by James Eterno, UFT Chapter Leader, Jamaica High School
Many people were expecting the Independent Community of Educators (ICE) to just melt away after ICE and our coalition partners (Teachers for a Just Contract) lost our six UFT Executive Board seats in last year's UFT Election (even though we received many more votes in the 2007 UFT Election compared with 2004). Instead, we have persevered and emerged as a viable force within the Union at the UFT Delegate Assembly, on UFT Committees, on the blogs, through ICE-Mail and inside of many schools. As we look back upon the preceding year, ICE has established a strong record. We hope to move ahead to rebuild a strong Union from the ground up.
During 2007-08 when ICE was supposed to die, we have become very active at UFT Delegate Assembly (DA) Meetings. The DA is the highest policy making body within the United Federation of Teachers according to its Constitution. Each school is represented by a Chapter Leader and at least one Teacher Delegate. ICE has a number of elected Chapter Leaders and Delegates from the schools. In addition, each non-teaching (Functional) Chapter is represented at the DA too. The Unity Caucus majority (President Randi Weingarten's faction of the UFT) controls the DA. They have strict caucus discipline that they enforce on their members who risk losing union jobs and other perks if they vote against the leadership. The electoral system allows all of the DA retirees to come from Unity although a substantial minority votes against them in Chapter Elections. In spite of the stacked deck, ICE has made our presence felt.
One major ICE DA accomplishment concerned School Leadership Teams. In December, Chancellor Joel Klein unilaterally changed the rules so that Principals now make the final decisions on SLTs. This defies state law which calls for "Shared Decision Making" among parents, teachers and administrators. A parent from Queens filed a complaint with the State Education Department. We introduced an amendment to a DA resolution on SLT's. The ICE amendment asked for the UFT to join on to the parent's complaint. Our amendment carried. State Education Commissioner Richard Mills should be issuing a decision on this case soon. We hope that it is favorable. The law that gave the Mayor control of the schools expires next June. Any change in how the schools are governed needs to have real shared decision making in every school between parents, teachers and administrators as an important component. We will try to keep you updated.
In addition, ICE members have played a role on the UFT Committee on School Governance. When the report is issued by the UFT, our members will not merely rubber stamp it but rather they will analyze the UFT's proposal carefully before deciding on whether to accept or reject the UFT's position on school governance. Once again, please keep coming to this blog to see what's going on.
ICE also has representation on the UFT Social Justice Committee, UFT'ers Against the War in Iraq and the Committee on District Representative selection. The DR Selection Committee didn't meet this year, not even once. We, of course, want DR's elected by Chapter Leaders or members in a district and not selected by the President.
ICE's John Powers from Liberation High School has played a leading role in the fight to save our healthcare from being privatized. John wrote a resolution opposing privatizing healthcare that he motivated at the DA after three months of having it delayed by the Unity leadership. This issue is now more of a public matter than it was in the past. John also organized ICE'rs to attend several demonstrations against selling off GHI-HIP to private-for profit corporations. Although our resolution failed to carry at the Unity dominated DA, by the end of the year the privatization issue, which seemed to be a done deal, is now under close scrutiny and it could conceivably be stopped.
There are other areas where we have been active at the DA. ICE and TJC members have been instrumental in getting UFT support for teachers in Puerto Rico who staged a courageous strike this year. Our friends at TJC have led a movement to help fellow trade unionists who have been fired for their union activity in North Carolina. We have also spoken out on UFT political endorsements.
Julie Woodward, from ICE, put pressure on the UFT leadership at the DA to not allow teachers who are removed to the reassignment centers (rubber rooms) to be permitted to be taken off of school budgets. If removing teachers in the rubber rooms from school budgets was not permitted, principals would have an incentive not to pull teachers from their classrooms unless it was absolutely necessary. ICE persists at being one of the groups speaking out in support of teachers reassigned. We also continue to head the movement to stop our schools from being closed while Unity basically passes meaningless resolutions opposing school closings and does nothing to back them up. (We will soon write more about the Jamaica High School situation, where we have been threatened but are still alive.)
At the DA, we called for the UFT to boycott hiring committees in schools that are shoved into other schools against the will of the people who are there already. The Unity majority said no. Furthermore, we proposed an amendment to a resolution urging the UFT to mobilize in support of our Absent Teacher Reserves and it was rejected. We keep pushing the UFT leaders fight to win back the right to grieve letters for the file without reopening the entire Contract. We exposed to the Delegates the huge rise in unsatisfactory ratings in the first year under the 2005 Contract when our right to grieve file letters was taken away.
We led the fight to make sure the question period and new motion period are not preempted at the DA as has been done too many times in the recent past by President Weingarten. We raised a couple of procedural points of order to ensure minority rights at the DA. We also headed the movement against school wide merit pay which Randi says is not merit pay. Some schools with ICE members working in them voted down the merit pay.
We supported the UFT's efforts against city budget cuts; ICE members and rank and file members from our schools were at the rallies against the cuts. Many of us also attended the candlelight vigil in support of teachers reassigned. We also encouraged our members to participate in other Union activities such as the recent survey rating the Chancellor.
Away from the DA, we called for a series of necessary electoral reforms as teachers are now a minority within the UFT. We fought to preserve the integrity of UFT elections as we have done consistently since ICE was formed in 2003. We told the truth about how Randi violated the Contract by not getting the "55 years old and 25 years in the system retirement plan" for new teachers. She succeeded for current teachers but failed for new hires who will have to make mandatory pension contributions for 27 years instead of the 10 year requirement under prior rules. ICE members also continue to advocate for other causes such as lower class sizes, an end to excessive testing and more.
At the school level, our Chapter Leaders and Delegates are toiling as hard as we can to support our members. In addition, our Chapter Leaders do our best to give informal advice to members from all over the city. In some ways, we have been able to set up a kind of "shadow union structure."
We encourage readers to look at the older posts on this blog to get more information on our record which we think is quite robust, particularly when you consider our lack of resources.
Have a great summer everyone!