By James Eterno, UFT Chapter Leader, Jamaica High School
CLOSE VOTE BUT DA REJECTS HELP FOR 17 SUSPENDED TEACHERS IN PUERTO RICO
The May 14, 2008 Delegate Assembly in a close vote decided not to make a financial contribution for 17 teachers in Puerto Rico who have been suspended without pay since last October for objecting to unilateral changes in curriculum and school organization. The UFT DA had previously voted to support the teachers of Puerto Rico. These teachers had gone on strike in February for ten days in defiance of an unjust law that is similar to the Taylor Law in New York.
Jose Vargas, A Unity representative, argued that because the DA agreed to support the teachers in Puerto Rico in March, there was no need to have a new resolution that covers helping the 17 who have been suspended. The resolution, however, argued that “unions across the US, including the California Teachers’ Association and AFT Local 1021 made solidarity donations to the Puerto Rican teachers.” It was a very close vote and UFT Secretary Michael Mendel who was the acting Chair took two votes but he said that the resolution failed. It was close and Mendel later told me that he didn’t hear calls to count the votes (divide the house). From where I was seated, he appeared to be correct that the resolution didn’t carry but it was close.
GHI-HIP Privatization Debate Postponed Again
For the third straight month, the GHI-HIP privatization issue was not debated. Instead of denying us the floor during the motion period like in March and April, Unity has created its own completely watered down version of our resolution which opposed privatizing our healthcare. Unity’s proposal says twice that municipal employees and retirees should share in profits if GHI and HIP merge and are sold for profit. They add that we should ask the Superintendent of Insurance to wait until there are guarantees that any new company will “maintain quality, affordable health care for working families.” This is not exactly a strong resolution and certainly does not guarantee us any specifics in terms of holding down costs or expanding benefits.
Unfortunately, even the weak resolution never reached the floor. Acting Chairman Michael Mendel, who otherwise was professional and fair to both sides on issues that were debated, told Marilyn Voight Downey, who questioned the merger during the question period that the GHI-HIP matter would be handled when the resolution came up during Special Orders of Business. Therefore, he didn’t answer her question. When Special Orders were coming to the floor, Mendel listed several resolutions that would take priority since time was running out. Healthcare was not on this list. When John Powers from ICE questioned this, Michael said he would ask for another vote to extend time to discuss this issue and of course when that time came, the Unity majority voted to go home and not deal with healthcare.
President Weingarten was there at the beginning of the meeting and she gave a report saying that Bloomberg and Klein would fight back because they lost the battle in Albany so they cannot make tenure decisions on teachers based upon individual student test scores. She said that New York is now the only state with such a provision. She then talked about being on the Charlie Rose show. Her report then moved to the issue of job security and Klein’s latest attempt to fire Absent Teacher Reserves after 12 months or 18 months as they do in Chicago if a school is closed and a teacher cannot find a new job. Randi said she would not negotiate on firing the ATR’s but she added that it is now a national issue because of Chicago and Klein protégée Michele Rhee who now is running Washington DC schools and trying to fire excessed teachers after schools close. Randi then talked about how Rhee headed the New Teacher Project so she dismissed their report that was recently released that said excessed teachers should be fired after a year.
If I heard correctly, Randi also admitted that she wanted the ATR provision in the Contract because it would end bumping of junior teachers but she claimed she warned Klein that this would happen. She also said that the UFT argued that excessed teachers who want a job should all be hired before new teachers are allowed to be placed. We also heard once again about how the open market system (principals in charge of all hiring with no check on their authority) is wonderful. Bottom line: the Contract is closed. ATR’s can stay in the system as long as they want and not be fired without due process. Let’s move on.
The other main focus of the Presidents’ report covered the budget cuts. Randi said that our members would be fine if $450,000,000 is cut from school budgets because we have job security but that this fight is about the kids.
ICE asks: Are you feeling fine in your school?
