Saturday, November 28, 2015


It was reported in the latest issue of the Organizer by UFT Unity's Gene Mann that there are 869 fewer UFT members in Queens High Schools this year.  Mann argues that the most likely cause of the drop is because so many teachers are agreeing to take on sixth classes which the contract allows under limited circumstances.

I think he is right that there has been an increase in teachers working a sixth class in recent years.  My understanding is central DOE pays for teachers to take on a sixth class in shortage areas so the money doesn't get charged to school budgets.  Add to this the fact that funding going to schools curiously has not increased since the economy has recovered and you have an invitation for management to try to bend the rules.

While Gene is probably correct about the reason for the problem, in typical Unity fashion he absolves the union of any blame. Here are Gene's own words:

This is not a problem for Chapter Leaders to solve.  Chapter Leaders would lose arms trying to snatch the bread out of the mouths of people they work with every day in furtherance of the rights of people they never have met.  Our newly empowered superintendents should investigate and curtail abuses of  the provision.

Gene's solution to pawn it off on the superintendents is so antithetical to union values that it makes me cringe. Why should the superintendents enforce the UFT contract? Once there are at least three classes in a license area that are being taught as sixth classes in a school, it is a full time position and needs to be grieved. If the Chapter won't grieve, then the central Union should initiate it for sure. What kind of union allows people to roam the system as rotating Absent Teacher Reserves while letting other people make extra money teaching sixth period classes the ATRs could teach? Please don't tell me about licenses.  I know they have to match available positions.

This story hit home for me because I was faced with a similar dilemma when I was the new Chapter Leader of Jamaica High School in 1996. Back then Jamaica had an illegal PM School where certain students were being given their sixth and seventh regular classes at the end of the day and UFT members were cleaning up with two periods of  per session per day. I stopped it almost instantly because it was wrong as it was cheating the kids out of classes during their regular day and just as wrong because it was costing teachers full time jobs.

I remember a teacher coming to me after the Principal told her it was me that killed her extra job and screaming at me in public.  Eventually, this teacher and the rest of the teachers who were teaching the extra classes told me I did what I had to do.  The new full time positions that had to be created were well worth it and there are almost always per session jobs available for people who want them.  I called this incident my chapter leader baptism of fire. 

I didn't lose an arm or a leg or even a vote by "snatching the bread out of the mouths of people" I worked with. Union leaders need to do what's right and the politics will generally take care of themselves.


Jonathan said...

This has been a work-around for the unfair budgeting system. At this point, a new teacher comes out of the principal's "budget", but 6th classes are funded from DoE Central. (this is just paper accounting, not a real budgeting, but it modifies how principals do their jobs) Rumor is that DoE is floating the idea of no longer funding sixth classes centrally, and that principals are ready to call foul.


Anonymous said...

Does the UFT even care? All those 6th periods are keeping teachers out of the classroom. Is it ethical for a teacher to take a 6th period? Many are only getting paid per session and pressured to take that class, even when they don't want to. I was in Pan American HS last year and most of the teachers are forced to take those classes, some 4 and 5 in a row. If they refuse they become targeted. When an ATR goes there, we are told we have to do 6 periods many with 4 in a row. If we balk and refuse, we're brought up on charges of insubordination and harassed for the rest of the year. Why isn't the UFT doing anything about anything? New teachers are brutalized and senior teachers are discarded, while the UFT remains silent.

Anonymous said...

The UFT stopped being a real union some time back.

Harris L. said...

Not the responsibility of the chapter leader?

Yes, the DOE pays nice money for the sixth class and many teachers want it. I was a SpEd math teacher and, in my school, every semester the SpEd teachers would be called into the AP's office one-by-one and "asked" to take the sixth class. Some jumped at the opportunity, others not so much. We all knew we were being "told" to take the sixth class because the principal didn't have to pay for another SpEd teacher. Those of us without tenure said "Of course."

The spring semester of my third year, I was assigned a sixth class--for the third time in three semesters. I was teaching, finishing my MS.Ed and trying to sleep more than five hours a night. I came to teaching, a young person's job if there ever was one, later in my career and it eventually became too much to handle.

One afternoon, I got a headache, starting sweating and became nauseated. I didn't have chest pains so I knew it wasn't a heart attack but I could tell, somehow, that I'd just blown out my blood pressure. After I got home that afternoon I went to the ER and was told that I'd had a "hypertensive crisis" and needed to find ways to control my stress.

