Sunday, June 29, 2008


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!

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Some Tidbits from Randi

ICE mail posted a transcript of last Sunday's Randi interview with Gabe Pressman. Here are some of the points we found interesting. Email us if you would like the entire transcript forwarded to you.

Randi Continuing the Myth of her Six Year Teaching Career

PRESSMAN: And how do you feel? (This question was on the survey rating the Chancellor.)
Ms. WEINGARTEN: Look, I think there's a lot of things--frankly, in this instance, my vote is not nearly as important as people who are day-to-day in the schools, you know. I taught myself for six years in this school system. But ultimately...
PRESSMAN: That was Clara Burton--Barton...
Ms. WEINGARTEN: Clara Barton High School.

Randi on Mayoral Control

She's waiting for the School Governance Committee report.

PRESSMAN: So what do you want to do now, bring back the board of--the old board of education?
Ms. WEINGARTEN: There has to be--we have--and I don't mean to punt this question, but I'm about to punt it. We have a committee. I believe in democracy within our union, and we have a governance committee that's been studying all of this. There are clearly--there's clearly been strengths and weaknesses to this governance system for the last seven or eight years. And ultimately, the bottom line for June '09 is to get to a governance system that ensures that every single kid in our charge succeeds. So, governance has to follow instruction. And so ultimately, you need a governance system that makes sure the mission of education is actually done well. So, the committee will report probably either at the end of June or at the beginning of September, and we will champion the committee's, you know, recommendations. But ultimately, some changes need to be done. I don't know exactly where that committee is coming out right now, but I actually want to follow the lead of my members here who are in the trenches every day.

Randi on Being the President of Both UFT &AFT

Let's score one for Norm Scott who believes there is little or no chance of her giving up the UFT Presidency any time soon.

PRESSMAN: And you expect to take over as president of the AFT while you continue as the president of the local here?
Ms. WEINGARTEN: I am--there's an election in July, and at this moment in time no one is running against me, and so assuming--it's--you know, I think everyone else in the world who looks at this stuff assumes that I will be president of the AFT July 14th.
Randi Thinks Bloomberg is Doing a Good Job

We've said all along the UFT is Part of this Fiasco.

PRESSMAN: And we're back here with Randi Weingarten.
So, as it stands now, how do you feel about the mayor in general? Is he doing a good job?
Ms. WEINGARTEN: Look, I think the mayor has--there's--I think the mayor has run this city well. There are things that I don't like about what he's done in the last few months. There are things that he doesn't like about what I've done. And--but ultimately, until the last couple of months where we have not spoken, we had had a very open dialogue.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

ICErs and Rank and File Unionists Say “No” to Healthcare Privatization

By Billy Wharton, Organizer, Coalition Against Privatization

We had a great rally and march in NYC yesterday. About 300 people turned out in front of the office of GHI (a non-profit insurer in NY State) and we then marched to the office of United Health. Speakers included Ralph Nader, actress Vinie Burrows, Dr. Oliver Fein of the Physicians for a National Health Program, Chuck Bell from the Consumers Union and longtime socialist-pacifist activist David McReynolds. Jean Fox from the Private Health Insurance Must Go! Coalition and Billy Wharton from the Coalition Against Privatization shared duties as the MC.

We began the event by reading aloud three healthcare horror stories and holding a moment of silence dedicated to all the victims of private health insurance. The GHI section of the protest was high-energy. There is currently a proposal to "convert" GHI & HIP into a merged for-profit company. Many speakers spoke against this proposal and in favor of H.R. 676. Included here were rank-and-file trade unionists including John Powers from the United Federation of Teachers, Marvin Holland and Marty Goodman from the Transport Workers Union Local 100 and Ronald Crenshaw from District Council 37 who, despite their union leaders support of the conversion, found the courage to speak up. Ralph Nader, Dr. Fein and David McReynolds gave strong speeches demanding single-payer as both a human right and as part of the routine services that citizens demand from the government (fire, police and postal).

We then marched to United Health, a company which is housed in a massive glass monstrosity on 34th street. Vinie Burrows began this section of the march with a fine speech which highlighted the significance of Juneteenth and the overall struggle for social justice. Later, the Raging Grannies belted out some tunes including lines like "Oh Medicare, my Medicare, Why don't you pay for Long Term Care?" We closed with a fiery speech by Ajamu Sankofa of the Private Health Insurance Must Go! Coalition and call by the MC (me!) to treat the demonstration as a beginning point for further organizing.

