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New York City teachers union holds ‘teach-in’ protest over wages

Labor strikes, or threats to strike, are trending in popularity as labor unions flex their muscle in the public sector. New York City is the latest battleground, where municipal unions blame Mayor Eric Adams for not negotiating a new contract in good faith.

One union, the United Federation of Teachers (UFT), held a “teach-in” protest last week, where teachers reported to work and used their lunch break or after-school hours to hold the protest. Teachers gathered in a room to discuss issues of their choosing, such as political subjects like environmental justice or labor.

On UFT’s website, the union wrote that the teach-in protest is to “encourage engagement and activism,” but the purpose of this week’s protest is to call for a new contract. UFT said that the protest will “engage in a discussion about the power of our contract in shaping our experience as educators and then brainstorm actions your school can organize as part of our fight for the contract we deserve.”

Christopher Ahearn, UFT chapter leader at Lower Manhattan Arts Academy, told NY1, “What I’m hearing most from the chapter is people want a raise to help catch up with inflation and also because we haven’t had a raise for several years and we’ve been working very hard.”

UFT is not the only New York City union without a contract. Around 300,000 unionized staff are working under an expired collective bargaining agreement, such as school crossing guards, police detectives, sanitation workers, health technicians, and administrative workers. Mayor Eric Adams, a former city worker, campaigned with the support of union endorsements, but unions vented their frustration about Adams allegedly slow-walking contract negotiations.

As one union delegate said, “I think he misrepresented himself to the unions.”

A major hurdle for Mayor Adams and the unions is the mayor’s proposal to move health care for retirees to a cheaper alternative called Medicare Advantage, and then charge a monthly fee for those who want to remain on the original healthcare coverage plans. Unions said that unless they resolve the disagreement on retiree healthcare, contract negotiations will be at a standstill.

Despite leaked comments to the press about Adams and the impasse in negotiations, when asked directly about the impasse, union executive director Henry Garrido told the reporters, “We don’t bargain in the press.”

Meanwhile, the mayor’s office said the administration is “committed to offering quality and sustainable care for our retirees.”

It is expected that when the mayor finalizes an agreement with one union, the mayor will use the signed agreement as a model to negotiate with the other municipal unions.

Correction: A previous version of the article said that teachers used work time to conduct a ‘teach-in’ protest, but it has been corrected to say that teachers used lunch time and after-school hours to conduct the ‘teach-in’ protest.

Spencer Irvine

Spencer Irvine is Senior Writer & Researcher at Americans for Fair Treatment, a community of current and former public-sector employees offering resources and support to exercise their First Amendment rights. Spencer previously worked in state government, in communications for a non-profit advocacy organization, and held various administrative and communications roles at a media analysis organization. He has a master’s degree in public administration from George Washington University and a bachelor’s degree in international relations from Brigham Young University. He lives in Arizona with his wife, is an avid history buff and enjoys touring historic sites.