Tuesday, February 21, 2017


Over at the Pen is Mightier than the Person blog, Sullio has done a take-down of NYSUT Executive Vice President and now Presidential candidate Andy Pallotta that is too good to miss. He then endorses Mike Lillis and the Stronger Together officers for the top positions at NYSUT..

Here is some of Sullio's knockout of Pallotta.

Evidently, Pallotta is finally serious about reviving NYSUT, and thinks he's got what it takes to lead public education to the promised land. His eight-year record as a NYSUT officer, however, belies any serious hope that Pallotta can help pull schools back from the brink.

As NYSUT Executive Vice President, Pallotta's main charge has been to lobby legislators on behalf of working teachers, and at least earn a legitimate victory every once and a while.    

Since 2009, however, New York teachers have faced loss after loss, with Governor Andy Cuomo and the state legislator callously attacking teacher pensions and due process rights while spewing Common Core tests across the state. Thanks to Cuomo's Education Transformation Act, for example, trumped-up charges are now all it takes to fire tenured teachers and hand their schools off to voucher school villains. Meanwhile, s
uburban and rural districts are pinned-down by an insolvency-inducing tax cap, while urban schools are flush with rats instead of cash. 

But it's not like Pallotta hasn't tried. In fact, just last year he spent $109,600 (the maximum amount) of voluntary member donations (VOTE-COPE) on Republicans in the New York Senate, whose leader - John Flanagan - recently pledged allegiance to Betsy DeVos, President Trump's toxic secretary of education. It's safe to say that whatever campaign cash Flanagan and his flunkies received from NYSUT was spent on obliterating any compassion they had left for public education - the platform of American democracy.    

Speaking of President Trump, Pallotta is a former member of the United Federation of Teachers (UFT), which recently took the absurd action of striking any references to Trump from a union resolution, opting to refer to Trump only as "the presidential election." Pallotta's pals in the UFT were apparently too afraid to offend public school teachers who voted for Trump, otherwise known as Those Who Should Know Better. 

And it's this kind of kowtowing that's placed teachers and their unions exactly where they are today - begging for scraps at the laps of people whose names they won't even whisper.

This is America, and our freedoms should include permission to criticize our leaders. Any educator who delays speaking truth to power is only running toward the inevitable cries of "Would've, could've, should've!" as their careers careen into flames.

Next, Sullio gives Mike Lillis and his Stronger Together's team a robust endorsement. 

A high School physics teacher and current President of the Lakeland Federation of Teachers (LFT), Mike Lillis has experience which Andy Pallotta severely lacks - running a classroom while running a union in the dark age of school deform. Lillis also has a good-old fashioned obsession with facts and data, which he has used to help unravel and reveal the fleecing of public education.

The attacks on schools can be boiled down to one number - 1630 - which equals the average score New York State expects students to achieve on the SAT. Only 34% of students who take the SAT, however, achieve this score, and your third-grader will not be one of them unless she scores a 3 on tests Cuomo himself once called "meaningless." Subpar students naturally means subpar teachers, whose subpar schools will soon be transformed into subpar websites.     

In a world of alternative facts, 1630 is an indisputable digit which represents all that is wrong with school deform.

Sadly, when Lillis brought this bogus benchmark before the New York State Education Department (NYSED) and Commissioner MaryEllen Elia, crickets filled the room. After all, everyone had always assumed that "college and career ready" meant whatever Bill Gates wanted it to mean, and did not originate from say, some arbitrary test score. NYSED promised to "get back to" Lillis with an explanation, and he's still waiting. Lillis did get the Commissioner to admit that the teacher evaluation system was "random", however, a both hilarious and horrifying admission from the state's top education official.

Joining Lillis on the ST slate of candidates are Bianca Tanis, who's running for Pallotta's old position, Megan DeLaRosa (1st Vice President), and Nate Hathaway (Secretary/Treasurer). Like Lillis, all of them are full-time teachers and unionists, and all of them care deeply about their profession, on personal and professional levels.

