Tuesday, June 28, 2011


UFT President Michael Mulgrew took dictatorial control of the Delegate Assembly to new depths that one time Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev would have been elated with. The issue at the special DA today was the worst part of the new agreement with the City-Department of Education that will permit the DOE to reassign Absent Teacher Reserves to new schools every week.

The low point of the meeting was not the agreement that contained some positives including a no layoff agreement and new procedures to help ATRs get hired. The nadir was that the president had to be forced before he would allow anyone to speak in opposition to his new agreement. When he opened up the floor for debate, multiple loyalty oath signing members of his Unity Caucus heaped praise on him for preventing layoffs. (Unity members must sign a statement saying they will support the decisions of their caucus [political party] in public and union forums.) We certainly agree that not having layoffs is an excellent outcome. Only after a Unity person moved to close debate did I stand and raise a point of order so I could have the opportunity to defend the Absent Teacher Reserves who in the new agreement are being shoved to the back of the bus if they can’t secure a position.

Roberts Rules says, "Debate of a question is not ended by the chair's rising to put the question to vote until both the affirmative and the negative are put;" I read this clause verbatim to the Delegates. Roberts Rules goes on to say, "A member can claim the floor and thus reopen debate.” That is exactly what I was attempting to do. Mulgrew passed to the UFT's parliamentarian who the president noted is paid for by the UFT. (By the way, I read Roberts Rules closely tonight and a point of order [procedures not being followed] takes priority over a motion to close debate.) The parliamentarian abruptly ignored Roberts Rules and told Mulgrew he had to have a 2/3 vote to let someone speak against the motion (the ATR and no layoff agreement) at this point. Mulgrew then improperly asked that the rules be suspended to allow someone else to speak. He got the vote to suspend the rules which was ridiculous but at least we thought were going to be heard.

We were still muzzled, however, as President Mulgrew for some reason did not call on me but instead called on a delegate from my school who yielded his time to me. That wasn't good enough for the president who at this point quickly said the delegate couldn't yield time to me and called on someone else who didn’t speak at all about the ATRs. What is the president so afraid of? Were 900 or so members of the Unity Caucus going to vote against their leadership and side with me because of my rhetorical skills? I doubt it very much. At least the DOE gives us two minutes to speak at their Panel for Educational Policy meetings before they cast aside what we say.

Mulgrew didn't even afford me any time to make the important points I made in tonight’s earlier piece. Leonid Brezhnev would have been so happy with the way our union conducted its business.


  • We have an agreement between the UFT and the city that eliminates the possibility of over 4,000 layoffs this year. We also gain increased hiring opportunities for Absent Teacher Reserves to be hired provisionally and to get considered for positions at reduced costs to principals. In exchange the UFT has agreed to suspend sabbaticals for 2012-2013 and to allow the DOE to move Absent Teacher Reserves who are not lucky enough to secure a permanent position from school to school on a weekly basis.

    UFT President Michael Mulgrew's report at tonight's emergency Delegate Assembly highlighted the no layoff part of the agreement, which we are all happy about. Nobody in their right mind wants to see over 4,000 teachers lose their jobs. Mulgrew also thanked everyone for doing work with the state and city council. He told us the mayor said he wanted non seniority layoffs. He talked about opposing the mayor with the city council. He didn't, however, talk for too long about the part of the agreement that dealt with Absent Teacher Reserves becoming nomads.

    The new agreement forces each principal to interview at least two ATRS per semester if they have vacancies and they are supposed to hire ATRS for vacancies and leave replacements. I don’t quite understand what happens if they interview two and don’t like them. Can they then hire someone from outside or give the classes away in a secondary school as a sixth class for special per session pay or to substitutes? UFT leadership believes these new procedures will lead to a big reduction in the ATR pool. I hope they are correct because anyone unfortunate enough to be left behind in the ATR pool risks becoming a teacher gypsy.

    The agreement on page three contains the following ominous clause: "An Excessed Employee/ATR shall be assigned to a school within his/her district/superintendency each week. A 'week' shall be Monday through Friday, or shorter if the work week is less than five(5) days." Then there is clause C which says: "An Excessed Empoyee/ATR shall be notfied no later than Friday (or the last work-day of the week) if he/she will be assigned to a different school the following week and, if so, to which school. An ATR who has not been notified that he/she has been assigned to a different school by Friday shall report on Monday, or the first work day of the work day of the work week, and for the duration of that week, to the last school to which he/she was assigned." In other words, if a teacher does not find a permanent job on his or her own, buy a good GPS.

    Besides the obvious problems of ATRS not having stability from week to week and not being able to bond with students, or know which person in each particular school to go to in order to resolve issues with payroll or their sick bank days or other items, this makes it virtually impossible for ATRs to do any per session work (extra activities for money that are pensionable.) We are truly worried that ATRS will now become third class citizens.

    One of the worst parts of the horrible giveback laden 2005 contract was the loss of placement rights for members whose schools close or are excessed because their school or program is downsized. Since then, there has been a pool of teachers ranging from the hundreds to thousands called ATRs who have no permanent job and must substitute. Under current rules, ATRs usually stay in a school for a year and then can be reassigned. It is not a very professional existence but we are told by UFT leaders that at least the ATRs have jobs. In 2008 the DOE and UFT came to an agreement to allow principals to hire ATRs and only get charged on their budget the cost of half of a starting teacher for seven years. (The teacher still gets full pay.) The UFT predicted this would basically end the ATR problem but it didn't. The reasons ATRs are not hired are either because they have obscure licenses or they are activists who are not going to say, "How high?" when a principal tells them to "Jump!"

