The UFT’s Arbitration Victory

Oct 13, 2020 by

The UFT’s arbitration triumph was also,as usual, a victory for the rule of law.

An independent arbitrator ruled last week that the City cannot renege on its legal obligation, negotiated almost a dozen years ago, to pay teachers retroactive money that they are owed.

The City had argued that its pandemic-triggered financial straits precluded its ability to make good on this particular debt and this burden should override its commitment to do so.

The teachers union, extraordinarily patient, would not, however, allow this issue to be dragged out even longer and instantly went to arbitration, where a favorable decision was rendered around a day later.

The merits of the case were perfectly clear: they practically screamed off the page on which they were delineated.

Better late than never.  Better immediate satisfaction than protracted process. But best of all, would have been the City not insulting teachers in the first place.

Had the arbitrator upheld the City, it would not only have been a judicial travesty in this case, but would have given the City the green light in the future to chance citing it as precedent-setting.

Unique among city employees, our public school teachers have a history of bailing out the city from its economic woes. Even risking dissension within their ranks, they have shown and acted on the courage to see “the big picture”.

But time and again the City has bit the hand that fed them. Teachers have played fair but refuse to be played.

To scare the union out of pursuing justice for its members, the DOE threatened to immediately lay off thousand of teachers at a time when they have already acknowledged a worsening teacher shortage.  The engine of every school is fueled by its staff and institutions of learning, like cars, don’t run on empty, no matter how you try to cajole them into doing so.

With reality staring them in the face, the City blinked by conceding that there are to be no layoffs this school year after all.

It’s regrettable that the City had to be forced into compliance. Their initial refusal may not have been driven by maliciousness, but certainly it contained an element of disrespect.

And it was reckless.

Ron Isaac

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