Gotham Gazette Gotham Gazette is an online publication covering New York policy and politics as well as news on public safety, transportation, education, finance and more. http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/michael-mulgrew 2017-10-17T09:39:16+00:00 Webmaster webmaster@gothamgazette.com Children Lose in Faulty Charter School Accounting 2017-09-11T04:00:00+00:00 2017-09-11T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7183:children-lose-in-faulty-charter-school-accounting Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/success_academy_rally_crop.jpg" alt="success academy rally crop" width="600" /></p> <p>A charter school rally (photo: @SuccessAcademy)</p> <hr /> <p>Questions: How do you turn a 25 percent graduation rate into a misleading claim of 100 percent success? When does a school’s 30 percent proficiency rate on an 8th grade reading test translate into the assertion that nearly half of the students passed?</p> <p>Answer: when charter schools do their own accounting, and authorizers allow them to paper over the fact that huge percentages of the children who start in charter schools get driven or eased out.</p> <p>Charters claim that they serve the same children as city public schools, but the truth is that they enroll and keep half the percentage of English Language Learners, dramatically fewer special education students, including those needing the highest level of intervention, and far fewer children who are homeless or in temporary housing.</p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/image001_2.png" alt="district versus charter schools" width="500" height="324" style="display: block; margin-left: auto; margin-right: auto;" /></p> <p>Not content with starting out with more favorable demographics, many charters then rely on student attrition, boosted by draconian discipline strategies, to keep their academic numbers up. In New York City, charters enroll 8% of the students but account for 45% of the suspensions. &nbsp;</p> <p>Suspensions and pressure on students who struggle academically help charter schools force or ease out students with learning difficulties. And unlike regular public schools, charters often leave empty seats vacant.</p> <p>As one charter organization -- Democracy Builders -- noted, when schools refuse to "backfill" or replace students who leave, the result is charters hyping their results (“artificially inflating perceived performance” in Democracy Builder’s <a href="https://democracybuilders.org/no-seat-left-behind-report-view-now/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">words</a>).</p> <p>Here’s how it works.</p> <p>At Success Academy Harlem 1, 73 students began first grade in 2007. By now this class has dwindled to 18 students as they reached the 11th grade. Assuming all 18 stay this year and graduate, Success Academy will no doubt claim a graduation rate of 100 percent. But in fact there are only 18 “survivors” of the original 73; even if all 18 graduate, the school should only take credit for a grad rate of 25 percent of the original cohort.</p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/image002_2.png" alt="Success enrollment" width="500" height="276" style="display: block; margin-left: auto; margin-right: auto;" /></p> <p>The same logic can be applied to test score claims. Teaching Firms of America Professional Prep Charter School in Brooklyn claims that nearly half -- 47 percent -- of its sixth graders were proficient on the most recent state reading test. But that sixth grade class had only 36 students, far short of the 57 students who were in that class in third grade.</p> <p>So counting the vanished children, only 30 percent of the original cohort actually scored proficient on the 2017 reading test, a rate well below the 40 percent passing rate average for all public schools.</p> <p>None of these facts will stop charter propagandists from repeating misleading claims about their schools’ “success.” But charter authorizers, especially the SUNY Charter Schools Committee, need to be considering these issues as charters come up for re-authorization.</p> <p>The committee has recently taken a tougher line against some charters, criticizing the chair of the board of Success Academy, Dan Loeb, for his indefensible statements comparing the actions of State Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins and teachers unions with the KKK.</p> <p>But the committee's recent proposal -- to permit some charter schools to drastically reduce the amount of preparation teachers must undergo in order to be certified – is an ill-considered favor for a sector that has proven itself not only incapable of honest accounting, but also unable to retain a qualified workforce.</p> <p>If charter schools are to perform their original mission -- to act as laboratories of innovation -- it is up to authorizers to ensure that charter schools take seriously their obligation to educate all kinds of children, and to give New York parents a realistic view of both their successes and their failures.</p> <p>*** <br />Michael Mulgrew is the President of the United Federation of Teachers. On Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/UFT" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">@UFT</a>.</p> <p>

