Urban Education

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A Happy Union

It was billed as a press conference, but it doubled as a love fest.

There they were: New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and local teachers' union President Randi Weingarten, standing side by side, with big smiles, as they announced the union's upcoming move into offices near the devastated site of the World Trade Center.

Ms. Weingarten, whose union had opposed Mr. Bloomberg in the November election, lavished warm words on the new Republican mayor, saying he has inspired the city to believe in his leadership. Mr. Bloomberg returned the favor, saying the city owes Ms. Weingarten and the United Federation of Teachers "a thank-you" for showing leadership that expresses confidence in the Lower Manhattan neighborhood, which is struggling to rebound some four months after the Sept. 11 terrorist attack.

The scene on Jan. 10, in the lobby of the UFT's future offices on lower Broadway, was quite a switch from the days of former Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, who was not on the warmest, fuzziest terms with the union.

Noting that the teachers' contract expired 14 months ago, some wondered if relocating so close to City Hall might smooth the way to a contract. The mayor quipped that it "can't hurt."

Bruce S. Cooper tracks teacher-union activity from his perch as a professor of educational administration at New York's Fordham University. He says the move can't help but benefit the contract talks. "I think Bloomberg likes the unions, and the unions like Bloomberg," he said. "It's a relationship made in heaven, and both will benefit.

"The move puts something on the table that both the union and the mayor understand: property," Mr. Cooper continued. "Because here in New York, we have an edifice complex. So the union is doing its bit to rebuild New York. It puts them in a good light to negotiate."

Ms. Weingarten said the union needed more space as its membership grew in the past decade to 140,000 and it expanded its roster of training courses for members. The American Federation of Teachers affiliate began looking for new space last year, and found the prices best in Lower Manhattan, even before the economic slump triggered on Sept. 11, said union spokesman Dick Riley. The move is scheduled for next January.

The union will buy one 37-story building and lease an adjacent 19-story one. The union hopes to finance the projected $65 million to $75 million cost of the purchase and first-year lease by selling its Lower Midtown headquarters and two other buildings, union officials said.

—Catherine Gewertz [email protected]

Vol. 21, Issue 19, Page 6

Published in Print: January 23, 2002, as Urban Education

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