Tuesday, June 20, 2006

ICE to Exec Board: Show Us That You Are True Union; Don't Take the Pay Raise!

The UFT Executive Board with only two dissenters and one abstention, voted on June 19 to give UFT officers and staff the full 15% increase that ICE said they would do months ago. Many of these people already earn six figure salaries and have a Union as well as Department of Education pension.

What is the giveback that the UFT agreed to for themselves in order to justify 15%? The UFT offices will remain open one extra hour per week. ICE asks is this the equivalent of the givebacks people in the schools have had to endure under the current contract? These givebacks include working an extra tutoring period four days a week for small group instruction in most schools, hall patrols, cafeteria duty, loss of two vacation days (three in Brooklyn and Queens) resulting in the longest school year in the New York Metropolitan area, loss of ability to grieve letters in our files, restricted transfer rights, weaker tenure protections and more.

What follows is a speech that James Eterno (High School Representative and Chapter Leader for Jamaica High School) gave in opposition to the pay raises at the Executive Board.

UFT officers, Borough Representatives, District Reps, Special Reps and the staff work extremely hard; some are on call 24/7. People who work diligently should be rewarded. That’s not the issue.

The issue was framed wonderfully by President Weingarten when she was quoted in the June 16 Chief Leader talking about the unions working together. Randi told the Chief: “Given globalization and Wal-Martization and this assault on working and middle-class people, it makes a lot of sense to band together.” I agree. However, before we can create a powerful coalition of unions ready for a real fight against the city, we have to unite ourselves. If this resolution passes tonight, we will do the opposite.

If there is a full 15% increase for UFT officers and staff (5.5% in December and now the remainder tonight), as soon as someone gets home this information will be out on the net and it will be in many of the schools by tomorrow. Everyone will know and the cynics will be saying, same old UFT, givebacks for the members and salary increases for the leadership with a nominal change in their conditions.

Opening up the UFT offices once a week for an extra hour is a worthwhile endeavor, but does anyone honestly believe that it is the equivalent of what people in the schools are going through under this current contract? We’re under siege in many schools.

I recently spoke to a friend from a high school in Brooklyn who is teaching his five classes; then he was assigned small group instruction for a professional assignment and then he has small group instruction again at the end of the day and yes since he is a math teacher, his students showed up. There are similar stories of teachers and other UFT members being overworked all over the city. Many members don’t want to assert their union rights because they fear retaliation.

In the schools, we are sacrificing every day. The Union leadership could take a big step in reforming this union if tonight, this body agrees to forgo the rest of the pay raise and put that money where it’s badly needed, defending our members directly.

I would favor taking that raise money and using it to hire some paralegals, and investigators and then send them to NYSUT to do our own investigations and research as Jeff Kaufman is calling for in a resolution to be introduced later. (Unity would not agree to hire the full investigation teams that Jeff called for as they watered down his proposal at the end of the meeting so that members who are reassigned will merely receive information about their rights.)

That’s one idea. If someone has a better idea on how to use this money, I’m all ears. The bottom line is if we are truly interested in uniting this Union for a no contract=no work battle in 2007, this Executive Board should lead by example by putting short term self interest aside for the benefit of the UFT’s future and the future of the union movement. Say no to rest of the raise and yes to real change.

Monday, June 19, 2006

La Cirque de UFT

by Norman Scott

The ink wasn’t even dry on the announcement that ICE and TJC were going to run a joint slate (headed by Kit Wainer of Goldstein HS) to oppose the UFT leadership before the Unity Caucus machine was on the attack: “What a perfect couple! They (ICE & TJC) share exactly the same solitary interest – and it’s nothing so messy as say, standing up for the UFT members’ rights, and improving working conditions. Nor is it as complicated as getting class sizes reduced, securing tougher discipline measures or protecting UFT members’ healthcare benefits and hard-earned pensions.”

Let’s see now, ICE and TJC are being attacked by the very union leaders who have allowed members’ rights to erode to the point where there is barely a grievance procedure (see last contract negotiated by Unity) and members are under attack every day from vicious supervisors. Just ask the hundreds of people bursting against the walls of the rubber rooms who are not told why they are there and assumed guilty until proven innocent just how their “rights” are being protected.

Can Unity come up with even ONE working condition they have improved, say, in the last 10 years? Oh yes – the open market plan where a teacher with 30 years seniority can end up being a day-to-day sub is being marketed by Unity as an improvement. Don’t be surprised to see the leadership try to sell the 2 days before the Labor Day weekend as an improvement in working conditions. Just think – going to work before the weekend will enable you to appreciate the holiday in a more meaningful way.

Has anyone noticed any reduction in class size recently as opposed to talking about it? (In Unity parlance, public relations substitutes for real results.) Their continued refusal to put class size on the negotiating table, which they wee willing to do 35 years ago and actually won the only major protections still operating in the contract, sends a message that PR gimmicks are the priority.

As to their securing tougher discipline – excuse me, I am so shaking with laughter at this one that I can’t continue writing.

Sorry, let’s continue.

Protection of health care? When a resolution was proposed calling for no givebacks on health care in the next contract, Unity overwhelmingly TURNED IT DOWN! As for protection of pensions, these are people who meekly accepted a 4-tier pension system (with more tiers most likely to come.)

When Kit Wainer spoke on the “No Giveback” resolution he said it was clear that Bloomberg would not ask for more time but focus on pension erosion Weingarten snidely asked “How do you know what Bloomberg will ask for?” I guess Kit has a special pipeline. The NY Times reported on June 6, “The Bloomberg administration proposed yesterday that newly hired workers belonging to the largest municipal union accept substantially smaller pensions, a move that the city hopes will set a money-saving pattern for every municipal union.” How fast can you say “Tier 5?”

