New York City’s teachers union, the United Federation of Teachers (UFT), recently exerted more pressure on Mayor Eric Adams to increase their members’ wages. “Right now, I don’t think the city is prepared to actually give all city workers the raises they deserve,” Michael Mulgrew, the president of the UFT, told Gothamist on Tuesday, January 31st. “I think you’re going to have to see some friction,” he added.
The UFT represents 120,000 employees working for the Department of Education. In New York City, public employees are not allowed to strike so the teachers represented by UFT participated in a teach-in instead on Monday, January 30th. UFT said the teach-ins were done during lunch hours and without the involvement of students. The teach-ins were meant to draw attention to the ongoing contract negotiations and provide a platform to discuss ways to obtain fair contracts.
Mayor Adams Historical Stance
Mayor Adams previously spoke cautiously about the city handing out big wage increases. He said the city’s slow recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic and a possible recession complicates budgetary matters. His $103 billion preliminary budget has enough in the labor reserve to allow an increase of 1.25% for city workers, a figure experts deem low. In his recent State of the City address, he placed the workers of New York City at the forefront. “Today I want to outline a Working People’s Agenda based on the four pillars that uphold a strong and sustainable society: jobs, safety, housing, and care. These are the things that our administration is working for every day. Every New Yorker needs a good paying job,” Mayor Adams said during his speech.
Practice What You Preach
Now, some union leaders have asked the mayor to practice what he preaches. “While we are encouraged by many of Mayor Adams’ efforts to revive New York City’s economy, a true recovery can’t happen without rebuilding the city’s workforce, which has been hammered by budget cuts, a reduced headcount, and an inability to attract candidates or retain employees because of stagnated salaries,” said Harry Nespoli, Chairperson of the Municipal Labor Committee. Mulgrew said Mayor Adams’ words had been heard but asked, “can we see real action?”
Teachers experienced a difficult time during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic. The difficulties have not necessarily disappeared as the pandemic has progressed according to some of them. “We intimately deal with the effects of the pandemic with our students who have struggled and continue to struggle,” Julie Roinos said. “That is a whole new level of something we have to deal with on a daily basis.”
Steven Bastias, a teacher who firmly believes in the idea of thriving instead of simply surviving, said that during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, teachers sacrificed time and worked additional hours to help students and families. In the period after the peak of COVID-19, the cost of living has continued to rise because of inflation and other factors. “We find ourselves no longer being able to afford the neighborhoods we lived in before,” Bastias said. “We just want to make do; we just want to make ends meet like everyone else.”