I had my cardiologist write a letter to my principal saying that I could no longer be assigned a sixth class for health reasons. I asked the AP specifically to put it in my personnel file. The next fall, three weeks into the semester, I was handed a sixth class. I asked the principal if she'd read the cardiologist's letter--she had, of course, but didn't care.

Two months later, in the middle of the semester, I walked into her office and resigned on the spot. There were many reasons why I resigned, including larger problems about the way the principal handled SpEd students and teachers, but the main reason was this: I was willing to do almost anything for my students but I wasn't willing to die for them.

Not the chapter leader's responsibility? F.. the UFT.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, this is a cop-out. Good for you for speaking up when you were chapter leader. And why on earth should any teacher have to teach a sixth class when APs only teach *ONE*?! NYC teachers take it as gospel that Admins are so darn busy that they should only teach *one* period the entire day.

But, I have taught elsewhere, and believe me, nowhere else in the country are there so many highly paid administrators who do so little. Everywhere else Admins (department chairs as they are typically called) teach 4 classes, and their admin duties are 1 period comp-time. They get their classes covered for some observations. But, those are often few and far between in districts with lots of tenured teachers.

Nowhere else does anybody really believe that random 15 minute "gotcha" observations are useful. Can you tell if a teacher is doing a good job in15 minutes? No. But, you really already know if the teacher is doing a good job based on other factors (and if I have to make a rubric to outline these factors for you, then you are an idiot who shouldn't be an AP to begin with). Can you even tell if any particular lesson is good based on 15 minutes? No.

Chairs get some extra pay, but, they are required to attend district Board meetings and have some extra duties during the summer.
Think I'm making this up? Just look at the federal data. New York spends *way* more on administrative salaries on a per-pupil basis than any other state in the country. By a long shot.

I mean, hell, even the position title "AP" is inflated in importance. The term "Assistent Principal" would seem to imply that there is only one of them, not multiple. So, I think we can see how this position has flown under the radar for so long without ever getting questioned.

Anonymous said...

The UFT has a hands off policy with them because of their union. Therefore it's OK to allow the supervisors to run rampant with power and very little knowledge. Some commentors on other blogs say 'Well where are we going to get all the supervisors we need if the Leadership Academy principals are replaced?!" They don't have to be replaced with anyone, they do nothing. Get a chairperson who teaches 4 periods a day and use coverages when needed. The city will save what a billion dollars? It's all a big farce.

Anonymous said...

Seriously, being scared of their union is silly. Nobody is asking for them to lose their jobs. Just to do it differently. Have them carry their own weight and behave the way Department Chairs do in the rest of the darn country. If each AP taught 4 classes instead of 1, then classes sizes would reduce dramatically across the city. The consequent increase in test scores would be huge. Our class sizes are exactly double the national average.

FariƱa is not likely to accept these ideas. She spent a lot of time as an admin in NYC, and seems to love admins and the weird little culture they've built here in NY (calls then her "army"). But, then again, she never taught in high schools, and might find the layer of admins there excessive. I'm on the fence about her.

But, Leadership Academy principals are idiots. Haven't a lot of them been rubber-roomed? Like crazy-pants from Laffayette? Oh, sorry, she was reassigned to "supervise" the rubber-room. What a joke. And the Desk Jockey in the Bronx who rode her desk right out the front door? She got fired.

I swear, I've never seen a bigger group of crazies and nit-wits than the APs in NYC. Many of them can't string a coherent sentence together, much less a coherent group of thoughts during a meeting or an observation report. They're reason number 2 that morale is so low. Reason number 1 is APPR.

James Eterno said...

I didn't think of this from the law of diminishing returns perspective but it is oh so true that teachers teaching six or more classes might not be as sharp after so many classes.

Anonymous said...

This article once again brings to light the uselessness of the UFT. This union has become such a bloated bureaucracy, a sister bureaucracy, to the DOE. Our union is just a self-serving, make work program. And we are being taxed to the tune of $110 each month for this bullshit. Where a union is supposed to have its members backs, this union turns it's back on it's members. For example, the perfect opportunity for this union to show support for its membership would've been a clear explanation of this retro pay we received back in October. Act as a watchdog per se, and make sure New York City teachers were not being jerked around. What did we get? NOTHING. Not a peep.
This incompetent meathead Mike brings down a salary of $250,000 per year. I am outraged that I am paying for that! and hoping for the day that the Supreme Court opens the door for me to exit. At least then I will no longer feel I'm being played for a chump by the very people that are supposed to serve us.

