There were three clues at last Wednesday's Delegate Assembly that just added to the mountain of proof that the UFT no longer exists as an independent trade union but is merely an arm of Mayor Bill de Blasio's administration. President Michael Mulgrew's answer to a question on abusive principals and two resolutions in support of absurd de Blasio education proposals just added to what has already occurred since de Blasio became mayor and the UFT ceased battling city hall.
We really didn't need any further proof of the UFT-de Blasio marriage after the 2014 contract with its paltry raises of 10% over 7 years and UFT members having to wait until 2020 to receive money (4%+4%) that most other city workers received from 2008-2010. Throw in healthcare savings that have mostly not yet been implemented for city workers but will in the near future (after Mulgrew's reelection?), lack of improvement in working conditions, weaker due process rights for Absent Teacher Reserves and we have a union that jumped fully into bed with management. When the city's huge budget surpluses the last few years are taken into account, the city hall-UFT marriage leaves UFT members scratching their heads. Last week's DA showed once again how our union continues to be a shill for management.
During the question period Michael Mulgrew was asked about abusive principals. He responded by changing his usual answer from the last two years when he repeatedly answered this question by saying that it is going to take a while for Chancellor Carmen Farina to change the culture in the schools from the Mike Bloomberg years but just give her some time. The new response is that we have always had abusive principals so this is nothing new. That was a fairly clear admission that the conditions we teach in haven't changed under Farina.
Mulgrew's statement while true is very misleading. I can recall back in the 1990's, when Joe Fernandez was Chancellor, principals were told to settle their problems in house unless they were completely egregious. That policy continued to some extent under Chancellors Ramon Cortines and Rudy Crew. Back in those days a letter to the Chancellor from a UFT Chapter meant there would be a full scale investigation from upper level management and that principal could be in trouble quickly.
In addition, there were real attempts to resolve individual grievances in most cases before they went to arbitration. A principal was considered to be weak if he/she could not settle most problems within a building. Another red flag against a principal was if too many teachers were seeking to transfer from a school. In the 1990s, when the UFT was still somewhat of a real union, the Union was a check on abusive principals and it functioned for the betterment of the school system. Toxic learning environments don't help kids excel.
It was only when Harold O Levy, the first non educator took over as Chancellor in 2000, that the pendulum from upper management started to move toward knee-jerk support for principals and against teachers. That pendulum moved further away from teachers and the UFT at lightening speed under Joel Klein, Kathy Black and Dennis Walcott while Bloomberg was mayor. After the infamous 2005 "Givebacks' R Us" contract, teacher professionalism was more or less gone and as Mulgrew admitted in his answer on abusive principals, without admitting it directly, the pendulum hasn't moved back the other way toward respecting teachers and UFT Chapters under de Blasio-Farina.
Honestly, do you think most UFT Chapters would feel any confidence reporting an abusive administration to the Chancellor?
There was more evidence at the November DA that the UFT is just the education wing of the de Blasio administration in the form of two fairly innocuous looking resolutions that overwhelmingly carried at the end of the meeting. Both of these resolutions gave unqualified UFT support for de Blasio education initiatives.
The first one endorsed the hiring of reading specialists so that all children would be literate by the end of second grade. Universal literacy by grade two is a wonderful goal that is basically impossible to achieve in a city like New York which has a huge non-English speaking population and many pupils with extensive special needs. Saying they are all going to read by grade two is setting us up for failure in the same way that the unions supporting No Child Left Behind in 2002 was a huge mistake because that law said every child would be reading and doing math on grade level by 2014. That was an impossible goal. The UFT should not support pipe dreams that can boomerang on us. All it does is give our enemies fuel when they want to attack us. I can see the groups coming out against us when we say we were going to have all children literate by second grade and all of them are not. They will say it's the teacher's fault.
The last resolution might have been worse. The de Blasio administration has an initiative where all pupils will have a computer class by 2025. 2025? Are they kidding? Every child should have had a computer course by 1995 or at least by now. This mayor has had two years in control of the system and he can't wire every school.
I raised my card to speak against at the DA but in the Unity style of democracy, a member of the Unity Caucus spoke for the resolution and that was followed by another Unity representative moving to end debate and the rest of them followed in lock step. Mulgrew occasionally asks for speakers against motions but often times he just ignores the rules and continues his unfair way of chairing meetings. I didn't have a chance to make my points.
After I voted no on the computer resolution, it was interesting to look up and watch Mulgrew note my one vote in opposition.
Some people say Delegate Assembly meetings are a waste of time. They aren't. If a union member wants to know the thinking of the union's leadership, one should attend. I discovered more evidence that we are in many ways a kind of government example of a wholly owned subsidiary. The UFT is a part of the de Blasio administration for better or worse.