By James Eterno, UFT Chapter Leader, Jamaica High School
Word is that UFT-AFT President Randi Weingarten has put her hat into the ring to be considered to be selected to replace Hillary Clinton in the US Senate. Governor David Patterson's father Basil is a longtime UFT client.
The December Delegate Assembly might have been Randi's audition for the Senate as she held a non-stop two hour filibuster where she basically said nothing new. I for one would enthusiastically endorse Randi for Hillary's seat. (I really mean that by the way.) Her name isn't Kennedy or Cuomo but Randi can filibuster with the best of them and politically we could do a lot worse.
There were nine resolutions on the DA agenda and we didn't get to any of them as Randi talked and talked and talked some more and then she brought some other people up to the podium and they talked. Finally, she answered a few questions from the delegates. If you are wondering if anything interesting happened, I can report that we can thank the people of MS 399 for keeping us awake.
A group of students, a chapter leader and another UFT member from MS 399, a school that is closing, were positively moving as they addressed the DA.
They had a demonstration outside their school in the morning and 200 people were there. The students attending the DA chanted a very catchy line:
"Phase out Klein not 399." Other than their presentation, the DA was a huge waste of time. Those people who question my sanity for going to these meetings will once again be calling me crazy.
For the better part of the first hour, Randi gave a long-winded President's Report which was much like last month's President's Report. To sum it up, the sky is falling with the State and City budgets. Schools will be cut and another generation of children will be lost if we don't mobilize.
For those who want the gory details, Randi spoke from the floor as she did a Power Point presentation. The US lost 533,000 jobs and New York State is expected to lose 180,000. New York State is projected to have an unemployment rate over 7% next year. She showed us that 43 states are facing deficits totaling $100 billion. Real GDP will decline for four straight quarters. There are 4 million people unemployed. The projected NYS budget gap is $15.4 billion. Between January 2008 and September 2009, there will be 8-12% cuts to each individual school. Even if we were to cut all of the luxuries like the Aris computer system, we will still face a huge cut.
Randi then told us that the city wants to have a Tier V pension where they roll back all of the gains we have made to make Tier III and IV closer to Tier I and II. She also said the city wants to make us pay for health care premiums like the transit workers agreed to in 2005. She added that there should be a free health plan: HIP. Note to GHI subscribers: she didn't say GHI which is free now also. She also showed us that the state is planning health care premium increases.
Randi then proposed a tripartite solution. First, there is the hope that when Obama is inaugurated there will be a Federal stimulus which could be used for a capital plan to build more schools to lower class sizes. Second, there need to be progressive ways to maximize revenues like a millionaire's tax and finally we must work with the One NY Coalition to mitigate any harm to core services for kids, who don't get a second chance and should not bear the burden of an economic crisis they didn't cause. She then told us that the magnitude of the cuts is chilling and that we would defer spending on the growth of campaign for Fiscal Equity money but there would still be further baseline cuts to education. She then told us that with the automobile bailout having trouble, we are in a Social Darwinist environment but we must maintain members' economic security. She then said that this is our moment in time as these cuts are real and we will need real engagements in every school. Then, like magic a resolution appeared that was crafted in the last twenty-four hours asking for the UFT to mobilize its membership based on the tripartite solution.
At this point the UFT leaders showed that the mother of all financial meltdowns would not trump UFT politics as two amendments from the floor (yes actual delegates finally were able to speak) were raised. One was from the retired Norma Hart (a decent Unity person who is quite friendly) asking that the UFT put in a whereas clause in the resolution saying that pension and healthcare settlements are earned compensation. This carried. However, when Jonathan Leshick, who is not a Unity member, introduced an amendment calling for us to work with Parents' Associations and students on actions that included but were not limited to teach-ins, petitions and citywide demonstrations, the Unity crowd in unison with some direction from the leadership said no. Unity wants the mobilization to be broad and not specific. Never let an economic crisis stop a Unity crowd from putting down an opposition motion. No surprise that the amendment failed and the original resolution easily passed.
Unfortunately, the cynic in me now expects the same old mobilization that will include letters, postcards, faxes, lobbying in Albany, radio, television and print ads and maybe even informational picketing and a rally.
Perhaps there will be some buttons and a wear red on Wednesday campaign. It's hard to take UFT leadership seriously as they panic about the biggest crisis ever as we heard the same speech when we were battling Mayor Giuliani and then we heard it when we were up against Bloomberg and we've heard it over and over in our disputes with Joel Klein. Now I think I know why Randi doesn't want anything videotaped. One could play one of her calls to arms from ten years ago and just change a few lines for the crisis de jour and presto you have the standard Randi "Here comes the end of the world" speech. I don't mean to downplay the recession which is real and will affect us, but the UFT response is as trite as can be.
I have said many times in the past that I hope the UFT will really mobilize to lead a true labor struggle against cuts to working people and kids.
However, after 2005 when Jeff Kaufman and I pleaded with Randi not to accept the fact finding report and then the horrific giveback laden Contract, and we were rebuffed, I can't have much faith in the UFT leadership's ability to lead any labor struggle. Nevertheless, I will more than likely actively support UFT actions and the campaign to spare the schools from devastating budget cuts.
After the mobilization resolution passed, Randi gave a report on the fellows who were threatened with termination. Randi said in prior meetings that they were protected by a Contractual no layoff agreement. That line seems to have disappeared from her rhetoric and now it seems she is lowering expectations for the courts, arbitration and the Public Employees Relations Board to keep the 70 teaching fellows that haven't been able to find a job from being terminated until the end of the semester.
Randi also told us about the home day care workers being owed money and how we are fighting ACS. She said UFT Chapters have a right to consultation on school budgets under Article 8C of the Contract and she said that negotiations are moving at Merrick Academy and the Art Institute. New Elementary School Vice President Karen Alford gave a report on the gifted program and Leroy Barr told us the next DA won't be until January 28. (That's right in the middle of Regents week.) Finally, most of the hall emptied out for the question period which came around 6:15 p.m. Randi said in answer to a question from Greg Lundhl that she didn't think we could be relegated to doing Jury Duty exclusively in the summer as the city wants. She also said on several occasions that the DOE shouldn't close any schools this year (silly me, I thought that was the UFT's position every year). No new motion period and no regularly scheduled resolutions.
Finally, since the resolution on confidentiality of union meetings was never voted on by the DA but it cleared the Executive Board, I do not know if this DA report is authorized. Resolutions that pass the Executive Board but aren't yet acted upon by the DA become policy until the DA acts. The resolution says that we need permission from members to transmit or reproduce words and images from Union meetings. If this report violates that resolution, I hope people will help start the James Eterno Defense Fund so I can continue to boldly write about DA meetings. Otherwise, all we'll be left with is the NY Teacher.