Tag Archives: Unionism

My Evening at the UFT Delegate Assembly

How many delegates dutifully raise their hands every month after getting the UFT's cue?

How many delegates dutifully raise their hands every month after getting the UFT’s cue?

Should I go to the Delegate Assembly or the MORE protest?

This was the question I asked myself yesterday afternoon while walking to 52 Broadway. Surely, the fervent MORE folks would be in front of UFT headquarters calling for a complete moratorium on the new evaluations. Inside UFT HQ, the Delegate Assembly would be voting on a moratorium of their own: no high-stakes testing until schools have the Common Core materials they need.

There is not any doubt that the UFT designed this call for moratorium in response to MORE, whose online petition has collected thousands of signatures in less than a month. This is a victory of sorts for MORE, since it shows they can have some impact on UFT policy. Of course, the UFT moratorium is a completely declawed version of the MORE petition that accepts tying high-stakes, Common Core-aligned testing to teacher evaluations.

Seeing as how it has been about two years since I have participated in a full-throated protest, and over 3 years since I have attended a Delegate Assembly, I opted for the latter. While I always feel guilty for missing DAs, my experience yesterday reminded me why I avoid them.

I arrived at the reception hall just as the DA was about to start. The room was overflowing with delegates. The only remaining seats were towards the front to the left of the stage on which our president, Michael Mulgrew, would be standing. Many people sitting in this area were clearly MORE members, as indicated by their trademark red shirts. Our view of Mulgrew was blocked by camera equipment, as was his view of us. It is all the same, since he did not bother to look in our direction anyway.

As Mulgrew started his opening remarks, I helped myself to a much needed power nap. There was only one available seat next to me, an aisle seat, which became occupied at some point during my siesta. It was an older man with a high-pitched voice who seemed to have something to say every 3 seconds to anyone around him who would listen. All the more reason, I thought, to continue with my nap.

I promptly came to attention once the voting was set to begin. To introduce the moratorium vote one of Mulgrew’s trusted right hands, LeRoy Barr, gave an impassioned speech about the injustice of rating teachers on exams aligned to the Common Core when so many schools around the city have not received their Common Core materials. He reminded us that we all believe in fair evaluations and the Common Core. We just wanted to make sure that the new system was being implemented properly.

At this point, it was tempting for me to mutter cynical responses to everything LeRoy Barr said. Things like “you guys believe in Common Core” and “you guys brought us these evaluations that are now being improperly implemented” hung on the tip of my lips. At some point earlier in the night, Mulgrew complained that John King’s evaluation framework was hundreds of pages long and needs to be simplified. I wanted to yell out “didn’t you say that you were fine with any plan King wanted to hand down?”

However, other people raised their hands to speak on the evaluations in the proper Robert’s Rules of Order format. One dissident claimed that we are ignoring the affects of poverty on education and test scores. She then tried to introduce a measure to call for a complete moratorium on the teacher evaluations, at which point Mulgrew imperiously cut her off. In response, a young well-dressed woman explained that she went to a summer seminar on “results based” unionism and the union’s role in bringing us these evaluations were part of getting “results”.

Meanwhile, the older gentleman next to me, who at that point noticed I was finally awake, turned to me and said the Common Core was great because kids who switch school districts in the middle of the year would be able to pick up from where they had left off. In an annoyed tone, I told him that the Common Core were standards, not a curriculum, and therefore guaranteed no such thing. I was tempted to add that local control of education has been a hallmark of American public schooling but I feared that thought would be lost on him.

The comment of the night came from a MORE member who eloquently explained why these evaluations were a bad idea. He said he has been teaching for 13 years without incident and now, all of the sudden, the union is telling him that he needs Danielson and junk science “growth” scores. His mini-speech garnered quite a round of applause. Even my new friend next to me had to acknowledge he made some good points. I was hopeful that this speech had swayed some minds before voting started.

