Thursday, October 16, 2008


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.


Robert said...

Another occurrence at last night's DA deserves mention. AFter Randi had allowed almost no time for discussion of important agenda items, someone spoke up and begged her to shorten her reports to allow for membership discussion, and Randi actually responded positively on how that could be done. Some of the options mentioned were: a half-hour limit, or giving the President's report at the end of the meeting. These suggestions should be revisited. Delegates should have sufficient time to discuss matters placed before the body.

Anonymous said...

Thanks to Marilyn Voight-Downy for calling Randi out on her DA Time Mongering ways.

Anonymous said...

Four more years; no more rights. Four more years; no more rights. Wake up teachers.

Joan Heymont said...

It seems to me that one of the big problems is the UFT's focus on legal measures to solve our problems. Many of the attacks on teachers are "extra legal" (my term, bear with me) namely they occur when a Board of Ed decides that it doesn't give a damn about the paper that the contracts are written on. I talked to a teacher from Miami-Dade at the AFT Convention in Chicago. The third year of their contract was essentially "cancelled."
The UFT's legal responses to events which occur outside the legal agreements builds passivity and complacency in the members. The speeches last night which argued against any real fight were amazing, and thanks, James for citing them. Aside from Farkas I'd lost track of all the speakers.
Our reasons for bringing in the Stella D'Oro strikers, and our resolutions were to say that their struggle is a model for what we have to do.
We, of course, know that Randi used the Stella D'Oro strike support to show how great she is, and how willing she is to build solidarity, but she also used the ATR issue the same way. The turn around from Tuesday's Exec Bd, from what has been described in other reports, shows some decision to use the ATR issue, and control it, as Norm has pointed out.
This leadership is so toxic and dangerous.
I hope we can expose her, and find like-minded people to work with.

Anonymous said...

I so agree that there should be no four more years. I dont think that we could handle another term of bloomberg or klein. They have ruined the dept of education. speaking of which how does a principal get booted from three schools winds up at central then winds up at a school and threatens teachers and gets away with it? This person, i am sure most might be familiar with her has ruined more lives that can be imagined.

Anonymous said...

Randi obviously was ready for this and planned ahead. For the UFT to claim that we will not be dealing with Bloomberg on the next contract than argue that the Union will not fight the City Council tells us that teachers are in trouble thanks to the UFT.

Unless every city teachers sends their own email to their rep as well as Quinn, Bloomberg will win.

Anonymous said...

How people feel towards this Mayor baffles me- I keep hearing he's
been good for the city, isn't beholden to political interests, and
more blah, blah, blah.....

I say- Bloomberg is a megalomaniacal social engineer, is now trying
to wrangle a third term for himself ( no doubt by spending more mega
bucks to push himself as the "BEST"(???!!!) man to continue his work,
is trying to get the City Council to overturn term limits by
legislative fiat, so that an exception will be made in his case so
that he can run again.

HELLooooooo out there!!! Doesn't ANYONE see what kind of person
Blooberg REALLY is? Particularly people that work for the DOE or any
other city agency? Does anyone that work for the DOE TRULY feel that
Bloomberg has done GOOD for the schools? WHY do I have to spend so
much money to buy or make materials for my students because we don't
have the appropriate workbooks or texts to help our students learn to
read or write? How about ALL of that micromangement in school of BOTH
teachers and students? Does Bloomberg have such little faith in
people that have obtained Master's degrees and more that we are not
capable of teaching and leading our students without being TOLD how
to do so? Why are students not allowed freedom in schools, as we
were, to go out for lunch, have study hall periods, WHERE ARE THE
after school clubs, band, art, athletic teams?

As for Mayoral Control- WHY is it necessary to have Bloomberg and his
stooge, Klein impose this on the schools? NEVER would this be done in
any suburban school- draw your own conclusions about WHY we need to
have the MAYOR micromanage curricula, schedules, every waking moment
of the student's and teacher's lives each and every day.

It's obvious to me that Bloomberg is in such a rarefied atmosphere
that he's out of touch with the Joe and Josephine Plumbers that are
the majority of his so called constituency. Have we become such sheep
that we'll KEEP going along to get along? And, as educators, who
should know better than most that freedom and democracy are something
that we MUST always be ever vigilant of guarding?

Yes, I'm mad- if Bloomberg gets to push through his own agenda again,
with total disregard for what the people have voted on TWICE, SHAME
ON US! Isn't it time to fight back?

My two cents...

pogue said...

...three cents. I believe George Bush should be allowed to run for a third term also. I don't think he'd win, but, at least he'd be able to get the money from his wealthy friends to divert the issues, bamboozle the public a little more, and do some real mud-slinging. He could really lower the election into a down-and-dirty process.

The beauty of it is, he can't, because the rule is it's eight years and out. Just like the rules, in New York it's eight years and out. Whether good or bad or mediocre or outstanding, it's eight years and out.

Their are others who will "step up". The people have voted twice that they are okay with this.

So, thank you, and get out.

Anonymous said...

Bloomberg is too important to leave. Oh and so is Klein. We're in trouble.

Anonymous said...