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</p> <p>Note: this opinion column has been corrected to reflect that one organization cited is Democracy Builders, not Democracy Prep as originally stated.</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/success_academy_rally_crop.jpg" alt="success academy rally crop" width="600" /></p> <p>A charter school rally (photo: @SuccessAcademy)</p> <hr /> <p>Questions: How do you turn a 25 percent graduation rate into a misleading claim of 100 percent success? When does a school’s 30 percent proficiency rate on an 8th grade reading test translate into the assertion that nearly half of the students passed?</p> <p>Answer: when charter schools do their own accounting, and authorizers allow them to paper over the fact that huge percentages of the children who start in charter schools get driven or eased out.</p> <p>Charters claim that they serve the same children as city public schools, but the truth is that they enroll and keep half the percentage of English Language Learners, dramatically fewer special education students, including those needing the highest level of intervention, and far fewer children who are homeless or in temporary housing.</p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/image001_2.png" alt="district versus charter schools" width="500" height="324" style="display: block; margin-left: auto; margin-right: auto;" /></p> <p>Not content with starting out with more favorable demographics, many charters then rely on student attrition, boosted by draconian discipline strategies, to keep their academic numbers up. In New York City, charters enroll 8% of the students but account for 45% of the suspensions. &nbsp;</p> <p>Suspensions and pressure on students who struggle academically help charter schools force or ease out students with learning difficulties. And unlike regular public schools, charters often leave empty seats vacant.</p> <p>As one charter organization -- Democracy Builders -- noted, when schools refuse to "backfill" or replace students who leave, the result is charters hyping their results (“artificially inflating perceived performance” in Democracy Builder’s <a href="https://democracybuilders.org/no-seat-left-behind-report-view-now/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">words</a>).</p> <p>Here’s how it works.</p> <p>At Success Academy Harlem 1, 73 students began first grade in 2007. By now this class has dwindled to 18 students as they reached the 11th grade. Assuming all 18 stay this year and graduate, Success Academy will no doubt claim a graduation rate of 100 percent. But in fact there are only 18 “survivors” of the original 73; even if all 18 graduate, the school should only take credit for a grad rate of 25 percent of the original cohort.</p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/image002_2.png" alt="Success enrollment" width="500" height="276" style="display: block; margin-left: auto; margin-right: auto;" /></p> <p>The same logic can be applied to test score claims. Teaching Firms of America Professional Prep Charter School in Brooklyn claims that nearly half -- 47 percent -- of its sixth graders were proficient on the most recent state reading test. But that sixth grade class had only 36 students, far short of the 57 students who were in that class in third grade.</p> <p>So counting the vanished children, only 30 percent of the original cohort actually scored proficient on the 2017 reading test, a rate well below the 40 percent passing rate average for all public schools.</p> <p>None of these facts will stop charter propagandists from repeating misleading claims about their schools’ “success.” But charter authorizers, especially the SUNY Charter Schools Committee, need to be considering these issues as charters come up for re-authorization.</p> <p>The committee has recently taken a tougher line against some charters, criticizing the chair of the board of Success Academy, Dan Loeb, for his indefensible statements comparing the actions of State Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins and teachers unions with the KKK.</p> <p>But the committee's recent proposal -- to permit some charter schools to drastically reduce the amount of preparation teachers must undergo in order to be certified – is an ill-considered favor for a sector that has proven itself not only incapable of honest accounting, but also unable to retain a qualified workforce.</p> <p>If charter schools are to perform their original mission -- to act as laboratories of innovation -- it is up to authorizers to ensure that charter schools take seriously their obligation to educate all kinds of children, and to give New York parents a realistic view of both their successes and their failures.</p> <p>*** <br />Michael Mulgrew is the President of the United Federation of Teachers. On Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/UFT" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">@UFT</a>.</p> <p>

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</p> <p>Note: this opinion column has been corrected to reflect that one organization cited is Democracy Builders, not Democracy Prep as originally stated.</p>
Charter Schools Can't Suspend Their Way to Success 2017-04-25T04:00:00+00:00 2017-04-25T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6891:charter-schools-can-t-suspend-their-way-to-success Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/mulgrew-classroom.jpg" alt="mulgrew classroom" width="600" height="416" /></p> <p>Michael Mulgrew, the author (photo: UFT)</p> <hr /> <p>Children who miss 20 or more days of school in New York City have lost so much instruction time that they are classified as chronically absent, which studies have linked to lower test scores and higher dropout rates.</p> <p>So it is hard to see the educational purpose behind Success Academy's suspending a special-needs 7-year-old for 45 days, even if some form of alternative instruction was provided. This one recent example is part of a much larger pattern, both for Success Academy and the larger charter school sector it is the leader of.</p> <p>Sadly, Success Academy is far from the outlier in the charter sector in the use of suspensions as a punitive tool.