Generation Greed Strikes Again Via Bloomberg and the UFT

Following public policy in New York is like watching the same horror movie over and over again, while knowing that what appears on the screen will eventually happen to you, your children, and/or people you care about. Case in point, the long series of “screw the newbie, flee to Florida” public employee union contracts that both inflate the cost of public services and degrade their quality, while cheating younger generations.

Just 18 months ago, Bloomberg and the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) cut a deal, the state legislature passed it (virtually zero no votes), and then-Governor Eliot Spitzer signed it, to allow existing teachers age 55 and up to walk out the door into retirement up to seven years early, receiving unlimited untaxed health insurance from the city without assistance from federal Medicare for ten years rather than three, without contributing an extra dime. Those just under age 55 would have to pay more for just a few years before retiring seven years early, and receiving pension income free of New York City state and local taxes. Because that deal also cut the take home pay of future teachers by 5 percent for the first ten years of their careers, and because a historically (looking at long term data) impossible rate of return on pension assets was assumed, the undebated, unvetted, unannounced deal was described as costing nothing. Well guess what? This week, for the umpteeth time, we got the first phase of the inevitable second half of that deal – the screw the newbie and the children half.

Under recently announced deal, the United Federation of Teachers and its members will make the selfless sacrifice of reducing the take home pay of future teachers, not themselves, by 5 percent for 27 years, rather than ten. In exchange the existing teachers, who give up nothing, will work two fewer days per year. This is sure to be the first of many similar deals in the inevitable return to a “you will pretend to work and we will pretend to pay you” school system. This time at a vastly greater cost with higher taxes, and all the additional money going to those who retired to Florida at age when most of us will have to work an additional ten to twelve years. "This agreement is a win for everyone," UFT president Randi Weingarten said. She had called the initial deal a “win for children.”

Under the deal teachers, who previously arrived at school a day or two early to set up for the year, will show up for work unprepared on the same day the students do. Including those who were just hired and never set foot in a classroom before. Unless the school year is changed and two days of instruction are cut.

In reality, the days of instruction are going to be cut anyway. How many days will pass before the teachers provide a competent lesson? How many days before they assign, collect, and go over so the children can learn, homework? Or, let’s say a principal were to ignore the rest of the school and sit in one classroom for the first few weeks, collecting the massive documentation required to actually remove a teacher from their job. How many days, weeks or months would have to pass without any teaching, given the excuse by a teacher that they needed time to prepare for the year, before the UFT would say a fired teacher didn’t have a legitimate case for a grievance?

Here is the UFT position from its Edwise blog. “As a result of the worst economic crisis in the United States since the Great Depression, public services – including public education – have been subjected to draconian budget cuts, public sector workers have been laid-off and public sector unions have come under pressure to diminish the salaries, health benefits and pension benefits of their members. From the start of this economic crisis, the UFT has identified two primary objectives which have guided our response to this crisis: protecting the quality of the educational services provided to New York City public school children and securing the economic livelihood and professional status of our members.”

That is not the UFT’s primary objective, based on what they do as opposed to what they say. The primary objective is to allow the least motivated teachers to get away with contributing as little as possible, and to allowing ex-members to walk out the door after working as few years as possible. For the proof, just look at what categories of spending will go up, and what categories go down, within the schools over the next few years, as the “quality of educational services” collapses. Given the way the U.S. economy has run, on unsustainable debt, a severe retrenchment was inevitable. Everyone paying attention has known that for years; everyone else certainly realized where things were going in early 20008 when the 25/55 pension deal was signed. That was the primary objective. That is where all the money will go. And the school system is going back to the 1970s, the last time a 25/55 pension was in place.

The recession itself would have led to soaring taxes (not mentioned on the Edwise blog) and diminished public services for a time. But all those pension enhancements passed over the past decade-plus, and past inadequate pension funding, and all those debts accumulated over 15 years, ensured a disaster. And for the schools 25/55 will turn a disaster into a catastrophe. Should the city gut other services even more to provide more funds for the schools, so that the schools will merely have a disaster while (say) police, fire or libraries have a catastrophe? That’s something to ask the candidates for City Council, in districts where the re-imposition of perpetual incumbency didn’t cause the election to be cancelled.

One teacher wrote on the Edwise own blog “if the teachers don’t report until the Tuesday after Labor Day, when is the students first day of school? If they both start on the same day it will be chaos. Teachers need a day or two to prepare for their students.” Another, possible fooled by union rhetoric about public employee union members being the common people and having solidarity with the working class (which lacks pensions and health insurance, to cut business costs so the retired can spend less when they go shopping), called for union solidarity and not selling out younger teachers. Hey buddy, it isn’t the 1930s, and you need to catch on to what unions are now. The principal and their union objected to the deal, according to the New York Times. “I can’t tell you how valuable that time is,” one said. “You don’t want to picture what it was like if a child comes to school and there’s nothing up around the room, you’re trying to find your pencil and everybody else around you is disorganized.”

