Pallotta Elected NYSUT President; By How Much? Who Knows?

To the surprise of absolutely no one, Andrew Pallotta was elected president of New York State United Teachers by delegates to the union’s representative assembly. What was his margin of victory? Well, we don’t know. The vote tallies were not announced to the public, nor to the delegates.

It could be a simple oversight or perhaps the results were embarrassing to the elected officers for one of two reasons: 1) it was too close; or 2) it was too much of a blowout.

Too close and it casts doubt on Pallotta’s support. Too large a victory and it casts doubt on how representative the NYSUT representative assembly is.

Before the convention, NYSUT was proud to boast that 88 percent of its members were represented. Only after repeated inquiries were made by some delegates was it revealed that only 48 percent of NYSUT locals were represented.

In other words, the biggest locals made sure to send representatives. The smaller locals could not.

Martin Messner was re-elected as NYSUT’s secretary-treasurer, and in his speech to the delegates he briefly addressed the union’s finances. You already know what I (and some others) think of NYSUT’s finances. Here’s what Messner thinks:

Three years ago today we assumed financial stewardship of a NYSUT that was hemorrhaging cash and still reeling from the great recession.

Due to a series of deficits that reached as high as $12 million a year, reserves had plummeted by 40 percent.

The NYSUT pension plan was in severe trouble and was on the edge of being frozen. At the same time, our enemies were closing-in on us as they sensed a weakened NYSUT.

We changed the dynamic at NYSUT.

Officer perks were eliminated and sensible reforms were implemented to halt the downward slide.

Tonight, I am proud to report that after a great deal of hard work NYSUT is in the black for the 3rd year in a row and we have fully restored NYSUT’s reserves to pre-recession levels.

At the same time that we were strengthening NYSUT’s reserves, the NYSUT employee pension plan improved from a low of 61 percent funded to 88 percent funded today – the highest it’s been since 2008.

However, the plan is not without issues.

It requires substantially high investment returns in order to remain viable.

Due to interest rates, phasing out of the federal pension smoothing and a change in the mortality tables, we are expecting cost to rise rapidly over the next six years.

A dip in the markets could also put the plan at risk.

In order to address this concern, the Board of Directors has moved to create a special reserve fund to help with future spikes in the plan.

We plan to put in approximately $3.3 million dollars into this fund by September 1st.

We are also meeting jointly with all three bargaining units to look at options that bring more stability and security to the fund because we believe in providing our employees with a strong and secure retirement.

I could dissect this piece by piece but I will limit myself to noting that unions rarely admit to money problems contemporaneously. So Messner can say NYSUT was hemorrhaging cash three years ago (before he took office, of course) but no one three years ago was admitting that.

One last thing: Messner announced the union would set aside $70 million by next year “for the battles ahead,” specifically the consequences of potentially losing agency fee.

As England was preparing for invasion during WWII, Winston Churchill said “We shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.”

And it is in that vein that we will prepare for the fights to come.

…We will fight this battle and, if we persist, our enemies won’t land on our shores.

Rather, like England, it will be us who storms across the channel to fight on their turf.

Yep, the Battle to Retain Agency Fees is just like the Battle of Britain. I think we have a front-runner for Teacher Union Quote of the Decade.