Outgoing New York Teachers Union Boss Leaves Behind an Organization Deep in the Red

The union spent about $8 million on political activities and lobbying, mostly supporting Democrats and left-leaning messages.

AP/Matt Rourke, file
Desks are spaced apart ahead of planned in-person learning at an elementary school on March 19, 2021, at Philadelphia. AP/Matt Rourke, file

The New York State United Teachers is $180 million in debt, according to a new analysis by a public-sector watchdog group, Americans for Fair Treatment. 

The news comes as the teachers union ramps up its efforts to force policymakers to raise the number of public school teachers across the state — aiming to increase the number of union jobs, members, and dues payers, as well as the state’s education spending.

The union is responsible for 674,520 members, including the more than 180,000 members of its New York City affiliate, the United Federation of Teachers.

The union has not raised dues since 2019, relying instead on increased membership to boost revenue. Between 2019 and 2022, membership grew by about 3,000 persons. The union has been advocating for policies that would increase the total numbers of public school teachers in New York.

NYSUT and its allies pushed hard last year for a mandate that requires New York City’s public schools to phase in class-size limits over the course of five years. At least 20 percent of the city’s schools will need to reduce class sizes, requiring more classes and more classroom teachers.

The union has also been fighting to stymie the growth of charters: Earlier this month, Governor Hochul in her most recent budget proposal moved toward increasing the number of charter schools in New York City. 

The president of NYSUT’s affiliate in the city, the United Federation of Teachers, came out swinging against the proposal. “Public resources should go to real public schools — not to corporate charter chains,” Michael Mulgrew said.

Already, though, union-aligned members of the state senate have said Ms. Hochul’s proposal is a “nonstarter.” 

Teachers unions traditionally oppose charter schools, which chip away at union revenue by employing non-unionized and non-dues-paying teachers.

NYSUT’s current deficit is largely caused by its pension positions — the union is liable for more than $394 million in pensions for its nearly 500 employees. The pensions are not the same as the pensions for members, which are provided by the state.

The union is also operating at a deficit — it spent $38 million more than it made in dues in the 2021-22 fiscal year, according to the report.

Less than half of what it spent last year was on representational activities — what are typically thought of as the bread and butter of unions, including contract negotiations and filing grievances.

The union more than doubled its spending in strategic investments — what is, essentially, its endowment — compared to the previous year, putting away $65 million in investments, or 29 percent of its budget.

Just over a fifth of its spending went to employee benefits. Like the pensions, these benefits were reserved for union employees, not union members. More than half of the money spent on benefits was related to pension costs.

NYSUT also spent about $8 million on political activities and lobbying, mostly supporting Democrats and left-leaning messages.

“If I was paying dues under the assumption that the union was using those dues to represent me with my employers, it would be a little concerning to me that so much of that is being used for other things,” the senior organizing director of Americans for Fair Treatment, Brigette Herbst, says. “Perhaps they should focus more on those representational activities.”

The union’s boss, Andrew Pallota, is slated to retire in April.

NYSUT’s debt has decreased since Mr. Pallota came into office. When he was named president in 2017, NYSUT was more than $400 million in debt. Mr. Pallotta has halved that and then some. 

Mr. Pallotta’s salary, according to the Americans for Fair Treatment report, stands at $311,615 — more than 4 times the average salary of a New York State teacher.

NYSUT did not respond to a request for comment about its finances.

The New York Sun

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