In the newspaper’s comment section, one teacher said “once again Bloomberg has made a decision that makes no educational sense. It’s ridiculous to plan a schedule that requires students and teachers to begin the school year on the same day. Here’s how I think this will play out. Teachers like me who are responsible and dedicated (and there are many, many of us), will come in a few days early to set up our classrooms. This work will be unpaid, of course. But what else can we do? We have to be ready for the students! On Day 1, our classrooms will be organized and calm, and our first week will be successful. Other teachers will arrive at school shortly before the children. Their classrooms will be in disarray (furniture is always rearranged for cleaning over the summer), books and supplies will be in closets, bulletin boards will be bare. Those classrooms will be chaotic and stressful, for both teachers and students. It’s simply a way to get free work out of teachers who care enough to volunteer their time, and use another excuse to blame teachers who (rightly) insist on getting paid for their work.”

My question for the UFT is, are those teachers who “are responsible and dedicated” and “volunteer their time” merely suckers, or are they scabs? Perhaps neither, as the commenter above has already counted a deal to work two fewer days for the same money as a given, even though the legislature hasn’t passed it yet, and already considers perhaps working one of those days anyway “volunteering.” To pay for existing teachers to be paid to do nothing for one year in retirement for every year they worked, at a time when in the long run, anyone who has done the math acknowledges than anyone without the power to exploit others will have to work longer than in the past, as The Economist magazine explained this week. And at a time (according to that same publication and others) when many American workers who lack that power are either working fewer days for less money, or the same number of days for less money.  If that sense of entitlement reminds you of the attitude of the bailed out predators of Wall Street, you are not alone.

In any event, legislative approval is a mere formality. If there is one thing that unites liberals and conservatives, Republicans and Democrats in this state, it is a willingness to add more privileges to the already privileged, and those cashing in and moving out, in the short run, at the expense of our common future, public services, and younger generations in the long run. The State Senate vote will be 62-0. Again.

Give the UFT credit; unlike some other city unions it has generally not objected to teachers who try to do their jobs within the limited number of hours, days (excluding “sick” days) and years they are required to be around. Anything else? Suckers at least. The same may be said for those teachers who (once again) use their own money to purchase teaching supplies which there will once again be no money for, because all the tax dollars will be going to debts, pensions, and other retiree costs. This is just the beginning.

I have children in public high school. So am I upset? I have been. But over the next three years I’ll probably be the least upset parent in the city of New York, because I saw it coming, and am preparing for institutional collapse. But I’ll tell you who is upset – parents at my kid’s high school who are incensed that their children’s extracurricular activity is being eliminated. They are shocked. Guess what parents, we’ll have to organize that activity, all activities, independent of the schools, or they won’t exist, if not now then after November, when the real city budget is revealed, or next fiscal year. Make do or do without; expect nothing because they owe you nothing. Just like you’d better learn to ride a bike if you don’t like massive repeated delays on the subway, and had better “donate” to the park near your home if you don’t want it fill with garbage.

So why pay taxes? Not for services. Not for the less well off, who were blamed in the early 1990s recession, but are getting far less today. In California, where more and more young workers have been forced to become freelancers and thus ineligible for unemployment insurance (but public employee pension costs are also soaring) they are talking about eliminating welfare as well, leaving many of the unemployed with absolutely nothing. One NYC parent, who perhaps didn’t read to the end of the newspaper article to the point where it was revealed that the “fair student” funding formula was being deferred, asked in an e-mail if her kid’s school for smarter kids was being cut disproportionately. Right, that must be the problem, the poor kids. Perhaps that’s a line the UFT can take. Perhaps resources will be shifted, once again, to the more influential to buy them off.

At school, all I expect is that my children will get their classes is fiscal 2010. Nothing more. And in fiscal 2011, all I hope for is that my younger child, then a junior, will be able to take just the basics – math, science, English, language, social studies, pass her regents, and then take the GED. All I ask is that when more and more “responsible and dedicated” teachers react to the ongoing cutbacks and increasingly unsupportive and chaotic environment by adopting a “not my job” attitude, with UFT encouragement, that the remaining suckers and scabs (ie. teachers who keep teaching in an increasingly unsupportive environment) not be allocated based on political pull, influence, or willingness to make life hell for everyone to get one’s way. Because having been brought up differently, we’re not so good at that. (Gatemouth can you help me with some advice here?)

One decent year with no activities, a second year with nothing but bare bones but teachers who are still foolish enough to do more than go through the motions, and no senior year. That’s what I’m hoping for. And if I get it I won’t complain. Because it’s too late, and there are worse scenarios.