However many minds it might have swayed, it was not nearly enough. The DA voted quite convincingly in favor of this moratorium, which was tantamount to recognizing the legitimacy of the new evaluations. Even the guy next to me voted in favor. It was at that point that I made audible reference to male bovine scatology. I turned to the sea of faces behind me and asked “are you serious?” My incredulity was returned with blank stares. I figured this would be a pretty good point to leave.

It is clear that teachers do not want this system. It is also clear that the Unity Caucus that runs the UFT gets whatever it wants passed through the Delegate Assembly. They do this by controlling the flow of debate, apparently making up Robert’s Rules of Order as they see fit. More importantly, they do this by controlling delegates. The woman who mentioned “results based” unionism was obviously a very convinced Unity foot soldier. Doubtless there is a cushy job waiting for her someday at 52 Broadway. Then there are the delegates like my new friend who are half-informed and accept anything UFT leadership throws at them. These are by far the majority of delegates. They are not Unity sycophants. They are merely apathetic. Many of the people who clapped for the MORE member’s impassioned speech also voted for the moratorium.

What these union members get from doing Mulgrew’s bidding is a bit of a mystery. My hunch is that, quite simply, they equate being a good union member with being a good soldier. Their attendance at the DA is a clue. Their passivity is another clue. As I asked them if they were serious, the blank looks I got in response spoke to a group of people quite satisfied with themselves and probably their self-images as union members.

Yesterday brought home for me the importance of being able to organize school by school. Much like the Tea Party did with Republicans they deemed “moderate”, critical and active teachers need to run against these staid delegates in the schools. The Delegate Assembly needs to be reformed one delegate at a time.

How that is done is the million-dollar question.



It’s Up To You…. Chicago?

Teachers in New York might have to change the city in Sinatra's famous song.

Michael Dunn over at Modern School nicely outlines the coming contract battle between the Chicago Teachers’ Union and its employer, Chicago Public Schools. Mayor Rahm Emanuel wants to expand the school day by 90 minutes. The union wants a 30% raise, lower class sizes and greater enrichment opportunities for students. They have put money aside for a public relations campaign and are already making arrangements for a strike should contract negotiations break down. I agree with Michael Dunn in that teachers, even workers in general, across the country should keep their eyes on Chicago.

For teachers in New York City, seeing a union actually standing up for its members and students is strange indeed. It seems like it was just this past Thursday that our union sold us out by agreeing to a bonehead evaluation system based entirely on student test scores. In return, the union got absolutely nothing for its members, not even the due process for teachers rated “ineffective” for which they had been holding out. Our fearless leader Michael Mulgrew can be seen hobnobbing with the people responsible for the chartering in this, the country’s largest school district. If New York City schools serve as a model for the rest of the country, then there is plenty for the country to fear.

Chicago has been called the “second city”, but New York City teachers seriously need to consider it the first. It occupies an important place in the current wave of education reform. The current Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, cut his educational teeth by chartering schools as CEO of CPS. The Race to the Top program championed by President Obama is Duncan’s Chicago program writ large. Chicago’s current mayor served as President Obama’s bulldog early in the administration. There is an argument to be made for Chicago, not New York, as the symbolic leader of school systems in the era of education deform.

There is a little more hope in looking to Chicago. Last year, the Caucus of Rank-and-File Educators won the election to lead the CTU. Their stand against charters, mayor control and top-heavy union leadership resonated with the teachers there, who have suffered through many education reforms longer than the teachers in NYC. Under the leadership of their charismatic new president, Karen Lewis, the union has been aggressive in its attempt to resist further corporate reforms. Part of their success lies in the tactic of tying the demands of the union to what is best for students, especially students of Chicago’s vast inner cities. It is hard for the corporatizers to paint the union as a bunch of selfish fat cats when their demands include full-day kindergarten and an equality of services throughout rich and poor neighborhoods. Needless to say, when the public relations battle over the new contract starts to heat up, they would be well-served to make this the centerpiece of their campaign. While a 30% raise is vital to offset the longer work hours, not to mention to make up for all of those years without a cost of living increase, it will play into the hands of the Emanuels, Duncans and Gates of the world who want to portray teachers as a bunch of bums with their hands out. Especially in the era of the Great Recession, it will be easy for CPS to drive a wedge between Chicago’s unemployed and underemployed on the one hand and teachers on the other over the salary issue. It is not so beyond the pale to imagine a man on the street television spot where a working stiff hard on his luck says, “I’ve been out of work for 2 years and these teachers want a 30% raise? Give me their jobs, I’ll do it for half the salary.”