Anonymous said...

I'm with you, Anon 2:03. I was always do-or-die Union. But this is a joke.

Anonymous said...

Will you guys really be that happy if the UFT loses Friedrichs? Without a union, even a weak one, do you think the DOE treats us any better? It will be worse.

Anonymous said...

Friedrichs is inevitable, so happy, meh - mixed feelings, mostly. But, remember that Al Shanker made his most gains for teachers when we were an open shop (which Friedrichs would return us to). There was more than one union, and he had to beat out the other ones by showing he was a better organizer and by bringing real gains.

Yes, I understand that his goal was to make it a closed shop. But, in order to do so, he had to win over the rank and file by making real gains. Now, in the days since Shanker left we have seen an erosion in our conditions which really accelerated under Mulgrew (in the last year he has stanunched *some* of the bleeding - but his losses the year before were so great that it doesn't matter).

In terms of working conditions, the UFT has brought us back to the pre-Shanker days. The administrator harrassment now is exactly as described by some of the pre '68 teachers I have spoken to. And, rating teachers on test scores? Please. Just ridiculous. And the only person who is fixing that is *not* doing so with the union's blessing. Shari Ledernan has gotten no help from the union.

So, yeah, I'm kind of looking forward to Friedrichs. I know it will be painful. But, rip the band-aid off. It's better than slowly dying from an infection. Let's treat our wounds and start healing.

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Anonymous said...

Healing? How? By starting all over again. The UFT was the exclusive bargaining agent in 1962. Shanker took over after that. Where did you get the history from 4:17?

Anonymous said...

my understanding of our history comes from reading both Kahlenberg's bio of Shanker and Clarence Taylor's book, Reds at the Chalkboard. The union was in disarray since Linville and Lefkowitz. You may be right about becoming the bargaining agent in '62 (I forgot that). But, not everyone was a member. I do believe Shanker was instrumental in getting bargaining status (he was that other guy's right hand man).

And, after Shanker became president of the local, he was fully credited with growing membership, consolidating with the elementary schools, getting paras into the union. His ability to agitate for improved working conditions, better salaries, and better benefits is unsurpassed. Any tier I teacher will tell you this. So will their children who grew up middle class with good benefits, not having to worry about Mom and Dad eating cat food when they got old.

My point is, Shanker had to prove himself to his members. Which he did. Even after he consolidated the union, he still had to stand for re-election. Our current union presidents do not (in any real sense of the word) because of the patronage at 52 Broadway and the loyalty oath. The district positions are no longer elected. And, frankly, the small schools movement functionally eliminated the chapter leader position.

Shanker cut his teeth in a day when union leadership had to fight. Which they did. So, even as the union grew, he still HS some fight in him. Our current leadership does not. Our union is dead, man. Comatose. Unresponsive. DOA.

Yes, I'm ready to start over. I mean, can you explain why college faculty are choosing the Teasmters or the SEIU as their bargaining agents when they unionize, and not the UFT? Because UFT leaders are a pack of losers. I don't mean that in the Trumpian sense. I mean, they lose. They lose our benefits. They lose our tenure. They lose our professionalism. They lose our raises. But they haven't lost our dues. Well, that might change.

James Eterno said...

In December 1961 the UFT became the exclusive bargaining agent for NYC teachers. Charles Cogen was UFT president in those days and led two strikes. Shanker was elected in 1964 and started his push to consolidate his power soon thereafter. I won't go into too much detail here but he planted the Unity seeds that eventually ruined our union when he put in the top-down Unity Caucus structure with its loyalty oath back in the sixties. Read David Seldon's book, The Teacher Rebellion for all of the details. Seldon was the AFT organizer who worked with Shanker and Cogen as the three main players in forming the UFT.

Shanker also endorsed A Nation at Risk which is the privatization playbook. Yeah, he did many good things to get teachers respect and improve salaries and get us Tier I but he also gave us the Unity machine which led to a membership that has little or no connection with its union. Seldon compared the UFT to an insurance company. He was spot on.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, James. I have always felt the 2 books that I mentioned were spotty, I did not know Selden had written a book. I will read it.

Kahlenberg does mention the loyalty oath that Shanker instituted. He is critical of it, and he fully explains how it plays out in the Executive Committee (Mulgrew is so full of it every time he tells the DA that they are the "highest decision making body" - he's flat out lying every time he says it).

I'm going to find that book you suggested.