Log in Subscribe

A few of our stories and columns are now in front of the paywall. We at The Chief-Leader remain committed to independent reporting on labor and civil service. It's been our mission since 1897. You can have a hand in ensuring that our reporting remains relevant in the decades to come. Consider supporting The Chief, which you can do for as little as $3.20 a month.

Wake-Up Call

Teleworking from the Bermuda Triangle


Is the value of workers' productivity greater in their employers' eyes if the labor was achieved while the workers were needlessly inconvenienced? 

Does it detract from workers' high standard of performance and violate one of the criteria for being a corporate team-player if they aced their duties while wearing unmatched socks during a workday Zoom extravaganza?

According to a letter from Local 371 of DC37, the city will reconsider its earlier outright refusal to review the union's demand for a telework/hybrid option for its members. If successfully negotiated, it would affect thousands of employees.

Because the nature of some jobs requires an on-site presence, its universal implementation would not be feasible. For instance, restaurant workers couldn't deliver matzo ball soup.

Resistance to a hybrid schedule is driven, in part, by a stubborn refusal to evolve with the times, fear of the unknown, confusion about the mechanics of implementation, indolence, inertia and logistics, and  fear of diminished capacity to frivolously and arbitrarily micromanage subordinates.

There are as many factors as there are pretexts for resisting progress.

There's no inherent reason to reject teleworking. It is already thriving among non-municipal employees in the same agencies where its fate is being collectively bargained. Some of the soundest ideas have taken generations to get embedded.

If telehealth for physicians treating cardiomyopathy isn't out of the question, then the answer for union workers might just as well be telework. And they wouldn't even charge for co-pays.

Teleworking would make employment more attractive and deepen the pool of quality applicants. According to the City Workers for Justice, the vacancy rate for some city agencies is as high as 15 percent.

The city's labor negotiators may be forced by pragmatism to add a riper carrot to its arsenal of carrots and sticks. Can unions match the city carrot for carrot, stick for stick? Are we approaching the "end-times" of government intransigence?

Scientists try to figure out how flocks of thousands of starlings can fly in huge waves and all of them suddenly alter direction at the same instant, as though cued by an invisible signal. Mathematicians are racking their brains to explain the "why" behind the "how" of their knowing the exact minute of high-tide at any beach on earth 100 years from now.

These are relatively easy.

Harder is what stumps labor unionists: why does management collectively go into anaphylactic shock when it is suggested that workers should be ceded some liberty for decency's sake? Is it congenital or is it something acquired, like lust for  power?

Does it go with the turf, like the Ferragamo scarves worn by many of the 25-year-old entry-level principals who graduated from the Department of Education's Leadership Academy under former Mayor Mike Bloomberg?

When Bloomberg left office, he swelled with pride that all public employee unionists were continuing to work under expired contracts. To use Curtis Sliwa's phrase, he "threw nickels around like they were manhole covers.”

That is not a model for Mayor Eric Adams to emulate.

Allowing employees to telework would be as cost-free as entry to the Bronx Zoo used to be when I was a kid.

One of the commandments in an employers' holy book of labor negotiation is that no benefit to workers should be extended unless they first surrender something they have cherished for a long time. With that in mind, unions must not submit to the sacrifice of health insurance or other perquisites of their existing compensation packages.

During the tug-or-war of contract negotiations, we must not let go of the rope that allows our standard of living and quality of life to incrementally inch ahead.

Employers are able to see the light, but it often falls to the unions to open the curtains to let it through. 

According to a survey cited by the business-friendly Partnership for New York City, "82 percent of employers indicated that a hybrid work model will be their predominant policy in 2023 … remote work is here to stay.”

Fortune Magazine notes "A new era of remote work has pushed a a New York property magnate to consider giving up some of his office buildings.” According to said CEO Scott Rechler, "I don't think there's anything we can do with them. … We're all cognizant there's a sense of existential change."

According to Zip Recruiter, as cited by the New York Times, "job seekers on average said they would take a 14 percent pay cut in order to work remotely.” Their chief economist notes "Many, many companies in recent months come back to the office five days a week, only to reverse that mandate within about a week after hearing that they'd lose their best and brightest." 

Aside to union negotiators: erase that 14 percent from the tablet of possibility! If a proposal makes demonstrable common sense, unions have a better chance of persuading employers to implement it than if the advocacy is made on mere humanitarian grounds.

One consideration is that there may be a decline in personal and sick days taken by employees if there were more flexibility in their daily grind.

Telework is a bargaining chip for both sides. Unions must never embrace it on employers' condition that workers accept lesser pay raises as a concession. Employers no doubt will calculate an estimated commute time that workers can save by telework and push to increase productivity expectations accordingly.

Some employers are antsy that if they extend any major new benefit to employees, the former status quo won't be recoverable. The old-school culture of 9-5 exploitation will be like the DNA of cremated bodies.

And now, in the words of Mayor Adams, I "shift and pivot" to the second topic:

In the guise of a factual news report, the New York Post again injected a malicious editorial slant to besmirch its habitual target, the UFT. They said that the "powerful teachers union is putting its thumb on the scale to get its own candidates onto local parent advisory boards.”

They called it a "shady ploy.”

These community education councils are strictly advisory. They can neither dictate policy nor superimpose their will on the chancellor. The Post quotes a skeptic: "I think it's naive to say that the UFT doesn't have their own interest in all of this.”

That implies nefarious motives and a clash between the goals of the UFT and the public interest. That is a crazy leap of mistrust!

Why should the voices of teachers be uniquely excluded from the otherwise broad and inclusive chorus of potential participants? There are tens of thousands of NYC public school educators who are UFT members, parents themselves, and professionals who have  specialized knowledge, training and classroom experience. They have constructive ideas that are research-based and honed from trial and error.

Why drive a wedge between teachers and our communities? Is it a "shady ploy" of the Post to serve the bigger picture of its anti-teachers union agenda?

No rivalry, contradiction or antagonism separates the interests of teacher union members from their students, parents and all New Yorkers.  Why does the Post persist in fanning the flames of misconception? 

Thankfully, popular awareness has put out the fire. Polls show that teachers and their unions are widely respected. Much more so than their slanderers.

There's nothing wrong with the UFT's focus on the advisory boards. It is not selfish activism. They have always been strong on community involvement. If community advisory boards existed for medical policy, instead of public education, would the Post be wary of doctors' participation?

I don't speak for the teachers union, but it sounds like they are just trying to be helpful and don't deserve to be the butt of conspiracy theories.

Sometimes I wish the Post's editorial board would be put on a raft to telework over the Bermuda Triangle.


No comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here