Remember the Stanford Marshmallow Test? Adorable children were tested on their “willpower” by being ordered to wait alone in a room with an alluring sweet placed before them. Though they had been promised a second marshmallow if they waited fifteen minutes, some succumbed the urge to take a clandestine bite. The experiment seemed to demonstrate inherent human fallibility, but a more progressive interpretation offers a lesson in social trust: the kids’ willingness to wait was a measure of their confidence that the grown-up would follow through on the promise of delayed gratification. It’s a useful lesson in behavioral psychology for New York’s teachers, who are poised to vote on a long-delayed contract proposal that could end over four years of waiting for labor peace in city public schools.
Mayor de Blasio and schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña hailed the deal as a breakthrough that could grease the skids for other union contract talks. But some educator activists say the deal, which combines modest pay hikes with cuts in healthcare funds and few major changes to working conditions, fails to make up for years of underfunding and labor hostility under the Bloomberg administration. Today, the Movement of Rank-and-File Educators (MORE) Caucus, a rabble-rousing group of United Federation of Teachers members, is campaigning for a “no” vote.
On the bread-and-butter issues, MORE smarts at the convoluted pay-hike scheme, which spreads an 18 percent raise in increments over nine years. An average annual raise of 2 percent hovers around the rate of inflation, which amounts to basically no raise at all, for a workforce with a starting salary well below the city’s median wage. Overall, the dribs and drabs of raises would stretch until 2020—a salary schedule that appears significantly less generous than those negotiated previously by the transit workers. The gap, MORE points out, might set a regressive pattern for other city contract negotiations.
The city offers some teachers an even more questionable pay hike: a “merit pay” system tied to academic performance, designating selected educators with categories of “Ambassador,” “Model” and “Master” teachers. It’s unclear how these labels would be assigned, but generally, tiered pay schemes are criticized as a form of union busting, because they potentially create competing divisions among teachers and undermine union solidarity and workforce morale.