Labor Pains: Because Being in a Union can be Painful

Skepticism Abounds on NYC Teachers Union Deal

AFT Times Square BillboardThe conventional wisdom on the recent deal between New York City and Michael Mulgrew’s United Federation of Teachers (UFT) is that it was a good compromise for both parties. Mulgrew agreed to some concessions on work rules and the UFT got some (but not all) of the “back pay” it wanted.

However, when the UFT spent over $250,000 on independent expenditures to elect NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio, one must wonder how effective the fox will be at guarding the henhouse. Early returns from the city’s editorial boards suggest the answer is “not very.”

One New York Daily News editorial warns:

The mayor’s generosity to UFT President Michael Mulgrew can be seen in only two ways: First, as a down payment on political support. Second, as proof that de Blasio holds a fairy-tale belief that labor harmony will prompt teachers to up their games, thus improving student learning.


Never in history has this happened. And it will not happen now, as certified by Mulgrew’s admission that he deliberately “gummed up” former Mayor Bloomberg’s drive to hold teachers accountable for raising achievement.

The Wall Street Journal editors judged the deal even more harshly, noting, “New York taxpayers will pay more for less teacher accountability and less reform.”

Meanwhile, the question of exactly how much taxpayers will be on the hook for is open. The deal announcement called for $1 billion in unspecified healthcare savings, but UFT President Mulgrew vowed on a conference call with members: “We don’t want any [healthcare] premium being paid at this point.” In other words, nobody really knows where the savings will come from—and whether Mulgrew will acquiesce to higher costs for his members.

Given the history of this particular union, early optimism may prove unfounded. Since the early 2000s, Randi Weingarten (Mulgrew’s boss) has unmade Democrats who tried to make substantive reforms in New York City and Washington, D.C., and she has taken aim at Rhode Island next. The question stands: If former union favorite de Blasio pushes through the reforms in the contract (as tepid as they are), will he get the same treatment?

Categories: AFL-CIOAFTTeachers Unions