</p> <p><a href="https://www.civilrightsproject.ucla.edu/resources/projects/center-for-civil-rights-remedies/school-to-prison-folder/federal-reports/charter-schools-civil-rights-and-school-discipline-a-comprehensive-review" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">A 2016 study</a> by the Center for Civil Rights Remedies at the University of California, Los Angeles, found charters nationwide suspended African-American and special-needs students at a disproportionately higher rate than their white or non-disabled classmates. The report was the first national review of charter school discipline.</p> <p>In New York City, although the charter school student population was less than 7 percent of the system's total enrollment, charter schools accounted for nearly 42 percent of all suspensions, according to a review <a href="https://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2016/09/the-racism-of-charter-school-discipline/500240/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">by The Atlantic</a> of 2014 state suspension data.</p> <p>Charter schools accounted for 48 of the top 50 New York City schools with the highest suspension rates for the same year. The Icahn Charter #7 in the Bronx reported giving out 142 suspensions to its 99 students that year, the highest suspension rate in the city. Achievement First Crown Heights Charter reported issuing 200 suspensions to its roughly 940 students that same year.</p> <p>Teachers know that there is a place for suspension of children who are dangerous to themselves or others, or who constantly make learning impossible for their classmates. The UFT fought to ensure that the system's new discipline policy included the ability for a principal to suspend even the youngest children, though the potential loss of learning time means that suspension should always be a last resort.</p> <p>But we also know that it takes time, energy, and public scrutiny to move from punitive, after-the-fact discipline codes to pro-active, restorative practices that can change school climate. At the UFT, we have joined with the city Department of Education to create a package of training and techniques to help staff identify and deal with issues proactively, known as the Positive Learning Collaborative.</p> <p>At schools enrolled for three years in this joint venture, suspensions are down, as are the kinds of incidents that used to trigger them. And perhaps more important, the satisfaction of children, staff, and parents in the schools is up.</p> <p>Charters need to do similar work, and do it publicly to regain the trust of the public, particularly parents and students.</p> <p>***<br />Michael Mulgrew is president of the United Federation of Teachers. On Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/UFT" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">@UFT</a>.</p> <p>

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</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/mulgrew-classroom.jpg" alt="mulgrew classroom" width="600" height="416" /></p> <p>Michael Mulgrew, the author (photo: UFT)</p> <hr /> <p>Children who miss 20 or more days of school in New York City have lost so much instruction time that they are classified as chronically absent, which studies have linked to lower test scores and higher dropout rates.</p> <p>So it is hard to see the educational purpose behind Success Academy's suspending a special-needs 7-year-old for 45 days, even if some form of alternative instruction was provided. This one recent example is part of a much larger pattern, both for Success Academy and the larger charter school sector it is the leader of.</p> <p>Sadly, Success Academy is far from the outlier in the charter sector in the use of suspensions as a punitive tool.</p> <p><a href="https://www.civilrightsproject.ucla.edu/resources/projects/center-for-civil-rights-remedies/school-to-prison-folder/federal-reports/charter-schools-civil-rights-and-school-discipline-a-comprehensive-review" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">A 2016 study</a> by the Center for Civil Rights Remedies at the University of California, Los Angeles, found charters nationwide suspended African-American and special-needs students at a disproportionately higher rate than their white or non-disabled classmates. The report was the first national review of charter school discipline.</p> <p>In New York City, although the charter school student population was less than 7 percent of the system's total enrollment, charter schools accounted for nearly 42 percent of all suspensions, according to a review <a href="https://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2016/09/the-racism-of-charter-school-discipline/500240/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">by The Atlantic</a> of 2014 state suspension data.</p> <p>Charter schools accounted for 48 of the top 50 New York City schools with the highest suspension rates for the same year. The Icahn Charter #7 in the Bronx reported giving out 142 suspensions to its 99 students that year, the highest suspension rate in the city. Achievement First Crown Heights Charter reported issuing 200 suspensions to its roughly 940 students that same year.</p> <p>Teachers know that there is a place for suspension of children who are dangerous to themselves or others, or who constantly make learning impossible for their classmates. The UFT fought to ensure that the system's new discipline policy included the ability for a principal to suspend even the youngest children, though the potential loss of learning time means that suspension should always be a last resort.</p> <p>But we also know that it takes time, energy, and public scrutiny to move from punitive, after-the-fact discipline codes to pro-active, restorative practices that can change school climate. At the UFT, we have joined with the city Department of Education to create a package of training and techniques to help staff identify and deal with issues proactively, known as the Positive Learning Collaborative.</p> <p>At schools enrolled for three years in this joint venture, suspensions are down, as are the kinds of incidents that used to trigger them. And perhaps more important, the satisfaction of children, staff, and parents in the schools is up.</p> <p>Charters need to do similar work, and do it publicly to regain the trust of the public, particularly parents and students.</p> <p>***<br />Michael Mulgrew is president of the United Federation of Teachers. On Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/UFT" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">@UFT</a>.</p> <p>