The Unity leaflet went on to say: “Instead [of doing all the wonderful things Unity does for its members] this lovely twosome can now pursue a single goal together: toppling our union’s leadership and grabbing all the power for themselves.”

At this point, I am kicking and screaming with pain from laughing so hard. Yes, ve vant all de power for ourselves. (ICE and TJC members are required to repeat this over and over this in their best Bella Lugosi voices.) Now, remind me which caucus has ALL THE POWER FOR THEMSELVES and whose prime directive over all else is to maintain the status quo?

Take the current elections for the retired teacher chapter where the Retiree Advocate Caucus is running against Unity, which sends its leaders all over the country on junkets to cater to the retired members, something the opposition never gets to do. No matter how many votes the RA get, Unity gets all 300 delegates to the DA instead of apportioning the number of delegates based on the percentage of votes. Even an 80-20 pro-Unity split would give Unity 270 and the RA 30 delegates, a drop in the bucket. But Unity won’t even allow that much of a dent that leads to the DA voting 80% in favor of the leadership, a number way out of kilter to their support in the schools. (In the interests of full disclosure, I am running as one of the RA delegates and my chances are – well you know all about that well-known snowball.)

Unity has used the retiree chapter and other power grabbing manipulations of the constitution (Divisional VP’s elected at-large by everyone including retirees after changing the rules when the first opposition person was elected to the Adcom in history back in the late 80’s.)


Notice there’s no mention in the Unity diatribe of one key word – democracy. This is certainly something that the UFT/Unity leadership considers messy. When members of the opposition Unified Teachers Party attempted to present a resolution calling for the reinstatement of election of district representatives, which Weingarten eliminated years ago, they were ignored. No one knows better than those of us who have been active for years just how Unity has stacked the deck so they can keep ALL THE POWER FOR THEMSELVES. We enter the election campaign with no illusions of grabbing ALL THE POWER FOR OURSELVES.

If we accomplish nothing else, we will make sure as many people as we can reach will know exactly how Unity operates and come to an understanding that democracy in the UFT certainly is a mess.

(An excerpt from the above appeared in The Wave, www.rockawave.com, on June 2)

I will post the text of the Unity leaflet in its entirety in one of the comments so you too can laugh yourselves silly. Make some copies and share them with your colleagues (with the response above, of course.) After what Unity has allowed to happen to the schools, everyone needs a laugh.

If you are interested in supporting the ICE/TJC attempt to put a dent in the Unity monopoly, join the election campaign by running (we can run up to 800 candidates), distributing literature in your schools, sending a contribution or just plain talking to people.

To counter Unity spin every school in the city needs to be reached. One of Unity’s main efforts will be directed at new chapter leaders at the fall training where they get them for a few weekends of propaganda and food, a good combo. If you know new independent chapter leaders they should link up with others. UTP/ICE/TJC can act as a clearinghouse to get them together so they don't get swamped. Have them contact one of the groups beforehand. It would be great to have CL's there who can counter the spin.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Rubber Room Representation Still Unavailing After All These Years

If you can believe the rhetoric the UFT is finally taking seriously its duty to represent members who have been sent to the rubber room. A closer look shows we have a long way to go.

Everyone knows, either through personal experience or through the experience of colleagues of the dreaded “reassignment” to the rubber room. I first came into this system when a well respected and loved teacher was “removed” from Franklin K. Lane High School for an allegation made by a student. Of course, at the time, the teacher did not know anything official about the reassignment.

He was very concerned about his students and wanted to keep them on track toward passing the Global History regents so he called me incessantly to make sure that I was providing them with the best instruction I could. His dedication was incredible.

We also spoke, after a while (he was in the rubber room almost a year) about his experience in purgatory. I couldn’t believe it. He was offered the standard UFT advice….”Don’t worry, you are being paid. Most of all do not speak to anyone about this.”

I asked him how he was going to prepare for his 3020a hearing and he told me that when he was served with charges a NYSUT lawyer would contact him. I advised him that no one waits months (or even years) to investigate a case unless they are in denial or they want to be certain that they are dismissed.

This was almost 10 years ago. After a recent stint in the rubber room I realize not only has nothing fundamentally changed in the way the Union deals with our reassigned members, things are getting worse since the number of reassignments have markedly increased.

How do we currently represent reassigned members?

Chapter Leaders and District Reps generally do not deal with reassigned members issues. This might actually be a good thing since the Union makes no effort to train line leaders on how to handle any of the issues that result in reassignment or charges being drawn. This leaves the member with basically no representation when he or she is reassigned.

When I was in the rubber room last year a member told me “his story” about an allegedly forged medical note. It appeared that after the teacher spoke up about the number of special ed student in his class (he worked in District 75) he was injured by an autistic student. He went to the doctor, who according to the eventual allegations, filled out a note which the teacher changed. The teacher claimed that the note was changed by the doctor. The doctor divulged the teacher’s medical records to DOE investigators which indicated that the note had a different (later) date than the records.

I asked the teacher what contact he had with the doctor and he told me he was specifically told not to talk to him. Did the NYSUT attorney send an investigator or make any attempt to contact the doctor or in any way investigate the matter?

Recently, a NYSUT attorney amazingly told me that there are no investigators and that the attorneys are overwhelmed with cases to provide the defense that our members need.

This might explain why, at a recent 3020a hearing I attended I was not subpoenaed nor had contact with the NYSUT attorney until the night before my testimony.

The only way we, as a Union, tolerate this misrepresentation of our members is because we don’t really care about these members. Just remember, however, the next rubber room reassignment might be for you!