In an unprecedented display of pathological paranoia, our Union's leadership will submit on Monday, at an Executive Board meeting, a resolution which attempts to silence any reporting, discussion, or free speech rights of our representatives concerning the matters discussed at Union meetings. Just like our sweetheart agreements with the DOE, the resolution, unsurprisingly, provides no penalties for violating its provisions.
The UFT leadership regularly records, photographs and reports on the goings-on of the DA and Executive Board in the NY Teacher and on the web. What the resolution does not address is how this practice will be impacted. The actual wording in the second resolved reads as follows: "That this Delegate Assembly call upon all in its ranks to respect the right of their fellow members to meet and deliberate in union meetings, secure in the knowledge that their words and their images will not be transmitted or reproduced without their permission."
Does this mean the UFT will need to obtain everyone's permission before they print in the NY Teacher anything that anyone says at a union meeting? What about our DA reports on the blog? Are we violating the gag order when we don't obtain Randi's permission before we tell our readers what she said? Or, perhaps the intent of the second resolved clause is narrowly focused on silencing frequent UFT critic and editor of Education Notes, Norman Scott, and his video camera.
The Executive Board and Delegate Assembly are elected, representative bodies; elected by our members to represent our interests. When elected bodies discuss sensitive matters they generally go into executive session; a tactic used sporadically at the Executive Board (as per Article V, Section 12 of the UFT Constitution ) during contract negotiations and rarely if ever used at the Delegate Assembly.
Since most of our 180,000 membership do not attend Executive Board and/or Delegate Assembly meetings, they rely on publications of leadership controlled and opposition produced material to understand how our Union works and what decisions have been made. Since there is often a great difference of opinion at these meetings, it is vital that all ideas, statements, and comments, be reported and not edited by the leadership. Members must know and understand how their representatives voted and what statements were made.
So basic is the fundamental right to freedom of speech of union members, it was written into our labor law, under which our Union must comply.
The Landrum-Griffin Act (the LMRDA) provides, in relevant part:
Every member of any labor organization shall have the right to meet and assemble freely with other members; and to express any views, arguments, or opinions; and to express at meetings of the labor organization his views, upon candidates in an election of the labor organization or upon any business properly before the meeting, subject to the organization's established and reasonable rules pertaining to the conduct of meetings: Provided, That nothing herein shall be construed to impair the right of a labor organization to adopt and enforce reasonable rules as to the responsibility of every member toward the organization as an institution and to his refraining from conduct that would interfere with its performance of its legal or contractual obligations. LMRDA, Section 101 (a) (2).
It has been held that a blanket prohibition on disseminating information from Union meetings is violative of the Act. See Bishop v. International Association of Bridge, Structural, ornamental and Reinforcing Iron Workers, 310 F. Supp. 2d 33; 2004 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 3229; 174 L.R.R.M. 2649 (D.C. Circuit, 2004) and Callihan v. United Association of Journeymen and Apprentices of the Plumbing and Pipefitting Industry, 2002 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 9715; 169 L.R.R.M. 3085; 147 Lab. Cas. (CCH) P10,122 (District Court, D.C., 2002).
When a Union becomes nothing more than a self-serving public relations operation, it ceases to care about free speech or other rights of its members. We must protect our precious rights and demonstrate to our misguided, paranoid leadership that they work for us…not the other way around.
The proposed resolution follows:
Motion: To recommend to the executive board and delegate assembly the following resolution on the Confidentiality of Union Meetings:
WHEREAS, it is essential that UFT chapter leaders, delegates and members have the full confidence that they can speak honestly and frankly in union meetings without fear that their words and their images will be reproduced in the news media or on the Internet without their knowledge or permission; and
WHEREAS, without such meetings and the free and open debate among union members that they allow, the democratic deliberations of the UFT are diminished and the ability of the union to learn and represent the views of its school-based leadership and members is undermined; and
WHEREAS, in recent weeks UFT member meetings have been surreptitiously recorded and transmitted to the news media, reporters have been invited to attend union meetings without identifying themselves, and video cameras have been brought into such meetings for the purpose of recording the proceedings – all without the consent of those present at the meetings; and
WHEREAS, there are ample opportunities for those who wish to speak to the news media and make their views known publicly to do so outside of union meetings; therefore be it
RESOLVED, that this Delegate Assembly affirm the vital principle that our union be able to hold union meetings, without outside news media present and without the proceedings being recorded and disseminated in public forums, in order to encourage the widest possible freedom of communication and deliberation among union members and leaders; and be it further
RESOLVED, that this Delegate Assembly call upon all in its ranks to respect the right of their fellow members to meet and deliberate in union meetings, secure in the knowledge that their words and their images will not be transmitted or reproduced without their permission.