by James Eterno, UFT Chapter Leader, Jamaica High School
UFT leadership presented as their main focus at this year's first Delegate Assembly, a lengthy, "wishy-washy" resolution that joined together the financial crisis, electing Senator Obama and term limits for the Mayor. The October 15 meeting at UFT headquarters had two main resolutions: the first supported the UFT's proposal to work with a coalition of unions and other groups to fight for public education, to advocate for rights for working people in the midst of the financial crisis, to work to elect Senator Obama as President and to send the issue of extending term limits for the Mayor and City Council to the voters who approved term limits in the first place. The other major piece was to support the ATR's.
Lisa North of ICE questioned UFT President Randi Weingarten on why there was nothing in the UFT resolution on term limits that specifically opposed the City Council's blatant power grab, where they have a bill which would basically do away with two referendums that supported a two term limit for the Mayor and City Council. Randi responded that since Lisa spoke on the issue, she could not introduce an amendment to the UFT resolution on this issue. Randi then asked if anyone else would like to make that motion. Enter yours truly.
I proposed the following amendment to the UFT resolution on term limits, the financial crisis and the election of Barrack Obama:
"Resolved, that the UFT unequivocally oppose the city council's bill to extend term limits and the UFT will seriously consider withholding endorsements and COPE money from any Council member who votes in favor of this legislation that circumvents the will of the people."
I was able to address the issue and was received rather well by the delegates. I pointed out that in 2006, one of the UFT's major selling points for our current Contract was that it would be the last one we would have to negotiate with Bloomberg and Klein and now that no longer holds true as the rules are being changed in the middle of the game. I said that we needed to organize the opposition to the anti-democratic City Council bill that would extend term limits for the Council and the Mayor without first going to the voters. I told the delegates that the financial crisis will be used against us if the Mayor buys his way to another four year term. I also stated that I fully understand that we are taking a risk to pick a fight with the City Council, but a greater risk would be four more years of Joel Klein as Chancellor as the attacks on teacher unions are a national problem and the UFT should lead the fight to stop them dead in their tracks. I closed my remarks by saying that there have to be consequences for the City Council and the Mayor if they circumvent the will of the voters.
I was followed by three Unity speakers in a row (so much for Roberts' Rules where Presidents should try to alternate between speakers for and against a motion), two of which were full time Union officials so Randi knew where they stood. One of them, Paul Egan, talked about how we can protest as individuals but not as a Union and then Vice President for Middle Schools Richard Farkas discussed the financial crisis in the seventies. The question was then called so there was no further debate. A vote on our amendment followed. A Jamaica delegate, UFT stalwart Ellen Fox, my wife Camille and I estimate that we received from 30-40% of the vote. That's not bad when you consider that most of the delegates are from Unity Caucus. Caucus obligations require Unity members to support the decisions of the caucus in public and union forums. To put it another way, their union perks depend on their supporting the UFT leadership. The "wishy-washy" resolution on term limits, Obama and the financial crisis then received overwhelming support.
In the other major resolution, the UFT's call to battle in support of Absent Teacher Reserves by "Letting Us Teach." received a large boost from ICE's John Powers and Marjorie Sternberg. They had formed an AdHoc Committee which came up with a petition to support the ATR's by having a giant rally to let them teach. ICE and the UFT leadership agree on a demand that ATR's who want a regular job should be placed in permanent positions to lower class sizes before any new people within a particular license are hired. There was a rally out in front of the DA with ATR's and new fellows who were hired by the Board of Education but cannot find a position who are now called RTR's. RTR's could soon be terminated. The Ad Hoc Committee has had petitions signed by UFT members in well over a hundred schools calling for a giant rally at DOE Headquarters in support of the ATR's and RTR's.
Randi Weingarten endorsed John Powers' amendment to the UFT's ATR-RTR resolution. Powers told the delegates that any one of us could be an ATR as schools are closed all the time these days. He also stated that we have had resolutions in the past to support ATR's being allowed to teach, but they never have convinced the DOE to remedy the situation. The amendment calling for a rally overwhelmingly passed.
The ATR resolution also said the UFT would fight financial disincentives for hiring experienced teachers and also that the Union would take action against layoffs of new fellows who have not been hired. There were also other provisions in the resolution that included a public relations campaign to get the truth out about ATR's. It carried easily with the Amendment attached.
Another resolution was passed saying the UFT would do everything it could to spare the classroom of budget cuts in these difficult financial times. The resolution called for cuts to be made administratively instead.
Before all of this, Randi spent well over an hour giving a report on the financial crisis, the horrible budget situation at the State and City level, the UFT campaigns against rating teachers based on test scores, job security for ATR's, budget cuts that will impact on schools, Sarah Palin, Obama's headquarters in New York being located at UFT headquarters, Obama working with teachers, the UFT's opposition to term limits but support for the principle of the people deciding on the issue, and more. She also told us that the welfare fund should be safe because it is invested mostly in fixed funds while our pensions are protected by the New York State Constitution. She briefly mentioned No Child Left Behind too.
Finally, striking Stella Doro bakery workers were greeted warmly by the delegates and a resolution was passed in support of their strike. We gave them a financial contribution as well.
There was no time left at the end for a question period or a new motion period so rank and file delegates had no chance to bring up other issues.
Footnote: Randi's President's Report was quite detailed but when she talked about job security she again made what in my opinion is a great mistake by referring to the provision that ended seniority transfers and preferred placement for educators if a school closed in exchange for the ATR provision as an iron clad job security agreement. It is not better than what we had in the past. She said we only had job security clauses in 1991 as part of a mid-year loan to the city and 1996. This is not true. The ICE fact meter researched previous contracts.
We discovered that there was a provision in the 1995 Contract that was Article 17F, "Job Security." It stated that "no employee covered by this Agreement shall be displaced or involuntarily separated from service except for cause or reason related to state civil service law (e.g., the movement of appointment lists and/or requirement to hire certified teachers, if available)." This job security provision lasted from 1995-98. The Tentative Contract at a Glance for the 2000-2003 Contract continued Article 17F. The UFT stated at the time: "No layoff agreement. For the duration of this contract, no UFT member shall be terminated except for cause." Article 17F was removed from the giveback laden 2005 Contract and its successor agreement and replaced by the ATR provision. I wish the UFT would just once admit that it made some mistakes in the past and stop trying to spin the terrible 2005 contract into something that it is not.