Monday, November 21, 2011


The Committee on Freedom of Association that is part of the International Labor Organization (ILO) of the United Nations found last week that New York State’s Taylor Law, which fines public sector workers two days pay for every day of a strike and jails leaders who call for strikes, violates an international treaty that the United States signed.

The ILO said the Taylor Law ban on public sector strikes violates the Freedom of Association protected under ILO Conventions 87 and 98. While the United States never ratified those conventions, the US is an original founding member of the ILO and agreed to the ILO Constitution so the United States is bound by the principles of these conventions through the original treaty according to this decision. The Daily News noted that the US stands with a handful of nations such as China and the Sudan in not ratifying the Conventions. That says a great deal about where this country stands.

The complaint was filed by the Transit Workers Union in 2009 because of what happened in 2005 when the TWU staged a three day strike which led to a judge imposing the harsh Taylor Law penalties on the union. As a result then union president Roger Toussaint went to jail, strikers were fined two days pay for each day of the strike and the union almost went broke after it lost automatic dues check-off for eighteen months.

Subsequently, the next TWU contract was decided by arbitration but the employer, New York City Transit, would not implement that judgment even after a court sided with the union.

The ILO decision is only symbolic at this time but when a UN agency decides that the law in New York State is violating fundamental worker rights, public sector unions need to go on the offensive to push for a change. Without the right to strike, our hand is severely weakened in any labor dispute.

Perhaps this decision by the UN agency that is made up of representatives from governments, employers and unions will spearhead a change in union outlook toward demanding that the oppressive penalties of the Taylor Law should be abolished. The UFT should take the lead in this movement as we now have the weight of a United Nations’ agency upholding our right to peacefully strike.

As of today, I still have not seen any reaction to the ILO judgment from the UFT. It should be noted that TWU’s current contract expires in January.

Have a Happy Thanksgiving everyone. You can read the entire decision from ILO here.

PS- Since our last post, my wife Camille, our friend Stuart from Springfield and I had the pleasure of attending Barbara Kaplan-Halper's retirement party. UFT was represented by District Representative James Vasquez.

Barbara served with me on the UFT Executive Board for three years. She was the Chapter Leader at Forest Hills High School for many years. We wish her many, many happy and healthy years in retirement.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011


A good friend took notes for me as I was watching my two year old daughter.

President Mulgrew's report: People who hate us learned a lesson in Ohio with the voters overwhelmingly voting to repeal a law that was passed that took away collective bargaining rights from public sector workers. The UFT made 50,000 phone calls and there were 25 people on the ground helping out. The vote was almost two to one in favor of repealing the law that would take away collective bargaining rights. Mulgrew said there seems to be a mood shift in the country in our favor.

Turning back to New York, Mulgrew told us that there are all kinds of rallies going on and we have to be selective on which ones we support. There are three that were mentioned. One is for November 17 sponsored by SEIU. The next one is for December 1 where there is a permit to close Broadway between Herald Square and Union Square. The third will be on December 10 which will be against voter suppression laws.

Mulgrew then talked about the budget. He told the delegates that the schools cannot afford a fourth straight year of budget cuts. He said that over 950 schools returned surveys on the cuts we are currently facing and that was the strongest response ever from one of these surveys.

Mulgew thanked Staten Island people for helping to get Daniel Donovan elected as DA.

On the recent city pension changes, Mulgrew stated that there will be fewer people on the pension board. The UFT would support the new process but would adjust our thinking if things aren't working out.

Next up was the evaluation system where Mulgrew reported that the DOE realizes there may be a problem. The UFT was moving to have chapter leaders and principals train together at 52 Broadway on the Danielson evaluation system. He said that in Tennessee there were issues with Danielson because of meaningless paperwork that we don't want to replicate here. He also told delegates that they need to inform principals that teachers need not write new core curriculum standards.

NAEP (national test) results showed that New York was one of only two states to have a decrease in scores, probably because of New York City. Since the national test measures learning and test prep doesn't work, Mulgrew said that it demonstrated, as the UFT has been saying for years, that DOE needs to change direction. He then stated that we need to publicize the good work that is going on in many schools so that the public does not lose confidence in the schools.

The next topic was the arbitration on SESIS (special ed). Mulgrew said that we need to document problems for the first hearing on December 8.

On Absent Teacher Reserves, Mulgrew told us there are 1,140 ATRs presently but that there were more last year. Chapter leaders need a procedure to meet and greet ATR's.

Muglrew closed by going back to the budget and said that the biggest issue is how the schools cannot afford a fourth straight year of budget cuts. The UFT has already given up sabbaticals for a year and has the ATR agreement to save the city money. He said it can't just be us alone. He added that the government in DC is dysfunctional and he is not optimistic about the super-committee helping education.

Leroy Barr gave the staff directors' report saying that over 1,000 showed up for teacher union day. He also celebrated the November 7, 1960 strike, which was the first one the UFT called. He saluted people who were there.

Next up was the question period. A question was asked about ATRs in District 75 being sent all over the city as it is a citywide district. The answer from Mulgrew was that people should contact the UFT if there are abuses.

Then there was a question about excessive paperwork. The answer was that the DOE knows there is a problem.

The next question was about placing ATRs. The answer was that 212 have been placed.

A question from Marjorie Stamberg was about ATRs voting. The answer was that all members have a right to vote and that the Election Committee was examining the issue. (I didn't even know the Election Committee was active.)

The next question was about principals sending out emails on weekends. The answer was that the DOE can't compel us to read emails on the weekends; they can only request it during the work week.

Next up was the motion period. Megan Beherent from TJC raised a resolution for next month that the UFT mobilize its members to rally for:
1-no new hiring until all ATRs in a license are placed;
2-re-certifying people without loss of tenure in arcane licences
3-auditing DOE hiring for age and race discrimination
4-restoring contractual right to closest vacancy.

There was some discussion about what rights excessed teachers previously had but Secretary Michael Mendel spoke against this motion saying that the makers of the motion misinterpreted what is going on. He stated that in the past people were placed anywhere in the city and that is no longer the case; he also argued that to re-certify people without going through the legal process would be unprecedented. After his strong plea the resolution failed to get on next month's agenda.

Four resolutions on the regular agenda then passed and the meeting ended.

From this report I can tell you for sure that watching my daughter Kara was clearly the better way to spend the afternoon.

Monday, November 07, 2011


The decay of public education in New York City over the past decade has been documented in great detail by ATR Marc Epstein, who is a former colleague. It wasn't published in any New York paper or the NY Teacher but by Valerie Strauss in the Washington Post. This story of the dramatic failure of school reform needs to be read by everyone.