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</p>
Charters: Flush With Cash, Yet Still Trying to Pull Funds from Neighborhood Public Schools 2017-03-22T04:00:00+00:00 2017-03-22T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6824:charters-flush-with-cash-yet-still-trying-to-pull-funds-from-neighborhood-public-schools Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/uft_teacher_floor.jpg" alt="uft teacher floor" width="600" height="348" /></p> <p>(photo: UFT)</p> <hr /> <p>Even as they are pleading poverty to the Legislature in Albany, charter schools across New York State are sitting on nearly half a billion dollars in cash and unrestricted assets.</p> <p>An investigation by the state teachers union has shown that New York City charter schools alone have at least $323 million in unrestricted net assets, most of it in cash. When you add in charters in the rest of New York State, the sector as a whole has unrestricted assets of more than $450 million.</p> <p>Those are resources that can be used to pay for academic programs, support staff, and rent of school facilities.</p> <p>But despite these available funds, New York's charter chains are lobbying for more public support in the form of increased tuition reimbursements, additional rent subsidies, and the elimination of the cap on the number of charters – all of which would siphon off public funds that could go to the state’s traditional public schools.</p> <p>Charters are famously resistant to transparency, and anyone wanting to find out how much cash charters have on hand, or how much they pay their top managers, has to track down audits and non-profit tax returns on the internet.</p> <p>A review of these documents shows that in New York City alone the Uncommon Schools chain has cash and unrestricted assets totaling more than $28 million; Success Academy has more than $22 million; and Democracy Prep have more than $14 million.</p> <p>Ignoring these facts, Republicans in the state Senate have proposed to eliminate the charter cap and drain an additional $334 million statewide that could go to traditional public schools, sending that money instead to charters.</p> <p>Charter cheerleaders constantly complain that the UFT is an enemy of charters. But the fact is that we represent teachers at a number of New York City charter schools and support their original purpose: to be incubators of innovation that can then be spread across the public school system.</p> <p>But to achieve that goal, charters have to be a vibrant part of the system and also be accountable to parents and taxpayers. Right now, New York charters are not.</p> <p>Despite a 2010 change in charter law, too many charter chains still fail to accept and keep all students, and they have significantly lower numbers of English language learners, special education students, and homeless children than neighborhood public schools.</p> <p>And too many charter chains have fought even the most basic accountability measures, such as audits of their finances or reviews of their school discipline policies.</p> <p>As budget negotiations continue in Albany, the state Assembly right now is seeking to hold charters more accountable.</p> <p>Charters would have to be transparent in how they raise and spend their funds to make sure tax dollars are spent in the classroom. They would need to report how much they pay their top managers and management companies.</p> <p>They would need to abide by guidelines that they accept and keep all children and make sure the number of high-needs children they educate is comparable to the number educated in neighboring public schools.</p> <p>As a measure of good faith, one of the first things charters could do is to acknowledge that many of their schools do not need the tuition and rent hikes they seek, particularly when their increases would come at the expense of New York City’s neighborhood public schools.</p> <p>***<br />Michael Mulgrew is President of the United Federation of Teachers (UFT). On Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/UFT" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">@UFT</a>.</p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/uft_teacher_floor.jpg" alt="uft teacher floor" width="600" height="348" /></p> <p>(photo: UFT)</p> <hr /> <p>Even as they are pleading poverty to the Legislature in Albany, charter schools across New York State are sitting on nearly half a billion dollars in cash and unrestricted assets.</p> <p>An investigation by the state teachers union has shown that New York City charter schools alone have at least $323 million in unrestricted net assets, most of it in cash. When you add in charters in the rest of New York State, the sector as a whole has unrestricted assets of more than $450 million.</p> <p>Those are resources that can be used to pay for academic programs, support staff, and rent of school facilities.</p> <p>But despite these available funds, New York's charter chains are lobbying for more public support in the form of increased tuition reimbursements, additional rent subsidies, and the elimination of the cap on the number of charters – all of which would siphon off public funds that could go to the state’s traditional public schools.</p> <p>Charters are famously resistant to transparency, and anyone wanting to find out how much cash charters have on hand, or how much they pay their top managers, has to track down audits and non-profit tax returns on the internet.