Last Saturday, I received the agenda for the January 18, 2012 Delegate Assembly well in advance. It contained two proposed constitutional amendments that won't do anything to make the UFT a more democratic union. The UFT Executive Board, which has the constitutional responsibility for running the organization, will be expanded from 89 to 101 members. The reason to add to the Executive Board is that the UFT is growing with the addition of the Family Child Care Providers and many new retirees. Therefore, I agree that it does make sense to add to the Executive Board. However, the Executive Board is one of the least democratic institutions in the world because of the at large system of voting for most of the seats that in such a huge union makes it virtually impossible to challenge the incumbents.
Most of the Executive Board and all 11 officers (president, vice presidents, etc...) are elected at large which means all members of the union vote for each position. At large voting allows a retiree or a non Department of Education Family Child Care Provider to be voting for the high school vice president and most of the other people who represent the high schools. This is ridiculous. It is just as absurd for a high school teacher like me to be voting for someone to represent the Family Child Care Providers.
A better amendment would have been to put in place some kind of proportional representation system so that if a caucus (political party) receives a certain amount of votes (say 25%) in any UFT election, then that caucus would get that percentage (25%) of the seats on the Executive Board. That is a fair system but you won't see that happening because the leadership of the Unity Caucus, which has run the UFT since the sixties and has a monumental financial advantage in every election, would have to deal with smaller groups who have support concentrated among certain UFT members. Having that kind of diversity on the Executive Board would make us a stronger union as more voices would be heard but it would dilute the power of the ruling caucus so don't expect such an amendment to see the light of day. Also, restoring the right of each division (high school, middle schools, elementary schools, special education) to exclusively elect their own vice presidents will not happen because the ruling caucus would have to admit that they might lose some day.
Expanding the voting representation of the retirees is simply a Unity Caucus insurance policy to expand their power. The retired UFT members are the most loyal Unity constituency so expanding their voice makes sense to Unity. However, whether or not retirees should vote for active member leaders is highly debatable. The New York State Public Relations Relations Board took up the retiree topic in 1997.
New Action (another caucus within the UFT) said the UFT should give them a list of retirees so they could mail the retired members UFT election material. PERB said that since the retirees are not part of our bargaining unit, then no caucus was entitled to their addresses. Since the state does not recognize retirees as not part of our bargaining unit, then one has to ask why they should be voting for who will represent active members? Retirees should have their own vice president that they elect exclusively to represent them.
The retiree vote was capped at 18,000, meaning that if more than 18,000 voted, the votes are weighted so 18,000 is the maximum. That cap will be raised by the amendment to 23,500. Forgetting the issue with one man=one vote, this is a pure power grab by the ruling caucus to make sure that their loyal retirees have even more of a voice than they do now. The active people will be further marginalized. What is really needed is to alter the UFT's fundamental foundation.
The structure of our union is basically designed to perpetuate one party rule forever and these amendments will worsen this. In order to win an election with close to 200,000 voters spread out over many states, a caucus would need a ton of money to have a reasonable chance to communicate with so many members enough times to make a difference. The Unity Caucus has the union patronage jobs and free trips to union conventions to buy loyalty and those people spread the word in the schools and in retirement communities. To obtain those perks, Unity members must sign a statement saying they will support the positions of Unity Caucus in union and public forums. Many have termed this statement the Unity Loyalty Oath. They also must pay to join the caucus.
One ad in the NY Teacher at election time is all the opposition is allowed and that is certainly not enough to get through to these masses of people to win an election. The UFT structure is extremely unfair and these amendments will not change that. Adding to the retiree vote total will just further alienate more of us.
I will be voting no on the constitutional amendments. It makes no sense to expand the Executive Board without changing how it is structured and expanding the retiree vote will not strengthen us.
Had the union really taken democracy seriously, they would have put together a committee with membership from all parties and independents and come up with a more democratic structure.