Shocking, the City Council voted to extend their terms and Bloomberg's so they can all run again. The UFT will support most of them, stay neutral with Bloomberg and teachers will be dead.

Woodlass said...

Thank you so much for your report. I'm sending it around to everyone I know, and anyone in this union who owns a computer should do the same.

Wake up, people. The union is US, not those people who manage it.

Anonymous said...

But we have to take it back Woodlass.

Anonymous said...

23 Beneficiaries
Of 8 Year Limits
Nullify the Charter
That Enabled Them
To Be Elected in 2001



Bronx: (5) Maria Baez, Helen D. Foster, Oliver Koppell, Joel Rivera,
Larry Seabrook

Brooklyn: (9) Erik Martin Dilan, Simcha Felder, Lewis A. Fidler, Michael Nelson, Dominic Recchia, Diana Reyna, Kendall Stewart, Albert Vann, David Yassky.

Manhattan (4): Alan J. Gerson, Robert Jackson, Miguel Martinez, Christine C. Quinn.

Queens: (5) Leroy G. Comrie, Jr., Melinda Katz, James Sanders, Helen Sears, Peter F. Vallone, Jr. (Q).

Staten Island (0): None

Six members, not elected in 2001, also voted Aye. They are:

Maria del Carmen Arroyo (Bx), Inez E. Dickens (M), Sara Gonzales (Bk),
Darlene Mealy (Bk), James Vacca (Bx), Thomas White, Jr.(Q)


By Henry J. Stern
October 28, 2008

Five days have passed since the City Council, acting in the self-interest of its members, voted to overrule two public referenda and declare themselves eligible for a third term. Ironically, this is the very class of members who were first elected in 2001, because their predecessors were forced out by term limits. When their time to go (2009) approached, the beneficiaries of the referenda simply overturned the law that allowed their election in the first place.

This would not have happened without overwhelming pressure from Mayor Bloomberg, who himself was elected in 2001 because Mayor Giuliani was ineligible to run for a third term. In the aftermath of 9/11, the likelihood is that Giuliani would easily have defeated Mark Green, the Democratic candidate for mayor. In fact, it is unlikely that Michael Bloomberg would have run at all against an incumbent Republican mayor eligible for re-election. So the first mayor to benefit from the two-term limit turns out to be the person who has led the drive to repeal it, now that his second term is drawing to a close.

The term extension scheme was abetted by the three publishers of daily newspapers, whom the mayor had courted in advance, along with the business elite. The columnists and the reporters on the dailies were almost unanimously opposed to unilateral term extension, treating the suspension of democracy with suspicion tinged with cynicism.

The three dailies offered ritual endorsements on the day the Council met, as if on cue. The editorial endorsements were not memorable. They read as if they had been written by hostages, which to some extent they were, wage slaves of the owners. Newspaper endorsements are valuable, however, in City Council races, and it is likely that the threat of endorsement of a rival in a primary helped push queasy members into the arms of the authorities, whose resources might assist them in the event that such distractions as primaries arise next year.

The struggle will go on in the courts and before the Justice Department. It is crystalline in our judgment that Section 38 of the City Charter was intended to prevent political efforts to change the Charter to benefit one group or another. Similar electoral maneuvers are specifically forbidden in that section. Term limits were imposed in a 1993 referendum and confirmed in a second referendum in 1996, which were held on the precise issue of extending the two term limit to three terms.

There is no serious question of intent here, the 1989 charter includes provisions to exclude the Council from any manipulation of the electoral process. It did not refer to term limits because there were none at the time, just as the Constitution of the United States does not refer to airplanes, time travel or other instrumentalities that had not been invented or discovered in 1787.

The issue will now goes to the judiciary. The Council, acting under directions transmitted by Speaker Christine Quinn, completed its work in less than a month. We are enormously interested in how the courts will handle the case, and what the role will be of the public interest groups like Citizens Union, Common Cause and NYPIRG (New York Public Interest Research Group), who opposed the legislation. No one can predict what the Court of Appeals will do if or when the case comes before it.

The argument for the bill, expressed by Ms. Quinn at her press conference, was that the city’s perilous financial condition required "continuing steadfast leadership", which presumably no one but the incumbents could supply. She said that the current harmony between the Mayor and Council was valuable for the city and should be retained.

If the citizenry valued the incumbents' services as highly as the Speaker does, and indeed they may, the people have had the option of extending term limits in the winter or spring of 2009, in ample time for the fall elections. A vote against the Council assuming this role was not intended to preclude the voters doing it themselves.

It was the gnawing fear, perhaps nurtured by private polls, that the voters of the City of New York might possibly vote not to extend term limits that prompted the incumbent mayor and councilmembers to take it on themselves to amend the Charter and consequently to deny the people of the city the opportunity to modify or to reaffirm their previous decision.

Which should carry more weight in a democracy, the votes of a million people or the votes of 29 councilmembers trying to save their jobs by repealing the law under which they were elected? When the public has spoken twice, or even once, should the 29 be able to discard the wishes of the million? What do you think?

Anonymous said...

Vote each one of the yes votes out.