</p> <p>A review of these documents shows that in New York City alone the Uncommon Schools chain has cash and unrestricted assets totaling more than $28 million; Success Academy has more than $22 million; and Democracy Prep have more than $14 million.</p> <p>Ignoring these facts, Republicans in the state Senate have proposed to eliminate the charter cap and drain an additional $334 million statewide that could go to traditional public schools, sending that money instead to charters.</p> <p>Charter cheerleaders constantly complain that the UFT is an enemy of charters. But the fact is that we represent teachers at a number of New York City charter schools and support their original purpose: to be incubators of innovation that can then be spread across the public school system.</p> <p>But to achieve that goal, charters have to be a vibrant part of the system and also be accountable to parents and taxpayers. Right now, New York charters are not.</p> <p>Despite a 2010 change in charter law, too many charter chains still fail to accept and keep all students, and they have significantly lower numbers of English language learners, special education students, and homeless children than neighborhood public schools.</p> <p>And too many charter chains have fought even the most basic accountability measures, such as audits of their finances or reviews of their school discipline policies.</p> <p>As budget negotiations continue in Albany, the state Assembly right now is seeking to hold charters more accountable.</p> <p>Charters would have to be transparent in how they raise and spend their funds to make sure tax dollars are spent in the classroom. They would need to report how much they pay their top managers and management companies.</p> <p>They would need to abide by guidelines that they accept and keep all children and make sure the number of high-needs children they educate is comparable to the number educated in neighboring public schools.</p> <p>As a measure of good faith, one of the first things charters could do is to acknowledge that many of their schools do not need the tuition and rent hikes they seek, particularly when their increases would come at the expense of New York City’s neighborhood public schools.</p> <p>***<br />Michael Mulgrew is President of the United Federation of Teachers (UFT). On Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/UFT" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">@UFT</a>.</p> Labor Leaders Declare State of Unions Strong, At Least in New York 2015-11-11T21:09:13+00:00 2015-11-11T21:09:13+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5981:labor-leaders-declare-state-of-unions-strong-at-least-in-new-york Super User <p><img alt="de blasio uft" src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2014/03/18255702206_dc9a1b1d7a_z.jpg" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p><span style="font-size: 10pt;">Mayor de Blasio at a UFT conference (photo: Ed Reed/Mayoral Photography Office)</span></p> <hr /> <p>Four of New York's top labor leaders assembled recently to give a state of their unions, and to assess the broader union climate in New York and elsewhere.</p> <p>Each sounding like a determined boxer in the middle rounds of a grueling fight, they decried attacks on unions across the country, but indicated that they are pleased with the strength of the labor movement in New York. They credited intra- and inter-union solidarity for much of the movement's staying power, at times referencing the importance of relationships with community groups and City Hall - making sure to acknowledge the new, more union-friendly occupant of the mayor's office.</p> <p>While unions have taken legal and membership hits across the country in recent years, labor has indeed remained relatively strong in New York. City union leaders speaking to this phenomenon alternate between sounding hesitantly triumphant and passionately defiant. Never far from their minds, it seems, is that what the labor movement has fought for could slip away any time.</p> <p>At a panel discussion titled "What is the future of organized labor in New York?" <a href="http://www.stroock.com/news/stroock-hosts-forum-on-the-future-of-organized-labor-in-new-york" target="_blank">hosted by</a> the government relations practice group of Stroock &amp; Stroock &amp; Lavan LLP, the assembled union heads were Michael Mulgrew, President of the United Federation of Teachers; Harry Nespoli, President of the Uniformed Sanitationmen's Association; Gregory Floyd, President of Local 237 Teamsters; and Vincent Alvarez, President of New York City Central Labor Council. They were questioned by two moderators, both Stroock attorneys: Alan M. Klinger and Robert Abrams, who is also former New York State Attorney General.</p> <p>"The state of unions in New York City is strong," said Mulgrew, of the teachers union, citing "the relationships of the union leaders" as essential to the survival and success of labor.</p> <p>Time and again, Mulgrew and others referenced the fight that is often characteristic of union work, with the UFT president at one point describing a 20-year "war" with City Hall, referencing his union's relationship with Mayors Giuliani and Bloomberg. He also noted that public opinion of unions is on the upswing after some decline, saying that the broader population has come to appreciate unions more as they realize corporations and many government officials do not have workers' best interest at heart.</p> <p>At the Stroock event, the labor leaders referred to lobbyists and corporate interests as out for union demise, with Mulgrew saying, "there's a group who are advocating for what they want for their industries or for their own bottom lines. They want more profit and they don't care what they have to do to get it. And if that is to leverage a state or a local municipality to get breaks the way they want, they'll do it."