And my kids know they had better do any and all assignments teachers, out of the goodness of their hearts, are kind enough to give them, on time so as not to put those teachers out. (Teachers who have met me at parent nights know the one and only thing I ask). No one is more grateful to those who do their job than I am, because I know they don’t have to. And no matter what, no excuses for the kids, because they know the deal. If a teacher doesn’t give any assignments, they’ll need to let us know, and they’ll have to go after school to a tutor where will pay someone to teach them what they otherwise would not learn. We’ve already done it.

In addition to being less upset about my own kids because I already know what is coming, I also no longer feel a moral obligation to concern myself the quality of New York City public education for the less well off or the next generation. Because I now know it’s hopeless. New York City will have decent schools for all children (and the Second Avenue Subway) when Lucy allows Charlie Brown to kick the football. I’m no longer Charlie Brown.

We know what is coming next, because we know what has happened before. As the city goes broke and retiree costs mount, there will be a desperate attempt to save money. And in exchange for money saving, the teacher’s union will demand to slash the work its members do. Summer school will go, social (actually fiscal) promotion will return. Electives, extra curricular activities and guidance counselors will be cut. So will the school day, and perhaps the school year.

With the state legislature up for re-election next year, another pension “incentive” like the one Giuliani went along with is certain. Will existing teachers with seniority be temporarily allowed to retire five years early at age 50? Ten years early at age 45? I suppose it depends on how many fewer teachers in the classroom the city can afford to pay for, now that it is paying for so many more retirees. Not that pension incentives save money, they cost huge money, but that cost can be hidden and deferred. How about assuming a 10 percent rate of return in the pension funds in perpetuity rather than 8 percent as part of the deal? Not enough? Then why not assume 12 percent? After all, the City Actuary needs to keep his job in this economy, an should be willing to be a “team player,” and in the long run when the bill comes due everyone who matters can move out. Also as part of the deal, perhaps the city’s share of state school aid will be cut, as in the mid-1990s. After all, the additional retirement incentive would buy off the UFT.

The pay of new teachers will be cut relative to those who came before, and those outside the city. Will it be 15 percent cut for new hires as for DC 37, or 40 percent as for police and fire, under contracts Bloomberg signed (the unions loved it!) during the previous recession earlier in the decade? And when the economy begins to recover and it becomes difficult for qualified and motivated teachers to be found at that price, certification requirements will be waived. Again.

Hey UFT, how about eliminating the baby steps. Just order the state legislature to enact a pension change to allow everyone now age 45 and over to retire immediately with at three quarters tax free pension (including the legislators themselves of course). And to ensure the city and state will have the money to pay for it, cut a deal “due to the recession” under which future teachers will be paid the minimum wage throughout their careers, pay 40% of the salary into the pension fund, and retire at age 80 after 50 years of work with pension of 98 cents per year. After all, that’s 98 cents more in pension income than most younger people will be getting when they get old, that’s for sure.

We know that there will be no attempt to make those who benefitted from all those pension deals give something back, no way any of the extra 100,000 local government employees hired in the rest of the state in recent years will be laid off, no way that the retired will be required to pay the same state and local income taxes the working serfs pay on the same income. Until the generations following Generation Greed reach retirement age, when most won’t have any retirement income.

Under the circumstances, and given what the next few years will be like, isn’t this a great time for Mayoral Control to end and Randi Weingarten to slink out of town? Is Mayor Mike really that lucky, of has he somehow orchestrated the whole thing? If he has any sense he won’t even appoint two members to the restored Board of Education, saying that he either is responsible or he isn’t, and confine his education initiatives to sending every city taxpayer a letter each year documenting how much money (including debt service, pensions and retiree health care) has been made available to the schools (I adjust for the higher cost of living here in my tables but there is no reason for him to bother), relative to the U.S. average, thanking the taxpayers for their sacrifices, pointing out that Bloomberg and the City Council have no say in what they do or do not receive in return, and NOT talking about that 25/55 deal.

And what will Randi Weingarten be doing in DC? We’ve already bailed out the richest white collar workers in the country in finance, and the richest blue collar workers in the country in the auto industry, all with debts younger generations will have to pay for the rest of their lives. How about a federal bailout for public employee pensions? After all, with the savers in the rest of the world growing restless about paying for our deficits, Social Security – which is all that most people have to look forward to in old age – is going to be cut. How about having the federal government borrow $trillions to force younger generations of workers without retirement plans to fund the early retirement of the public sector wing of Generation Greed, while raising the retirement age for future workers under Social Security to 75? Not at the same time, of course, but 18 months apart, with the latter “shared sacrifice” due to “circumstances beyond our control.”

One doesn’t have to be a genius to see the future. All it requires is a decent memory of the past, because it’s the same movie over and over and over again. Those who benefit will keep replaying it until they bring about an institutional collapse. And as the Russian proverb puts it, after the selfish predators have grabbed money off the top, “the shortage will be divided among the peasants.”