Fearsome Foursome (clockwise from top left): Lillis, Tanis, Hathaway, DeLaRosa

All of them are also leaders of the opt-out movement, an unprecedented act of civil disobedience which has pushed back against the privatization of public education. As a founder of New York State Allies for Public Education (NYSAPE), Bianca Tanis has traveled the state and appeared on national television to educate teachers and parents on the standardized threats their schools face. This dedication alone has given working teachers more hope than Andy Pallotta could ever hope to give.      

Even amid the lunacy of a Trump presidency, t
he existential threats faced by NYSUT and teachers in general cannot be minimized. This election should at least help expose those threats to a public flogging of logic and the altruism of educators. 

Lillis and ST recognize these threats, and want schools to persevere and prosper. They know, for instance, that the eager students sitting in their classrooms today are a lot less likely to become teachers tomorrow because of the losses of the past decade, losses which the likes of Pallotta have done little to stop.  

With all three branches of government ready to turn America into a Right to Work nation, it's finally time for NYSUT to get serious and give grassroots teachers a chance to lead. Besides, there's little to stop NYSUT from sliding off the cliff once dues becomes optional, and your leader will be the guy who brought you Tier VI and four-year tenure.

Mike Lillis and the ST slate will fight for fairness, for all teachers and students. They understand the importance of the Union movement and do not enjoy seeing it decimated by apathy and ignorance.

Whether it's ST, the UFT, or NYSUT, the Union must endure - it is the only barrier keeping us from the billionaire barbarians.

We must hold the line and move forward, together.  

I hope Sullio's piece has a hand in convincing people sitting on the fence that we were right to endorse Lillis here at the ICE-UFT blog.

Monday, February 20, 2017


There is a lead story in the current Village Voice contemplating a general strike in Donald Trump's America. We at ICE were ready for combined union action twelve years ago and raised the issue at the UFT Executive Board.

My friend Sam Lazarus (at the time Chapter Leader of Bryant High School) had an idea in 2005 that the UFT should unite forces with the Transit Workers Union Local 100 for a massive job action as both unions were fighting for contracts. I brought his idea up at the UFT Executive Board. I will never forget then UFT President Randi Weingarten's response saying that she has spoken to Roger. Roger was then TWU President Roger Toussaint. That's all she would say.

Soon thereafter the UFT agreed to the disastrous 2005 contract where we gave up nearly all of our seniority rights as well as many other concessions. The contract created the massive ATR crisis as the door was opened for then Mayor Bloomberg to close schools at will and not worry about having to place the teachers from those schools in different schools. Meanwhile the transit workers went on strike in December of 2005 and while they took a pounding at first by having to pay penalties from the Taylor Law -- two days pay for every day out on strike and the union lost automatic dues checkoff -- they have recovered and in the last two contracts they have clearly beaten the municipal unions salary increases at the bargaining table.

Randi wouldn't even call transit workers courageous as this partial transcript from a NY 1 interview from 2005 shows. I leave it to you to guess what she told Roger Toussaint in that conversation she told the Executive Board about.

TWU Local 100 is respected by the powers that be because they know they could strike. The UFT is considered a paper tiger because we are incapable of any kind of labor action.

In 2017, I cannot conceive of the heads of the mostly bureaucratic top-down unions in the United States even contemplating combined union job actions. Leadership seems to be content to have their membership shrink as long as the leadership keeps their high paying jobs and seats at the table with the Democratic Party. Labor resurgence will need to come from the bottom up.

Back to the Voice piece, 2016 MORE presidential candidate Jia Lee is quoted in it. Here is the part where Jia is featured.

Today, even though union leadership may not be eager for a general strike, some rank-and-file members see an opportunity for a broader movement.

"If we focus our attention on the person Trump, then our focus is too narrow. It's not like if we impeach Trump we get rid of systemic racism, institutional racism," said Jia Lee, a sixteen-year veteran public elementary school teacher at the Earth School in the East Village.

Lee recently ran an unsuccessful campaign against United Federation of Teachers president Michael Mulgrew as part of the Movement of Rank and File Educators, an opposition caucus within the union.

UFT members are prohibited from formally striking, and Lee is skeptical that big unions entrenched in the Democratic Party will get on board for a general strike, especially one organized hastily. But that might not be a problem, she said, since the real value of such a strike could be as a test run for would-be activists who have just begun attending marches and want to know what's next. Lee says the widespread dissent surrounding the confirmation of Betsy DeVos as education secretary is just one example of an awakening.