</p> <p>Mulgrew's city chapter has been part of a larger, ongoing teachers union feud with Governor Andrew Cuomo, who has aligned himself with an education reform movement that is highly critical of the teachers unions and is supported by wealthy donors. Cuomo has said he intends to break the teachers union "monopoly" on public education.</p> <p>"I said it, and I'll say it again," said Nespoli of the sanitation workers union, in one of his several segments of animated commentary, "New York, we're the last of the Mohicans. If you look throughout the country, what they did to unions is a disgrace; what they did to the middle class."</p> <p>The data on union membership and wages support Nespoli's point. Nationwide, about 11 percent of workers belong to a union, indicative of a steady, decades-long decline <a href="http://www.bls.gov/regions/new-york-new-jersey/news-release/unionmembership_newyork_newjersey.htm" target="_blank">according to</a> the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In 1973, the national rate was 24 percent - which is about New York's current rate. Still, New York's union rate was 35.5 percent in 1964. New York has historically been a place of labor union strength and continues to be so, though union leaders note without prompting that unions continue to feel under threat and in a perpetual fight to survive.</p> <p>For evidence, union bosses, especially Mulgrew, need look no further than the ongoing legal challenge to teacher tenure laws. A case in New York is modeled after a successful California case (set to be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court) alleging that tenure rules violate students' civil rights because they lead to weaker teachers with strong job protection in disadvantaged schools.</p> <p>There are currently about 2 million union workers in New York State, with about 877,000 union members in New York City, <a href="http://www.gc.cuny.edu/CUNY_GC/media/CUNY-Graduate-Center/PDF/Communications/1509_Union_Density2015_RGB.pdf" target="_blank">according to</a> the Joseph Murphy Institute at CUNY Graduate Center. New York City has about 25 percent union membership, about the same as the state overall. Albany has the highest metro area union membership rate in the state, about 36 percent of the capital's workforce is union. In the city, about 70 percent of government employees are union; whereas private sector workers are about 18 percent unionized.</p> <p>More than 100,000 of the city's union workers are UFT members (the union also has many thousands of members who are retired, of course). Mulgrew said that 40 years of attacks on unions did some damage, but that things are trending up. "We're part of the solution," Mulgrew said, "I know that the teacher unions, the city and state teacher unions, are trusted more than the elected officials. When's the last time that happened?"</p> <p>Key to this trend, he said, is partnership with community-based groups. Unions, Mulgrew asserted, were in the past too myopic, only focusing on their members and their issues. It is essential, he said - and others agreed - that individual unions support each other, while also partnering with community and advocacy groups. "That's what makes New York different, the fact that we communicate with each other," Nespoli said of leaders of different unions.</p> <p>Floyd said, "Well, it's important for us to understand that we not only represent our members, but we represent the community. Because, without the labor movement, there would be no middle class."</p> <p>A different approach has produced results.</p> <p>"It starts in New York City," Mulgrew told Gotham Gazette after the panel, "I mean, for my union, you could just see in all the polls - when it was us against Bloomberg, by the end [the public] trusted us much more than they trusted the mayor. Now, the same thing's happening with the governor." Adding that it is on education issues, but also throughout the city and state, "the whole idea of unions is trending upwards."</p> <p>Indeed, a September Quinnipiac poll <a href="http://www.quinnipiac.edu/news-and-events/quinnipiac-university-poll/new-york-state/release-detail?ReleaseID=2281" target="_blank">found</a> that "voters statewide trust the teachers' unions more than Gov. Andrew Cuomo to improve education in New York State 54 - 31 percent." Quinnipiac did note, though, that that margin was slimmer in New York City (47 - 43 percent).</p> <p>There has been a stark contrast between public sector unions' relationship with Mayor de Blasio and with Gov. Cuomo. But the disparity in positivity has been shrinking as Cuomo has championed a higher minimum wage.</p> <p>"And let's not make any mistakes about it, the $15 an hour wage increase that the governor has put forth is because the union movement had it on its agenda," Floyd said of union impact on public policy.</p> <p>As much as de Blasio and Mulgrew have praised each other, coming to a much-needed new contract for city teachers that also set the bargaining pattern for others, it is not all rosy between labor and city government, of course.</p> <p>The Policemen's Benevolent Association, which represents rank-and-file NYPD officers, did not agree to the pattern the de Blasio administration established with the UFT and then uniformed unions, and is now in arbitration with the city. The proceedings are not going well for the PBA and it may come around to accept what other unions have gone with. (The UFT contract <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/office-of-the-mayor/news/195-14/mayor-de-blasio-uft-reach-preliminary-agreement-9-year-contract-ushering-key-new-reforms-and#/0" target="_blank">announced May 1, 2014</a>&nbsp;covers nine years, some retroactive, expiring October 31, 2018. The PBA may be able to pursue a deal akin to what firefighters <a href="http://www.capitalnewyork.com/article/city-hall/2015/11/8582079/eyeing-police-proposal-firefighters-union-will-move-ratify-contrac" target="_blank">have inked</a> with City Hall, more in line with the uniformed worker pattern that is slightly different from the non-uniform one.)