Randi then played a new UFT television commercial. When the commercial was over, she spoke about putting pressure on the Mayor and the City Council. She said there would be multiple actions at schools. She also stated that the UFT is now working in a permanent coalition with parents, community groups, other school unions including the Council of Supervisors and Administrators. The goal of the coalition is to be champions for the children. She said the wounds from the friction between the UFT and communities from back in the late sixties and early seventies were only starting to heal in the last decade and this coalition would further the process.
Staff Director Leroy Barr talked about specific actions. Political director Marvin Reisken said we should make thousands of calls to the Mayor at 1-800-961-6198. He said to use cell phones and not school phones to make these calls. He also said we could go to the action page at UFT.org to send faxes. ICE recommends that members participate in these actions. At this point, Randi did not return to the chair and UFT Secretary Michael Mendel chaired the rest of the meeting.
Julie Woodward of ICE Questions Taking Reassigned Teachers off School Budgets
Julie Woodward asked why the UFT was not fighting the fact that personnel reassigned to the “rubber room” are taken off a principal’s school budget after sixty days, and put on a central budget. Mendel answered that cases should be expedited so that they are heard much more quickly but when Julie wouldn’t relent, he said that the UFT would like to see Principals have to pay for teachers who are reassigned on a school’s budget and not allow the DOE to pay them centrally.
Other DA Business
A question was asked about a Principal buying new furniture for their office. Michael Mendel answered that we should call Leroy Barr if this was happening in our schools.
Some of the new motion period was taken up by the Puerto Rico resolution. Then, a unanimous resolution was passed to send money from the UFT disaster relief fund to cyclone and earthquake victims in Burma and China. A third resolution in support of Sean Bell and against police brutality was referred to committee.
A District Representative and some of the Chapter Leaders who work with her talked about how they use Article 24 (professional conciliation) to improve working conditions for teachers. A resolution was passed on the ATRs to keep the Contract closed. The City Council legislative agenda was passed but ICE member Michael Fiorello proposed an amendment so we wouldn’t be acknowledging that teachers are supposed to be doing “extensive data analysis.” The amendment was rejected. The City Council and State Legislative agendas passed. Finally, a resolution on fighting the budget cuts was approved; a motion to support the Freightliner Five workers who were fired in North Carolina for leading a strike that Teachers for a Just Contract’s Megan Behrant introduced was passed, the UFT endorsed Sheldon Silver and Elizabeth Crowley and a resolution in support of the Art Institute of NYC’s faculty also carried.
In the end, we went home a little numb but at least the majority of the agenda was finished and we had a full question period and motion period. We commend Michael Mendel for at least sticking to the agenda and asking and waiting to see if there was a speaker against every motion before putting them to a vote. As for healthcare, there is a June 18 DA and a Chapter Leader Meeting on June 9.
Unity Literature Distorts as Usual
I was very reluctant to write the above lines complimenting Mendel, not because I don’t have respect for the way the Secretary runs meetings, but because the Unity readers of this blog will probably take the line out of context like they did a recent line from this blog about ATR’s not being fired after 12 months. Unity literature at the May DA quoted one of our blog pieces by saying: “…I have confidence that Randi would not agree to terminating the ATR’s after 12 months or 18 months or placing them on unpaid leave.” The full sentence from my April 29 blog piece reads: “As a dissident who has often been critical of the UFT leadership, even I have confidence that Randi would not agree to terminating the ATR's after 12 months or 18 months or placing them on unpaid leave.” It’s amazing how deleting a few words can completely distort a quote.
The whole premise of the first part of Unity’s leaflet is absurd. They maintain that we didn’t want to lock in a 5% raise and that’s why we voted No on the current Contract. We opposed it because it really was an extension of the 2005 Contract, the worst Contract in UFT history where we gave up so many of our rights. To win back those rights, we must fight back. Unity’s strategy is to tell us how wonderful we have it.