Media coverage was unusual. I suppose that more people in Tokyo and Rome will know about our demonstration than in New York City. Film crews from Asahi news and an Italian TV station filmed and reported on the march. Longer-term reporters from A&E and Bill Moyers Journal also turned up. In addition, several independent media sources and our main trade union newspaper picked up on the story.

To follow up, we distributed leaflets for a meeting on June 26th at 6:30 pm at 339 Lafayette Street (Buzzer #11) to discuss both the GHI/HIP privatization and the struggle for HR 676. Overall, the demonstration was quite invigorating as I felt like we were at the beginning and not the end of something.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

June DA Report: We Won Back Some Grievance Rights

by James Eterno, UFT Chapter Leader, Jamaica High School

For the greater part of the last three years since the punitive 2005 Contract was forced down our throats, the UFT leadership has been telling us that giving up the right to grieve letters in the file was really a gain. They argued that after three years if disciplinary charges don't result from a letter, then it can be removed. They never mention that material that is older than three years cannot normally be used in 3020A hearings, which is the process to discipline tenured teachers. This year the UFT has not admitted that they were wrong in giving up so many of our rights in 2005, however behind the scenes they have been trying to find new ways to fight file letters and we are winning back piece-meal what we gave away.

Earlier in the school year, we were told about four teachers who challenged file letters in court and won. These letters were written following a Commissioner of Special Investigations report. The courts said a file letter for a tenured teacher cannot be strictly disciplinary. To discipline a tenured teacher requires a 3020A proceeding.

Fast forward to the June DA where we heard about the case of Todd Freedman who won his grievance on attendance from 2006-07. The remedy that he asked for was that the letter the administration wrote for his file be removed. According to Grievance Director Howard Solomon, the arbitrator gave him that remedy. The arbitrator also codified in writing that a teacher who gets a letter for file based on an underlying clause in the Contract can file a grievance and ask for the remedy to be that the letter be removed from the file.

For Todd the issue was Article 16 (attendance) and Chancellor's Regulation C-601 which would fall under Article 20 (matters not covered). The arbitrator, according to Solomon, said no specific number of absences automatically triggers discipline but a good faith case by case of analysis of the facts in a particular case must be done by a Principal. In this particular case, the principal had a policy that ten absences would lead to an automatic letter for the file. The arbitrator also said that there were five factors that must be considered which are: unusual circumstances, likeliness that the situation will recur, pattern of absences, employee attendance and work history, and the seriousness of the illness involved.

Freedman was then given a chance to address the Delegates. He told us that he had a bad year last year because of the death of his father and an illness. He then interestingly noted that the UFT Grievance Department told him to file a case under the Family and Medical Leave Act but it was Randi who supported his grievance (under Article 16). Why wouldn't the Grievance Department fully support this case from the start? Freedman concluded by dedicating his victory to his father. On a related issue, if a member is protesting a letter about Corporal Punishment, we were told to file a grievance under Article 20 (Matters not covered; the Chancellor's Regulation would be A420).

It is good news that we are winning back in pieces the ability to grieve letters in the file but this right should never have been surrendered in the first place and there are still types of letters that cannot be grieved. One final thought for our Unity readers: If the 2005 Contract was so wonderful and the new rights are better than the old ones, then why are we trying to win back our old right to grieve letters in the file? Please just admit that the givebacks were horrible so we can organize a campaign to win all of them back.

Randi's Report

When my wife and I walked in, Randi Weingarten was urging the Delegates to continue to fight budget cuts. We were urged to keep calling 311 and complain about cuts to schools. She also commented on the hearings for the Contracts for Excellence and how they have turned into Klein bashing. She then told us that collective action is the only way to move the DOE. We totally agree with her on this.

She then talked about the rights that excessed personnel have, including the right to stay employed. She also said that by Contract people in danger of being in excess must be told by June 15. It was then reported that 244 Chapter leaders responded to the UFT's online survey. (Unity readers I was one of them). When there are around 1500 schools, 244 responding doesn't seem that high. Randi said the excessing problem was severe in many middle schools. She also mentioned how the entire English Department from Lafayette High School was placed in excess. She concluded her remarks on excessing by urging people who believe they were excessed improperly to file grievances.

Leroy Barr's Staff Directors' report was next. He told us that the Borough Offices will stay open this summer from 9:00 a.m. through 4:00 p.m. from Monday through Thursday. He also said that 22,000 members have opted in to 55-25 and that the deadline is August 25.

The Question period followed. Someone asked why we are paid overtime at a cut rate amount (per session) and not paid time and a half like other workers. Randi said that it was because our overtime is voluntary but that we have won in the courts to make per session pensionable and in collective bargaining we could try to increase the rate. She said that now that we have essentially caught up to the suburbs in salary, we can look to improve in other ways. Readers: Have our salaries essentially caught up to the suburbs?

