us who must retire after June 30, will the retro be figured into the FAS? Or will we be screwed out of the money?

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Retirement Disincentive

Before the proposed UFT contract came out, there were whispers that may the city would offer retirement credit instead of retro money. This made sense, because the extra credit would allow teachers to retire in droves, saving the city a bundle in salary. So, of course, this is not what happened.

Instead, when the contract was first announced, there were other whispers that anyone who chose to retire before July 1, 2015 would get the retro money in a lump sum payment instead of having to wait 5 years after their retirements. This would have caused people like myself to retire, saving the city money without having to give pension credit. This also made sense, so, of course, this is not what happened, either.

Here is what did happen, according the UFT site:
Those who retire on or before June 30, 2014 will receive full retroactive pay for time worked in a lump sum. Those who retire after June 30, 2014 and employees who have been continuously employed and are in active service as of the date of the payout will receive retroactive pay in five lump-sum payments of roughly 12.5 percent in October 2015, 12.5 percent in October 2017, 25 percent in October 2018, 25 percent in October 2019 and 25 percent in October 2020.

The problem for people like myself is that I was born in the summer, and so I won't have the age to retire for a few months after the deadline. Something tells me that putting in my papers before the deadline won't count, even though I've had my final consultation.

Speaking of which, given the time constraints, how many people will be able to retire in time to grab that lump sum? I'd be willing to bet that all the slots for final consultations were filled long ago, so the only people who will end up retiring this year will be the ones who already intended to. So instead of giving the highest salaried teachers a reason to retire, the city and UFT have actually created a retirement disincentive--we may as well hang around long enough to get the higher final average salary upon which our retirement allowance is based.

What the city and UFT should have done was agree that anyone retiring before 2020 would receive whatever retro they were owed in a lump sum upon retirement. That would give the highest salaried teachers an incentive to leave, thus saving the city money.

I was already ambivalent about retiring this year. The prospect of getting the retro money up front really pushed me towards the door. Now, I'm not so sure.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

"No" Problem

The sentiments on the blogosphere, Twitter, and Facebook regarding the proposed new contract are pretty clear. Most members don't like this contract proposal. I don't either, and the main reason for my disdain is the treatment of ATRs. If unions don't protect their weakest members, what good are they?

To be honest, if not for the ATR proposal, which will lead to the termination of many fine teachers, I would likely vote in favor of this contract. Not because I like it, but I know that voting no presents a problem.

The last, and only, time teachers voted down a contract was in 1995. Being an old timer, I remember when this happened. If you want all the details, you can read Kit Wainer's account on the Ed Notes blog. The tl;dr  of it is simply this: We voted down the contract, and were given another proposal that was only slightly less odious than the one we turned down. It sailed through the second time.

The current proposal faces the same "No" problem. If we vote it down, what will be the outcome? Will we get more money? I doubt it. Maybe the city would agree to move one of the retro payments up a year, or the $1000 signing bribe would become a $1200 signing bribe, but that would be about all we'd get. And the revised contract would sail through, just as it did in 1995.

I'm not advising anyone to vote yes for this proposal. I still intend to vote NO myself. But let's not kid ourselves. Voting down this proposal will not save the ATRs because most teachers don't even know what an ATR is, much less give a damn about saving them. The main concern of most teachers is their own pocketbooks (and in this economic environment, who can blame them?)

So by all means, vote no if that's how you feel, and I hope that is how you feel. But let's not kid ourselves about what the upshot would be. We'd be drawn and quartered in the press, and we'd end up settling for a contract that isn't a whole lot better than the one we're looking at now.

REVISED! Lose Just 9K, Plus Interest, With New Contract!

As I said, I am no math teacher, so I promised to gladly revise my numbers on the new contract if someone could show where I erred. JD2718 did just that, by showing that I neglected to take into account the retro payments the UFT promised for the years 2015-2020. Being a reader of JD's blog, I know he is a math whiz, and I refer my readers to his excellent post on the contract numbers.

Even so, I did show that a teacher at the top of the scale would lose 57K in salary while receiving far less in retro, for a difference of 9K. Even JD has not accounted for the 9K we are losing. I suspect, as a non-math teacher, that it is due to compounding, or voodoo, or possibly tree gnomes.

In any case, the 57K difference that I calculated has real consequences, because had we been given the money on time, we'd have been able to sock much of it away in TDA, which pays 7%, or some other investment which would have earned us more money than we are going to get.

In all likelihood, I'd have spent a fair amount of that money on Girl Scout Cookies, so this contract also hurts another great American institution.

I will delete my prior post, as I don't want to mislead anyone as to the real numbers. I will, however, repost the chart I made before to show where the shortfall comes from. Thanks JD, and if we ever meet, the Girl Scout Thin Mints are on me.

Salary Year
Salary with Frontloading
Salary with Backloading

Friday, May 2, 2014

Mr. Talk Weighs In on the Contract

Now that the new proposed contract has been analyzed (and given the stamp of approval by the New York Post), the REAL question that I'm sure has been burning in your minds bobs to the surface, namely:

What does Mr. Talk think about all this?

I'm glad you asked. Personally, I think it's great for people like me who are on the verge of retirement. We get to walk out the door with a decent increase and we will receive our retroactive payments immediately, unlike the vast majority of teachers who can't retire and will have to wait until 2020 to get all the money that Bloomberg stiffed us on.

I'm still voting no.

I'd vote no for any contract that sells out our members, and this one hangs the ATRs out to dry. There was no reason why ATRs couldn't have simply been sent back to the classroom and evaluated based upon the same criteria as the rest of us. Instead, the UFT decided to make it relatively easy to fire ATRs at the whim of principals who don't want to have a veteran's salary on their payroll.

There's lots more not to like here. The retro pay really isn't retro pay: if you get paid more in future years, that's a raise, not retro. Unless you retire, you will have to work another four years to see all that money. I hate the de facto merit pay and the stealth charter schools that are being created by "relaxing" contract rules (will YOUR school be chosen? Who knows?).

There are a few more things I don't like that I haven't seen discussed much elsewhere. If anyone can enlighten on these points, please do.

  • It seems we will NOT be getting interest on the "retro" money. If that money had gone into our TDAs like it should have back in 2009, we'd be earning 7% on it. Instead, your "retro" money will be LOSING value because it's not earning that interest and inflation will continue to gnaw away at it before you ever see a penny. 
  • While there we some adjustments made to the evaluation system, the burden of proof at a 3020 termination hearing is still on teachers. In other words, if you are found ineffective, you will have to prove, somehow, that you are not or be fired. This should have been addressed in the new contract
  • Artifacts are gone. While I hate that word, artifacts were one of the few ways teachers had of demonstrating that they were effective. While I know that compiling artifacts was a pain in the ass, it at least gave us ONE way to counter bogus evaluations. Now that is gone.
  • Campbell Brown and E4E both got their way in this contract. Brown has apparently succeeded in persuading the DOE that they need to get tougher with teachers who abuse children, even when there is absolutely no proof that any abuse has taken place. E4E got their merit pay. This all proves that if you have big money backing you, you can get the union to bend over.
  • It appears we will all be given a "new curriculum" that we will be forced to teach, even if it stinks on ice (and it will).
The only positive things I've found in the contract are 1. that sabbaticals are apparently still in place, and 2. the 37.5 minutes of faux instruction is history (but I'm reserving judgment on this one until I see what they replace it with and how much paperwork it will involve).

So, weighing the positive against the negative, there's only one thing to do. I don't mean voting "no"--that will make no difference whatsoever as this POS contract will sail through. What you should do is retire.

That's my plan. See you in Florida.