Mayor Bloomberg’s public relations war against the union here in NYC has been wildly successful. This is due in large part to Bloomberg’s ties to the media as a former mogul himself. However, his success also has much to do with the fact that his accusations are true. Rank and file teachers are certainly not a bunch of well-fed union bums, but Michael Mulgrew and the rest of the leadership certainly are. Unfortunately, Mulgrew’s face is the union to many New Yorkers. Much like Randi Weingarten before him, all of his “looking out for the best interests of kids” rhetoric rings hollow, mostly because it is. With the millions of dollars the UFT pulls in annually, it took them up until a few weeks ago to run one measly television ad, a hokey and clichéd affair with pretty, mostly young teachers working hard in the classroom. Most of his effort is spent pulling off back room deals with Bloomberg and Cuomo. When the union leadership brings up children at all, it is as an afterthought, the requisite lip service coming straight from some PR handler’s playbook. Everyone in NYC knows this, giving the UFT no traction in the arena of public opinion.

Teachers in NYC have to take a page from CTU’s playbook now. When their union proved to be shills for the forces of ed reform, they turned the leadership out of office. When their Machiavellian mayor proposed a longer school day, their new union immediately responded with a deluge of common sense demands that school districts around the country have long neglected. Contrast that with a union that rolls over and dies in every negotiation and smiles in the face of their members like they did them a favor. It is time for New Yorkers to swallow their pride and give Chicago their due respect for having a teachers’ union ahead of the curve.

In terms of what needs to be done, teachers in Chicago are making theirs the first city.

Attend the State of the Union Conference This Saturday (2/4/12)

Teachers across New York City who are concerned about the education of their students and the state of the profession need to attend the State of the Union Conference this Saturday February 4, 2012. It will be held at the Graduate Center for Worker Education at 25 Broadway in the financial district of Manhattan.

Registration information and directions click here.

Public education is under attack! Stand up, fight back!

As educators we are strongest when our voices are united.

That is what a UNION is for. The UNION makes us strong.

For far too long the leadership of our union, the United Federation of Teachers (UFT), along with the national American Federation of Teachers (AFT), have been silent, thrown up minimal defenses too little too late, and have even collaborated in the assault on our profession, our students and their families.

It is time to re-imagine our teachers’ union.

Imagine. . .

A union with true democracy.

A union where members’ concerns, ideas and opinions form the union identity.

A union that works to educate, organize and mobilize its members in support of public education, our careers as professionals, and our students, their families and communities.

A union that works to end mayoral control and other racist policies that have removed the voice of educators and parents from decision making.

A union that works with individual schools to recruit and train chapter leaders and delegates who share this vision.

A union that supports Chapter Leaders in struggles with administrations and in their work to educate and organize members.

Join rank and file  union members and their parent and community allies at The State of the UNION Conference Come meet other UFT members who want a new kind of union, while learning about the history and functioning of the UFT in workshops facilitated by rank and file members, union delegates and education activists.

Workshops include: What is Social Justice Unionism? Organizing 101: Parents and Teachers Working Together-a Vision for a Community Oriented Teacher Union What happened to Brown vs. Board of Education: Resegregation of our Schools. The Disappearing Black and Latino Teacher and the Deprofessionalization of Teaching. What’s the 1% Want with Our Schools? (Privatization 101) Mayoral Control vs. A People’s Board of Education Know your rights: Civil Disobedience and Student Organizing. Strategy & Tactics: After OWS, What’s Next for Our Movement?