Thursday, September 22, 2005
Unity Uses Unfair Tactics to Push their "Vehicle" For a Contract on Us at DA
By James Eterno, UFT Chapter Leader Jamaica HS, HS Executive Board Member
Tuesday's special Delegate Assembly was another exercise in futility for those of us who favor full and fair debate. The DA is the highest policy making body of the UFT. Chapter Leaders and Delegates from every school are represented there. Non teaching chapters and retirees are represented also.
Knowing full well that they might lose if there were an open discussion on the subject of the fact finding report that contained givebacks for teachers that would reduce the UFT to little more than a dues collecting organization whose members would have few of the rights they now enjoy, UFT President Randi Weingarten and her Unity caucus leadership had to resort to making up biased rules of procedure to push through a resolution that will allow the UFT to continue negotiations with the city based upon a fact finding report that is so loaded with givebacks that any real union leader would have three words to say about it : "Dead on Arrival".
According to the UFT Constitution, Roberts Rules of Order should be used at the Delegate Assembly and all other bodies of the UFT. Randi Weingarten violated those rules so much at Tuesday's DA that it rendered whatever came out of the meeting meaningless.
Roberts Rules are there to ensure fairness in a deliberative body. Watch CSpan for a few minutes when Congress is in session and it will be clear that the presiding officer in either the House of Representatives or the Senate does not engage in debate. The Chair is supposed to be impartial in order to make sure the debate is fair. The presiding officer should leave the chair and speak from the floor if he/she wishes to engage in debate on an issue and then not return to the chair until the matter that he/she spoke on is voted on. A neutral chair is a fundamental rule of debate. President Weingarten violated the rule when she started speaking in favor of a resolution to use the fact finding report with all of its givebacks as a vehicle to jump start negotiations on a new contract.
When Jeff Kaufman, a trained lawyer and now a teacher as well as chapter leader and UFT Executive Board Member from ICE rose to a point of order saying that Weingarten was violating a basic rule by speaking in favor or a resolution from the chair because the chair has to be impartial, Weingarten arrogantly refused to rule on his point of order, nor did the UFT Parliamentarian. Randi just kept on speaking, and speaking and speaking. (A point of order takes precedent over a speaker who is speaking in favor of a motion according to Roberts Rules because a point of order is saying that a rule is being violated.).
Randi went on filibustering for another forty minutes in favor of using the fact-finding report as a vehicle to jump start negotiations. After she finally finished, Kaufman asked that the Union's parliamentarian rule on his point of order and amazingly he ruled against Roberts Rules. He said that Kaufman had no right to interrupt Randi. She was allowed to speak in favor of the resolution and then preside over the debate as the impartial chair. The ruling was a disgrace!
Kaufman also asked if the opposition could now have equal time (40 minutes) to speak against the resolution. Weingarten said she would allow a speaker against but she was silent as to the time that would be allowed for the opposition. Carolyn Eubanks from John F. Kennedy HS took the floor to speak but after about a minute, Weingarten's followers from the Unity Caucus began to shout her down. This tactic was not surprising since Unity Caucus members are tightly controlled by the leadership of the UFT.
Unity members sign a membership obligation where they agree to support the decisions of the caucus in union and public forums. Most receive perks from the Union in exchange for their absolute loyalty to the caucus. Some get to go on all expense paid trips to conventions while others get part time after-school union jobs. At the top of the Unity food chain are the people who are relieved from full time teaching duties in schools and instead work all day for the Union.
These are the folks who have the six figure salaries and receive a NYC as well as a UFT pension when they retire. While many of these individuals are hard working union supporters, they are also loyal to Unity caucus. Add to this that there are 300 retiree delegates who all belong to Unity and enjoy their perks and you can see why the opposition from the schools has a difficult time breaking through at the DA. Many delegates don't even show up because of the futility of fighting the well oiled Unity machine whose main aim it would seem is to protect itself.
When Eubanks finished her speech in opposition to the resolution on the fact-finding report, Randi then called on David Peccararo, a Unity member from Beach Channel HS. David spoke in favor of the resolution to use the fact-finding report as a vehicle to get us a contract. A person opposed should have been called next, right.
Randi called on Michelle Bodden, the Unity VP for elementary schools who voted twice previously in favor of the resolution at the Administrative Committee (11 Union officers) and the Executive Board (89 member body that directs the affairs of the UFT). I couldn't take yet another direct assault on democratic procedures so I rose to a point of order. I was so angry that the role of the chair was being totally abused by Weingarten.
I questioned the Parliamentarian's competence and cited Roberts Rules chapter and verse by stating that the chair is supposed to alternate between those who favor and those who oppose a resolution during a debate. Randi at first hesitated but when I would not relent she backed off and for at least a few minutes she alternated between those who were for and those who were against the resolution. However, by that time it was clear that those in favor of the resolution were on the side of the chair. The whole process made a mockery of Union democracy.
Soon thereafter, Sam Lazarus, Chapter Leader from Bryant HS, made a motion to amend the resolution by taking out the clause that says that the fact-finding report could be used as a vehicle to get us a contract and Sam said we should just stick to the other parts of the resolution that called for us to step up our action campaign and have a deadline for negotiations.
Marilyn Voight Downey was given a couple of minutes to speak in favor of the amendment and then there was a Unity speaker against. The vote on the amendment which was a reasonably fair debate was closer than the vote on the original motion where the chair was clearly biased. The Union told the Post that it was 80% in favor of Randi's position and today that figure moved up to 90% in favor of Randi on the UFT website. The reality is that it was a more divided house and the Daily News story was much more accurate than the Union spin about the raucous tone of the meeting and anger on both sides .
Ever wonder why so many UFT members don't trust the Union's leadership? We try to be good trade unionists but we are thwarted at every turn by a leadership that will use any means at its disposal to have its way. I would like to pose a challenge to the people who run the UFT: level the playing field and level with us. Follow Roberts Rules of Order. Let the UFT Constitution be more than words on paper. If you can prevail in a fair fight, then so be it. However, the way it is now it's about as democratic as a Soviet style government.
Educate yourselves fellow UFT members. It's your union. Recapture it!
(I consider myself pro-union but pro-fairness.)