Other questions concerned using Article 8J to grieve a lack of a Pre-observation conference. Randi said we would attempt to fight this with a good case. A question was asked about computer access and Randi replied by saying that mandatory computer use was a new condition of employment and therefore we would ask for impact bargaining. Protecting Chapter Leaders who have been removed to the "rubber room" was also discussed.

Motions & Resolutions: Can you say Rubber Stamp?

Liberation High School Chapter Leader John Powers from ICE was successful in getting the Leadership to move the resolution on healthcare up to the front of the agenda. Powers has led the movement within the UFT to fight the privatization of our healthcare plans. GHI and HIP, two not-for-profit entities, have merged and may now be sold off and become for profit companies. Powers had a resolution that he has been attempting to introduce for months saying that we should oppose moving our main healthcare plans into the private for profit sector.

Unity proposed a watered down healthcare resolution that does not oppose privatization but calls for maintaining quality, affordable healthcare. Randi illegally motivated this motion from the chair. She then continued her assault on Roberts' Rules by calling on John Powers and not allowing him to present his substitute motion that opposed privatizing healthcare as an amendment. A substitute motion is a form of an amendment which is a debatable motion. Instead, Randi erroneously in my opinion called it a new motion and said that it needs a 2/3 vote to be placed on the agenda. We went scurrying through our Roberts' Rules and it took a while to figure out Randi was wrong but by that time John Powers had been given time to speak and he made some valid points about how healthcare companies that had been privatized in the past were as effective with 9 out of 10 people. He asked who would want to be that tenth person.

Vice President Michael Mulgrew spoke against Powers on what was supposedly a non-debatable motion and then Unity voted against the Powers resolution that opposes privatizing our healthcare. Randi then tried to sneak through the watered down Unity motion without allowing someone to speak against it and at that point I had seen enough and raised a point of order. Randi made a snide remark about how I wanted to speak just to delay important political endorsements but she told me I could speak. (Translation, my point of order was valid). I declined the invitation as there are people who are far more knowledgeable on this issue than I am.

Gerry Froenhoffer (ICE-TJC VP candidate for CTE schools in 2007) from Aviation High School then spoke intelligently on why privatizing healthcare is an important issue that needs a great deal of discussion and should not be voted on right away. He also talked about the history and mission of HIP. After that, the usual sounds were heard from the Unity faithful to end debate so they could rubber stamp the will of the leadership and so debate was closed. The vote, while clearly in favor of Unity's watered down resolution on healthcare, had some strong dissent.

Rating Joel Klein was next on the agenda and since the ratings were due on the day of the DA, this resolution was moot although it easily passed (Note to Unity readers: I worked very hard to have almost everyone in my chapter fill out the "Joel Klein Evaluations" and my wife and I along with friends from Jamaica and plenty of ICE members attended the rally on Monday afternoon).

Political endorsements followed as two controversial Republicans were debated. Lisa North from ICE said that with control of the New York State Senate up for grabs this November, it might be wise to endorse more Democrats so that they could win a majority in the Senate. Unity's people talked about the virtues of the Republicans they were endorsing and how they were good on our issues. Even our friend Gerry Froenhoeffer supported one of the Republicans. Randi left the chair and actually spoke from the floor in favor of a Republican candidate who was not pro-gay. All of the UFT endorsements easily passed. The Delegates also passed another resolution calling for the Executive Board to be empowered to endorse other candidates over the summer.

Finally, a resolution asking for the UFT to persuade the American Federation of Teachers to endorse Barack Obama for President was presented. Randi again left the chair to motivate this one and it carried overwhelmingly.

Another year of attending DA's is over. We hope you enjoyed the reports. Randi refers to the blogs at just about every meeting so you can bet she will read your comments. Comment away.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008


by James Eterno, UFT Chapter Leader, Jamaica High School

It's been a year since I was on the UFT Executive Board. For most of this school year, I resisted the requests from my good friend Ellen Fox and I did not go back as an observer to the Executive Board where I had served as a minority member for a decade. On Monday, June 9, 2008, I returned in order to show support for Marjorie Stamberg who was protesting a disputed chapter leader election where the UFT investigators had decided that the Unity candidate (Michael Friedman) had won and the non-Unity candidate (Marjorie) had lost. (Unity Caucus is the majority party that has controlled the UFT since 1960) What was it that she was protesting? When the election was announced, Marjorie asked for a list of who the Chapter members are in her chapter. Her GED+ chapter is a new chapter that exists in many locations so it would not be easy to contact everyone in the different sites. Unity basically said you have no right to know who is in your chapter.