</p> <p>Some have <a href="http://nypost.com/2015/04/05/labor-peace-through-trickery/" target="_blank">called</a> the union deals inked by de Blasio too generous. Meanwhile, Nespoli is among those who think that those contracts were not as good for labor as they could or should have been. At the Stroock panel, he said the public should know that labor made concessions.</p> <p>"We sat down, we made adjustments and we got the contract done and we saved a ton of money," Nespoli said. "This city right now is in great shape financially. Don't ever let anybody tell you they're not because they're all full of it. They have the money. They have it. And thank God that the tourists are still coming in here. And that's thanks to the city workers that actually take care of this city to make it safe, clean, and teachers, and custodians and sanitation workers, police, fire - that's the backbone here."</p> <p>***<br />by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette<br /><a href="https://twitter.com/TweetBenMax" target="_blank">@TweetBenMax</a></p> <p><img alt="de blasio uft" src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2014/03/18255702206_dc9a1b1d7a_z.jpg" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p><span style="font-size: 10pt;">Mayor de Blasio at a UFT conference (photo: Ed Reed/Mayoral Photography Office)</span></p> <hr /> <p>Four of New York's top labor leaders assembled recently to give a state of their unions, and to assess the broader union climate in New York and elsewhere.</p> <p>Each sounding like a determined boxer in the middle rounds of a grueling fight, they decried attacks on unions across the country, but indicated that they are pleased with the strength of the labor movement in New York. They credited intra- and inter-union solidarity for much of the movement's staying power, at times referencing the importance of relationships with community groups and City Hall - making sure to acknowledge the new, more union-friendly occupant of the mayor's office.</p> <p>While unions have taken legal and membership hits across the country in recent years, labor has indeed remained relatively strong in New York. City union leaders speaking to this phenomenon alternate between sounding hesitantly triumphant and passionately defiant. Never far from their minds, it seems, is that what the labor movement has fought for could slip away any time.</p> <p>At a panel discussion titled "What is the future of organized labor in New York?" <a href="http://www.stroock.com/news/stroock-hosts-forum-on-the-future-of-organized-labor-in-new-york" target="_blank">hosted by</a> the government relations practice group of Stroock &amp; Stroock &amp; Lavan LLP, the assembled union heads were Michael Mulgrew, President of the United Federation of Teachers; Harry Nespoli, President of the Uniformed Sanitationmen's Association; Gregory Floyd, President of Local 237 Teamsters; and Vincent Alvarez, President of New York City Central Labor Council. They were questioned by two moderators, both Stroock attorneys: Alan M. Klinger and Robert Abrams, who is also former New York State Attorney General.</p> <p>"The state of unions in New York City is strong," said Mulgrew, of the teachers union, citing "the relationships of the union leaders" as essential to the survival and success of labor.</p> <p>Time and again, Mulgrew and others referenced the fight that is often characteristic of union work, with the UFT president at one point describing a 20-year "war" with City Hall, referencing his union's relationship with Mayors Giuliani and Bloomberg. He also noted that public opinion of unions is on the upswing after some decline, saying that the broader population has come to appreciate unions more as they realize corporations and many government officials do not have workers' best interest at heart.</p> <p>At the Stroock event, the labor leaders referred to lobbyists and corporate interests as out for union demise, with Mulgrew saying, "there's a group who are advocating for what they want for their industries or for their own bottom lines. They want more profit and they don't care what they have to do to get it. And if that is to leverage a state or a local municipality to get breaks the way they want, they'll do it."</p> <p>Mulgrew's city chapter has been part of a larger, ongoing teachers union feud with Governor Andrew Cuomo, who has aligned himself with an education reform movement that is highly critical of the teachers unions and is supported by wealthy donors. Cuomo has said he intends to break the teachers union "monopoly" on public education.</p> <p>"I said it, and I'll say it again," said Nespoli of the sanitation workers union, in one of his several segments of animated commentary, "New York, we're the last of the Mohicans. If you look throughout the country, what they did to unions is a disgrace; what they did to the middle class."</p> <p>The data on union membership and wages support Nespoli's point. Nationwide, about 11 percent of workers belong to a union, indicative of a steady, decades-long decline <a href="http://www.bls.gov/regions/new-york-new-jersey/news-release/unionmembership_newyork_newjersey.htm" target="_blank">according to</a> the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In 1973, the national rate was 24 percent - which is about New York's current rate. Still, New York's union rate was 35.5 percent in 1964. New York has historically been a place of labor union strength and continues to be so, though union leaders note without prompting that unions continue to feel under threat and in a perpetual fight to survive.