    UFT Secretary Michael Mendel told me the ATRS will have a much greater chance of getting a full time position under this new agreement. Again, I truly want him to be right but I fear he might be wrong. The subsidies didn't lead to the withering away of the ATR pool and neither will this as I see it because unfortunately some principals don't care about cost as much as they care about control. Furthermore, having teachers do coverages is much cheaper than hiring someone they don’t know.

    Balancing the budget on the backs of ATRS is not quite as awful as balancing it on the backs of newer teachers who would have been laid off but it was totally unnecessary. With Bloomberg’s poll numbers on education sinking to "Bushian Post Hurricane Katrina" levels, the UFT was holding all of the cards and should have insisted that to save money that the DOE should be compelled to place all of the ATRS into positions in their districts. That would save some money for sure as it would eliminate the ATR pool if DOE was not allowed to do any new hiring until every ATR in a license in a district was placed. Any remaining ATRs could cover classes in an individual school so as not to create the potential chaos that this agreement could bring.

    Teacher bashing continues. When firehouses close, the firefighters aren't blamed and they are sent to another firehouse. When police precincts redeploy whole precincts because of corruption scandals, the clean cops who worked in the corrupt precinct don't have to apply to other precinct captains. They are transferred. Only teachers face the indignity of having to pound the pavement to seek a job because a program was downsized or closed.

    President Mulgrew said this union leaves no educator behind. This is not totally true as the ATRs have certainly been left to basically fend for themselves.

Saturday, June 25, 2011


It is very hard to comment on the UFT agreement with the City-DOE that was announced last night. It is certainly a very positive development that over four thousand teachers won't be laid off. On the other hand, the teaching force will be reduced by thousands through attrition, while student enrollments are increasing; this will invariably result in larger class sizes which is educationally unsound to say the least.

It is also not so good that we gave up sabbaticals for 2112-13, which will save pennies, while nothing has been done to control ballooning administrative costs within the DOE.

However, this sabbatical concession is not my central concern. We live in the real world and the national and state political climates are definitely anti teacher and anti union. We know that the sabbatical giveback for a year is not a fundamental loss.

It is the ATR part that concerns me. Absent Teacher Reserves are teachers who have been excessed because their school or program has been closed or downsized. They are in that position through no fault of their own and policy now is to usually send ATRs to a school for a year so at least they have some certainty in their lives.

ATRs at my school are currently utilized to cover classes for absent teachers on a daily basis before any day-to-day subs are called. If through this agreement the DOE is truly going to be compelled to deploy ATRs into vacant positions, then this is a positive development. If, however, the UFT just gave the DOE license to shuffle ATRs around on a weekly basis to different schools within a district, then ATRs who already are treated like second class citizens will have become third class UFT members.

Until I see the language of this agreement, I will reserve judgment. Yes, the devil is in the details.

I would hope that the UFT would send out the actual agreement before Tuesday's emergency Delegate Assembly meeting so we can discuss it with our members before we break for the summer.

For a detailed analysis, read Perdido Street here.

Monday, June 20, 2011


We constantly hear people complain that they are paying over $48 a check in UFT dues and don't get proper services from the Union. While the UFT should be everyone's first line of defense when under attack, it is certainly not the only avenue available to battle back against horrible administration. Two teachers who I know are taking their fight outside of the UFT.

Dena Gordon is a social studies teacher at East West School of International Studies in Flushing. She works for administrators (Principal Ben Sherman and Assistant Principal Mala Panday) who have abused the staff continually. The harassment and intimidation have been so severe that the last two UFT Chapter Leaders were compelled to leave the school and now they do not have a chapter leader. Can anyone blame people for not taking the Chapter Leader job under those circumstances? Dena was a UFT Delegate previously so Sherman has targeted her all year with illegal observations where she is denied mandated pre-observation conferences and letters for file over inconsequential issues that are ignored with other teachers.

Dena has filed multiple grievances that are clogged up in the interminable grievance process. Step I is the principal and Step II is the Chancellor. Basically, teachers have very little chance of having an objective hearing at both steps. The Union has a limited number of arbitration dates available where grievances would be heard by a neutral third party so grievances back up for years at times while administrative harassment continues. We need to expose what is happening and get help to teachers like Dena.

Dena decided she could not wait a second longer so she has hired her own lawyer and taken the principal to the state Public Employees Relations Board charging him with anti union bias. We believe she has a very strong case as clearly she is an activist who has been targeted by an administration that is more interested in controlling the Union than in educating kids. Union buster Ben Sherman truly deserves the designation: "Principal From Hell."

Gagan Diwan is a math teacher. He taught successfully at Humanities and the Arts High School in Queens until 2009 when suddenly administration turned on him.He asked administration for an accommodation to have classes on one floor and a key to the elevator as he has muscular dystrophy.

Administration ignored his requests and went on to terminate him several months later. UFT would only file a U rating appeal, which as we know is basically a kangaroo court where we almost always lose. However, Gagan would not accept the loss of his job so he hired his own lawyer and filed a complaint with the New York State Human Rights Commission. A few weeks ago they found there was probable cause that his rights were violated and now the case will go to a hearing. The NY Post covered this story.

The point of all of this is to tell our readers not to give up when confronted with a seemingly impossible situation. There are people out there who aren't going to take the employer abuse and are finding ways to help themselves either inside the union or if they are not satisfied, then outside.