Unity's people (Staff Director Leroy Barr and Special Counsel Adam Ross) argued that the UFT sent a piece of campaign literature from both candidates to all Chapter members and they had a forum for the candidates. Therefore, they had run a fair election. However, they didn't mention 146 Chapter members did not vote and maybe they would have been persuaded to vote for Marjorie had she been able to contact them. It is "Political Campaigning 101" that a personal contact with a potential voter is the best way to convince someone to vote for a potential candidate. Why do you think politicians hit the road so often to shake hands and kiss babies? Marjorie was never given that chance because she was not allowed to know who was in her Chapter. Democracy Unity style.

After Ross presented the report and Marjorie rebutted it, Secretary Michael Mendel, who was chairing, would not allow for a discussion, only questions. This was a mistake as clearly accepting a report is a main motion like any other that can be debated. Ultimately, the Unity majority surprised nobody by backing Barr and Ross however two of New Action's Executive Board members voted with Marjorie and four others abstained. The two who voted against Unity were Doug Haynes and Fransisco Pena.

Same old Executive Board; nothing much has changed.


by James Eterno, UFT Chapter Leader, Jamaica High School

On a steamy June Monday, there was a Citywide Chapter Leaders' meeting at the Marriot in Brooklyn. We were called in for two purposes: to organize people to join hands across New York City at City Hall and to pick up anonymous surveys to rate Joel Klein's performance.

We also found out there isn't much the UFT can do about us working in the oppressive heat in the schools.

The rally's objective will be to keep pressure on the City to put the money for schools back into the budget. The rally will be on Monday, June 16th after school. To our Unity readers who like to comment: I will be there and I will ask my Chapter members to attend as well.

The purpose of the surveys is to rate Klein and the central Department of Education. I seem to remember that we engaged in a similar endeavor in 2005 during the Contract fight. We graded Klein in the schools and then we announced the results at a rally inside Madison Square Garden. You see how much it accomplished. Within a few months we accepted the horrific Fact Finding Report that led to the terrible 2005 Contract where we gave away so many of our rights (longer day, longer year, weaker due process etc...). What makes us think there will be any different results this time around?

Please note again that I will hand out the surveys and encourage all the members of my Chapter to fill them out as I am a loyal UFT Chapter Leader. Also, I really do hope this does some good. However, forgive my cynicism because we've all seen this movie before. It didn't end too well last time. Maybe the sequel will be better.

Thursday, June 05, 2008


Our Union has had a uncanny history of endorsing losing candidates for political office (remember the last two mayoral elections)...and it continues. In an unprecedented effort to elect Hillary Clinton we may have finally thrown in the towel.

Our losing endorsements continued with the defeat of UFT endorsed Elizabeth Crowley, a candidate in a special election for City Council from the 30th District in Queens. UFTers spent long hours campaigning for her in a losing bid. While the absentee ballots have not been counted yet our UFT candidate has apparently lost to Anthony Como, a republican machine backed candidate.

Here is what Randi wrote to the Chapter Leaders about Clinton and Obama yesterday, including a statement from AFT President McElroy:

As you know, Senator Barack Obama yesterday sealed the Democratic presidential nomination after a final flurry of superdelegate endorsements and returns from the final primaries in Montana and South Dakota. I wanted you to know our union’s response to this latest development and where we go from here. Randi

AFT President Edward J. McElroy’s statement on the Democratic primary:Congratulations to Sen. Barack Obama on becoming the presumptive Democratic nominee for president. He ran an effective, well-organized campaign to win a competitive primary race that included several excellent candidates. We look forward to meeting with him as soon as possible.We also congratulate Sen. Hillary Clinton for her strong performance in the Democratic primaries. The AFT is proud to have supported her through our considerable member education and political mobilization program, and a grass-roots campaign that engaged members across the country. Our members’ votes and activism were crucial in many primary contests. Also, because of the extended primary season, we reached out to members in states that have rarely been in play in the presidential primaries. We will mobilize these members again in the fall, which means we will work even more effectively, and in more states, than in any previous election. The AFT’s endorsement in the primaries came only after a deliberative process that included face-to-face meetings with candidates, conversations with members about the issues that matter most to them, and direct questions to members about which candidate they believed would best address their issues. The AFT now will engage in a process to prepare to make an endorsement for this fall’s general election. The goal of the AFT in November, as in every election, is simple: to elect a candidate who will be a strong advocate for our members, their families and the communities where our members live and serve.