by James Eterno, UFT Chapter Leader, Jamaica High School
Many of us came home on Wednesday wondering why we keep attending Delegate Assembly Meetings. The two periods during the regular agenda that give rank and file delegates a chance to ask questions to the President or make new motions have been consistently eliminated or cut short in many of the this year's meetings. Many delegates sitting near me including those from Jamaica, close friends and my wife, were asking me why they were here. They were tired of Randi Weingarten's filibusters and now filibusters from people brought on stage. Unfortunately, they had a point. We constantly urge people to attend union meetings but frankly this is becoming embarrassing. The business that was transacted could have been accomplished in about a half hour tops and left plenty of time for people to ask questions, raise motions and vote on everything on the agenda. However with the strong Unity majority at the DA, it is a very depressing experience as the agenda now means next to nothing and changes at Randi's whims are rubber stamped by her supporters.
Randi announced, before my wife and I arrived, that she would be deciding in six to eight weeks whether or not to be a candidate for the soon to be vacant American Federation of Teachers presidency. She said that she would continue on at the UFT even if she took the AFT position. This information was reported to us when we arrived. Randi doing both jobs at the same time is not a surprise and was predicted in a recent ICEblog post. Randi also did her monthly promotion of Hillary and some Obama bashing. We'll see where the National Education Association goes on the two Democrats soon.
We also found out more about the 55-25/55-27 retirement legislation that the governor signed recently. Randi reported that if someone opts in and then decides to stay past 25 years, they can get 1/2 of their 1.85% contributions back with interest if they last until they are 62, providing they are in service six months prior to retirement. This is a major victory according to Unity. You can get half of your contributions back if you decide to stick it out until you're 62. Why not everything because under the current system you don't have to make the 1.85% contributions if you stay to age 62 or work 30 years and are 55?
Even though ICE has pointed out on this blog that there are winners (Those close to age 55 or over age 55 who started service between ages 26 and 36 with no break in service and with 25 years in the system can retire soon without paying much for it.) and losers (Those yet to be hired who will have to work 27 years to retire and be at least 55 and under the new law they will have to pay 1.85% extra in pension contributions for their entire careers. Most new hires will pay more and receive no added benefit compared to the current system.), Unity put out an open letter from Jeff Zahler saying that the ICE blog piece pointing out the good and the bad of 55-25/55-27 is a "smear tactic." Now, we're not even allowed to point out the facts of a questionable deal or we're criticized. We offered to retract a story on 55-27 if our Unity friends could prove we were wrong. Needless to say we have not had to retract a word. According to them, if we don't line up behind Randi and show blind faith, we are divisive. We call that corporate style unionism.
It is not a smear to tell people 55-27 is a de facto new pension tier for yet to be hired teachers who won't be eligible for the 55-25 that was promised for them as well as those already in service in the giveback laden 2005 Contract
It is not a smear to tell our members 55-27 is not cost neutral but will save the city hundreds of millions of dollars. That's not an attack. Jeff Zahler, the Unity Chair, in his letter critical of ICE says we can only cite two sources who wanted to remain anonymous. That's totally untrue. Actually, the city's chief actuary is quoted in the Chief Leader. His name is Robert C. North and this is what he told the Chief: "The change is expected to reduce the average long term cost of the plan." Anyone with a calculator and a brain can figure out how the city wins. When an older teacher leaves the system, he/she can be replaced with a younger teacher at about half pay. However, Randi's people quite correctly argue that the city now has to pay the health benefits for the retiree and the new employee in addition to the salary and pension so it should break out about even. What they don't mention is that the city no longer has to pay the payroll tax (the employer's portion of the social security tax) for the retiree and they get the additional 1.85% contribution for 27 years for the new hire(a de facto pay cut for the unborn). You don't have to be a financial expert to see how this adds up to a healthy saving for the city and it gives them another reason to push the senior teachers out.
It is not a smear to tell our constituents that in exchange for a pension deal that nets the city extra money and penalizes most of the unborn, we agreed to school-wide merit pay.
Mr. Zahler's title needs to be scrutinized closely. It is interesting that he calls it an open letter. That's exactly what Jamaica High School's letter to Randi was called on our blog. Can't Unity even come up with original titles? Oh well, imitation is the best form of flattery and we do want to say hi to all of our readers from inside 52 Broadway. Feel free to use our titles; we won't be like Hillary and call it plagiarism.
In other DA news, Randi said that anyone who wants to take Holy Thursday for a Religious Observance day should cite the Joseph Griffin grievance decision (We don't know if we spelled that right as we are going from Randi's remarks.) and apply for the day as a R.O. or personal business day. (For R.O. you pay for the substitute but for personal business you lose a day from the sick bank.) She also brought up people from PS 345 to talk about how they fought harassment in court to have file letters removed. She bought a Chapter Leader to the podium who was a whistleblower and had his U rating overturned. In addition, people from Unite Here came to the podium to talk about their campaign against Aramark and we unanimously supported them. Also, a teacher spoke in support of the teachers in Puerto Rico who have been on strike and a general resolution supporting teachers in Puerto Rico was passed. We also heard from VP Michael Mulgrew and a chapter leader and principal as well as Abe Levine on how important it is to have a student removal process. An amendment on not criminalizing student behavior that Joan Heymont introduced was rejected but a resolution was passed on having a student removal process in every school.
Between all of these speakers, Randi of course spoke and Staff Director Leroy Barr also tried to inspire people to bring out their members for the March 19 rally against the budget cuts. We want to point out to Jeff Zahler that we support the rally and are fighting budget cuts too. Michael Shulman also spoke in favor of a rally against the Iraq War scheduled for March 22.
All of these matters could have been done in ten or fifteen minutes as there was no opposition that we could see, however all of the filibustering meant there was no new motion period again and the question period was cut short. John Powers did bring up some of the pitfalls of the GHI-HIP merger. Randi had a letter to show the delegates that the unions are concerned about this issue and she stated that the unions want a guarantee that we do not lose any benefits if the health plans merge and go to for profit status. Other matters such as the UFT's legislative program, a resolution on closing schools and a proposal on career and technical schools never made it to the floor.
I could go on filibustering all day and all night but ladies and gentlemen this was a meeting that took two hours to do what could have been done in twenty minutes as there was not much to debate and we felt bad that we could not speak on motions that were important but never made it to the floor. Maybe at some point the DA will start following Roberts' Rules of Order again and not having Randi change the agenda every fifteen minutes to suit her whims.