"It's parents, grandparents, students in college who grew up in the No Child Left Behind era, whose eyes are open. They're flooding their senators' offices to the point they've been pressured to vote no. It's pretty powerful," Lee said. Building on this momentum, a general strike could eventually be successful, even if it takes a few tries.

"People have decided they need to be really loud and in mass levels, a mass movement of people saying, 'We're not going to be a part of this if this is how you're going to play,' " said Lee

Since some of the UFT rank and file who comment here are more interested in not having to pay union dues to our bureaucratic union rather than organizing for a strike, I think it will take an enormous amount of actually educating working people about the potential of a massive job action for it to have a chance of actually succeeding. While I agree with Jia's central argument, the issue that will unite working people of all races is not institutional racism.

Saturday, February 18, 2017


New York State United Teachers is our state union. It has been pretty much controlled by the UFT since our union is by far the biggest local in NYSUT. In addition, there is enough patronage for other large locals to be bought off to ensure nothing changes at the state union level. This does no good for New York State teachers as the record the last few years shows.

Andy Pallotta, the man responsible for our many legislative failures in Albany, has now been tapped by Michael Mulgrew's Unity Caucus to run for NYSUT President. Let's closely examine his abysmal record as Executive Vice President where he has been directing how our political contributions in Albany are spent.

There have been two new teacher evaluation systems passed into law so teacher ratings are now based on student test scores on faulty exams and the totally subjective Danielson observations. In addition, it now takes new teachers at least four years to obtain tenure. In the past it was three years of probation. There is an inferior Tier 6 pension, where a career teacher who starts right out of college must work over forty years to obtain a full retirement allowance which is lower than the Tiers I through V pension. There has been a change in professional development rules that has made it more difficult for teachers in NYC to get PD. We also have the 2% tax cap that limits education spending in most school districts unless a super majority votes to override it. UFT/NYSUT's legislative record under Pallotta has been nothing short of disastrous. His major success the last three years was to get himself and other NYSUT officers extra pension credit like Unity officers and District Representatives have in the UFT.

Only in twisted world of Unity Caucus can an officer totally fail to make any improvements for the rank and file and obtain a promotion.

In 2014, then NYSUT President Dick Iannuzzi and the other NYSUT officers, except Pallotta, took a bold step to buck the UFT/Unity leadership to move NYSUT in a more adversarial direction against anti-public education, anti-worker Governor Andrew Cuomo. It cost Ianuzzi and his team their jobs as Pallotta backed by UFT President Mulgrew led the breakaway movement to unseat Iannuzzi's team.

Iannuzzi led the Stronger Together Caucus and ran to keep his job without UFT and other big city local support. The UFT/Unity machine backed Karen Magee who was elected NYSUT President with around 61% of the statewide vote. Her margin of victory was secured through unanimous UFT support as our union's Delegates to NYSUT do what Mulgrew tells them to do. Since 2014, NYSUT has continued in its free-fall under Magee and her team which of course includes Pallotta. In 2017 Magee has either been dumped by Unity or has had enough. Pallotta and Mulgrew no longer even want to put a fig-leaf to cover over the reality that the Unity/UFT leaders control NYSUT.

Stronger Together in 2017 is running against the state Unity Caucus again. ST announced their top four officer slate recently. Although I strongly disagree with ST not running anyone from New York City for any position, Mike Lillis as a candidate for President is clearly superior to any alternative backed by the UFT/Unity leadership. Lillis is the President of the Lakeland Federation of Teachers.

Not that my support means much even though more NYC high school teachers voted for opposition MORE/NEW ACTION than Unity in last year's UFT election so I should be the High School Vice President as that is the position I ran for. However, Unity has rigged the electoral system so I am not the High School VP and the majority of high school teachers who participated in last year's UFT election are totally disenfranchised in the NYSUT election.

