United Federation of Teachers president Michael Mulgrew Monday said retroactive raises will be crucial in the negotiation of a new contract for his union's 200,000 members.
"It's a big issue for us. It is a very large issue with us," he said in a WNYC-FM interview, making his most assertive comments yet on the closed-door process. Mulgrew did not, however, say what it would cost the city to meet his back pay and salary hike demands.
The UFT, one of New York's most powerful labor unions, has been without contract since 2009. It is one of more than 150 collective bargaining units in the city working under expired contracts. The 300,000 municipal employees in those units are clamoring for about $8 billion in back pay.
Mulgrew's remarks came on the heels of a settlement with about 200 Department of Environmental Protection police officers who protect the city's water supply upstate. The de Blasio administration will give each of those officers an average of about $50,000 in back pay.
Mulgrew stressed the importance of improved working conditions and a "fair contract" in helping to retain teachers.
"I don't believe our school system's going to get better if we continue to lose half the teachers that walk into New York City schools," he said in the radio interview.
He credited Mayor Bill de Blasio's team with being more open than predecessor Michael Bloomberg's, but said contract talks will be conducted in private, insisting he and the mayor "don't want to do negotiations in the media."
De Blasio, in unveiling his $73.7 billion budget proposal last week, wouldn't detail what funds are set aside for labor. "We don't get into the specific numbers because the demands of the negotiation process require discretion," he said.
The environmental protection police union -- the Law Enforcement Employees Benevolent Association -- had been without contract for nine years, and the deal struck Thursday after just one meeting with de Blasio's director of labor relations Bob Linn earns them back pay for 2005 through 2007.
The agreement is unique because it involved a contract that has been expired for longer than other municipal union contracts, the mayor's office said. It does not set the standard for other contract talks, the mayor's office said.
"The guiding principle of the de Blasio team moving forward is to respect workers and protect taxpayers," mayoral spokeswoman Marti Adams said.