</p> <p>For evidence, union bosses, especially Mulgrew, need look no further than the ongoing legal challenge to teacher tenure laws. A case in New York is modeled after a successful California case (set to be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court) alleging that tenure rules violate students' civil rights because they lead to weaker teachers with strong job protection in disadvantaged schools.</p> <p>There are currently about 2 million union workers in New York State, with about 877,000 union members in New York City, <a href="http://www.gc.cuny.edu/CUNY_GC/media/CUNY-Graduate-Center/PDF/Communications/1509_Union_Density2015_RGB.pdf" target="_blank">according to</a> the Joseph Murphy Institute at CUNY Graduate Center. New York City has about 25 percent union membership, about the same as the state overall. Albany has the highest metro area union membership rate in the state, about 36 percent of the capital's workforce is union. In the city, about 70 percent of government employees are union; whereas private sector workers are about 18 percent unionized.</p> <p>More than 100,000 of the city's union workers are UFT members (the union also has many thousands of members who are retired, of course). Mulgrew said that 40 years of attacks on unions did some damage, but that things are trending up. "We're part of the solution," Mulgrew said, "I know that the teacher unions, the city and state teacher unions, are trusted more than the elected officials. When's the last time that happened?"</p> <p>Key to this trend, he said, is partnership with community-based groups. Unions, Mulgrew asserted, were in the past too myopic, only focusing on their members and their issues. It is essential, he said - and others agreed - that individual unions support each other, while also partnering with community and advocacy groups. "That's what makes New York different, the fact that we communicate with each other," Nespoli said of leaders of different unions.</p> <p>Floyd said, "Well, it's important for us to understand that we not only represent our members, but we represent the community. Because, without the labor movement, there would be no middle class."</p> <p>A different approach has produced results.</p> <p>"It starts in New York City," Mulgrew told Gotham Gazette after the panel, "I mean, for my union, you could just see in all the polls - when it was us against Bloomberg, by the end [the public] trusted us much more than they trusted the mayor. Now, the same thing's happening with the governor." Adding that it is on education issues, but also throughout the city and state, "the whole idea of unions is trending upwards."</p> <p>Indeed, a September Quinnipiac poll <a href="http://www.quinnipiac.edu/news-and-events/quinnipiac-university-poll/new-york-state/release-detail?ReleaseID=2281" target="_blank">found</a> that "voters statewide trust the teachers' unions more than Gov. Andrew Cuomo to improve education in New York State 54 - 31 percent." Quinnipiac did note, though, that that margin was slimmer in New York City (47 - 43 percent).</p> <p>There has been a stark contrast between public sector unions' relationship with Mayor de Blasio and with Gov. Cuomo. But the disparity in positivity has been shrinking as Cuomo has championed a higher minimum wage.</p> <p>"And let's not make any mistakes about it, the $15 an hour wage increase that the governor has put forth is because the union movement had it on its agenda," Floyd said of union impact on public policy.</p> <p>As much as de Blasio and Mulgrew have praised each other, coming to a much-needed new contract for city teachers that also set the bargaining pattern for others, it is not all rosy between labor and city government, of course.</p> <p>The Policemen's Benevolent Association, which represents rank-and-file NYPD officers, did not agree to the pattern the de Blasio administration established with the UFT and then uniformed unions, and is now in arbitration with the city. The proceedings are not going well for the PBA and it may come around to accept what other unions have gone with. (The UFT contract <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/office-of-the-mayor/news/195-14/mayor-de-blasio-uft-reach-preliminary-agreement-9-year-contract-ushering-key-new-reforms-and#/0" target="_blank">announced May 1, 2014</a>&nbsp;covers nine years, some retroactive, expiring October 31, 2018. The PBA may be able to pursue a deal akin to what firefighters <a href="http://www.capitalnewyork.com/article/city-hall/2015/11/8582079/eyeing-police-proposal-firefighters-union-will-move-ratify-contrac" target="_blank">have inked</a> with City Hall, more in line with the uniformed worker pattern that is slightly different from the non-uniform one.)</p> <p>Some have <a href="http://nypost.com/2015/04/05/labor-peace-through-trickery/" target="_blank">called</a> the union deals inked by de Blasio too generous. Meanwhile, Nespoli is among those who think that those contracts were not as good for labor as they could or should have been. At the Stroock panel, he said the public should know that labor made concessions.</p> <p>"We sat down, we made adjustments and we got the contract done and we saved a ton of money," Nespoli said. "This city right now is in great shape financially. Don't ever let anybody tell you they're not because they're all full of it. They have the money. They have it. And thank God that the tourists are still coming in here. And that's thanks to the city workers that actually take care of this city to make it safe, clean, and teachers, and custodians and sanitation workers, police, fire - that's the backbone here."</p> <p>***<br />by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette<br /><a href="https://twitter.com/TweetBenMax" target="_blank">@TweetBenMax</a></p>