No self respecting teacher should ever vote Unity. On Facebook in the comments to a ST post promoting their top slate, Lesa Aloan Wilbert explains the problems we have in the UFT, NYSUT and AFT in a few lines when referring to last year's NYSUT Representative Assembly. Every public school teacher in the USA should read this.

Lesa Aloan Wilbert My first RA was last year. I sat next to a lovely woman who agreed with pretty much every topic we discussed. When we stood for votes, she sat. When I asked her why she didn't vote with me, she said, "I'm not allowed to vote against the UFT." Corruption in our midst. Go Stronger Together Caucus!

I'm not happy that ST didn't agree to support any of us UFT dissidents for NYSUT office, particularly since some of us joined ST when it formed back in 2014. Arthur Goldstein (Chapter Leader Francis Lewis High School in Queens) ran for Executive VP back then against Pallotta. It is true we did not meet the deadline ST set up for applying for officer positions for 2017 but we asked about the Board of Directors and were rebuffed there too based on the fact that ST wants reforms that would eliminate certain positions. I think their move can be construed as anti-NYC teacher. ST also threatened my friend Mike Schirtzer from MORE who sits on ST's Executive Committee representing NYC. ST needs to reopen a dialogue to mend fences with NYC opposition members for sure.

On the other hand, another Unity shill Andy Pallotta as NYSUT President does not help our cause. His failures do not merit a promotion. It is of primary importance that it be a pro-union group that punches a hole in the Unity machine. ST/Lillis are better than Mulgrew/Pallotta/Unity on teacher evaluations and many other issues impacting members.

ST wants to repeal most of the onerous parts of the Education Transformation Act of 2015 which set up the current teacher evaluation system. ST opposes it taking at least four years on probation for a teacher to be tenured. ST is against receivership where the state takes over so called failing schools and can easily get rid of the teachers and other staff. ST is also in favor of opting out of standardized tests while Mulgrew calls opt out dangerous. ST is no friend of Andrew Cuomo while Mulgrew and Pallotta give him a wink and a nod at best.

ST clearly has superior positions over Unity. That is more important than any personal disagreements we may have with ST leaders over how decisions on candidates were made or controversy over top-down vs. bottom-up unionism which is an important theoretical discussion to have but not that critical right now when the union movement itself is in so much peril.

I believe Mike Lillis/ST are a better choice at NYSUT than anyone who Unity Caucus runs. I'll be backing ST and offering them my assistance if they want it. Since the giant UFT contingent will all vote as they're told for Pallotta at the NYSUT Representative Assembly in April and other large locals are in the pocket of the UFT leadership, this will be a very difficult race for Lillis to win. It is extremely expensive for many of his potential supporters from small locals upstate to travel to NYC and stay at a high priced hotel just to have the right to vote in this election. The UFT membership pays the expenses for our bought and paid for Delegates to do as they're told by Mulgrew. Considering what they'are up against, I am under no illusions that ST will have it easy. Let's hope ST can unite a strong opposition to Unity/Pallotta.

*The views expressed here are my views only and have not been approved by the Independent Community of Educators (ICE), MORE, New Action or anyone else.

Thursday, February 16, 2017


Transport Workers Union Local 100 ratified their contract by a vote of 10,540 in favor to 4,571 against. That is a 70% yes vote. In 2014 there was an 82% vote in favor of the last contract at TWU so there is a bit of an uptick in their dissent. TWU has done better than the rest of us for the most part since 2009 so the majority of their members voted in the affirmative.

TWU President John Samuelsen mentioned city and state government employees in his reaction to the vote which is taken from their website.

“I want to thank rank-and-file transit workers for their strong show of support in ratifying this agreement with the MTA.  They recognized that the contract provides wage increases and other economic enhancements that will keep transit workers ahead of inflation, and fully protects their health coverage and wins important medical benefit gains without the concessions that are enshrined in city and state public sector patterns. It secures an unprecedented "me too" wage guarantee with the LIRR unions, which have the right to strike and are governed by federal law and wage patterns set by the national freight and commuter railroad sectors.

"The contract does not lock us into a long-term commitment, which provides an important hedge against any unforeseen spike in inflation.  For the first time, this contract has secured an agreement from the MTA to hire and utilize in house forces to retrofit the older parts of the transit infrastructure to provide clean, comfortable and safe crew areas for our sisters in transit.

"Over the next several months, our union will be plotting the course for 2017 and 2018, knowing that the potential of a national right-to-work bill and other destructive anti-trade union laws are likely coming our way. In this age of national political uncertainty, we must unite or risk great harm. In the coming months, I will be making extraordinary efforts to unify Local 100 to face this oncoming battle."

Wednesday, February 15, 2017


The Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit was settled about ten years ago but the state used the Great Recession as an excuse not to pay the city the money it is owed for schools. The recession is in the rear-view mirror but the state still hasn't paid up in full.

It is now referred to as Foundation Aid.

To find out how much your school is owed, click here.

Not that if the DOE got all the money, it would end up in the classroom.

At Middle College the money would be spent in the classroom for sure. According to the CFE site, MCHS is owed $917,147.

Monday, February 13, 2017


Not everyone is happy with the recent Transit Workers Local 100 tentative contract. A young Brooklyn Conductor is leading a spirited vote no campaign and he has joined forces with dissidents who were aligned with former TWU head Roger Toussaint who led the 2005 NYC transit strike. Readers might recall the tentative TWU agreement calls for two 2.5% raises over a 28 month period.

TWU's settlement for the last nine years blows away what the UFT did for,  it might be better to say, to city workers.

Some highlights from this Daily News piece on the TWU contract battle:

The transit union heralded its recent contract deal with the MTA as a rare victory for workers during dark times for the labor movement.

But that's not how Tramell Thompson, a 35-year-old conductor from Brooklyn who's been on the job for a scant three years, sees it.

"The contract was one of the worst contracts we've ever had," Thompson said of the deal Transport Workers Union Local 100 president John Samuelsen cut.

The Flatbush native may be new to the tracks and even newer to the union hall, but he's organizing an aggressive campaign for the group's rank-and-file members to vote down the contract. TWU members have until Wednesday to mail in their ballots.

Meanwhile, Thompson is building recognition among the TWU ranks for a movement he calls Progressive Action.

The conductor started Progressive Action last year as an internet radio show, blog and bustling private Facebook group that's attracted nearly 7,000 members.

"They respond better through internet interactions versus the old-fashioned tactics the union is using, (like) mass membership meetings," Thompson said.

He is acerbic and blunt when it comes to TWU leadership, critical of how it runs the organization and the benefits it gets for workers.

A flank of the TWU that supported former union president Roger Toussaint, who organized the 2005 transit strike, has allied with Progressive Action.

"We're like-minded," said Joe Campbell, a car inspector for 27 years with the MTA who twice ran unsuccessfully against Samuelsen and was a Toussaint ally. "He's bringing along a lot of the younger members."

Current TWU leadership is calling Thompson a scab because he said he would not strike if they are in office. TWU fights are so bitter but I think they show a truly thriving democratic union. It is very unlike the UFT in so many ways.

Thanks to Mike Schirtzer for sending the article out.

Sunday, February 12, 2017


I was just a little agitated at last week's Delegate Assembly when Leroy Barr refused to recognize my point of order or allow me to appeal his ruling so I didn't exactly listen closely when Mayor Bill de Blasio addressed the Delegates. In fact, while he was talking I decided it was time to leave.

Fellow Delegate Quinn Zannoni had this comment on our rundown of the totally undemocratic UFT de Blasio endorsement post. He summarized some of the Mayor's remarks:

At his DA speech, DeBlasio said he'd done a good job at education. He mentioned higher test scores, grad rates, better PD, and PROSE.

Test scores are being fiddled with, and consequently so are grad rates:

Better PD? It took them a painfully long time to announce what would count as PD hours, and they disqualified in-school staff meetings as countable hours.

Does anyone trust anything the Mayor says about his education record?

Remember, my perspective is from a more progressive position than some of the people who comment here.

I would not like to see a pro-charter Democrat or Republican elected but think rewarding what is arguably a very anti-teacher Mayor de Blasio with an early endorsement is questionable. He is responsible for hiring Chancellor Carmen Farina and letting her continue the war on teachers. Unwavering support for Democrats, no matter what they do, is not the answer.