Having been a member of New Action who was elected three times to the UFT Executive Board to represent the High School Division from 1997-2004, it feels good to be back working with New Action. I was devastated when NAC decided not to oppose Randi Weingarten in 2003 and soon thereafter found myself as a man without a caucus. While Camille and I respected their decision, the NAC-Unity alliance caused many NAC members to say we want to be in opposition to Unity and we left NAC to help form the Independent Community of Educators. Teachers for a Just Contract was also growing at the time so we agreed to work together.
Winning the 2004 election over NAC and going back to the high School Executive Board was a real triumph for me personally. I'll never forget being by the copying machine at Jamaica when the late, great activist Paul Baizerman phoned to tell me we won. Being able to serve the next three years with members of Teachers for Just Contract and ICE taught me so much. It is an honor to be able to call people such as Jeff Kaufman, Barbara Kaplan-Halper and Ellen Schweitzer good friends.
During our three year term, we finally convinced the union leadership to oppose school closings and we led a 40% no vote on the disastrous 2005 contract. The giveback laden contract created the Absent Teacher Reserve mess by ending seniority transfers and preferred placement when a school closed along with many other indignities that have truly weakened our union and our profession.
I enjoy being in ICE to this day and although often skeptical, Camille and I went along when ICE became one of the founding groups in the Movement of Rank and File Educators before the last UFT election. If we combined MORE's vote totals with New Action's in 2013, we won a clear majority of the high school division that voted (yes the turnout was low) however NAC cross-endorsed with Unity, not MORE, so their people sat on the Executive Board.
Now that NAC is no longer supporting Unity-Mulgrew, there is a tremendous opportunity for the opposition to put a real dent in the top-down Unity style of leadership. Camille and I couldn't be happier to be able to work again on the same political team with our old friends from NAC, particularly Greg Destefano from Staten Island. Greg is running for an officer position on our slate. You could not find a more dedicated, relentless trade unionist in the world than Greg. He has the determination of a bull.
From MORE's side, a truly inspirational candidate is running for UFT President in Jia Lee. Jia is a conscientious objector who has opted out of giving state standardized exams. She testified at US Senate hearings in Washington DC last year in part on the damage that high stakes testing is doing to our schools and our kids. She is the Chapter leader from the Earth School where she teaches.
The other officer candidate positions in the coalition are being filled by very capable people. My wife Camille is without a doubt among the most robust trade unionists in this city. She was Chapter Leader at Queens Gateway to Health Sciences for years. Administration knew they better adhere to the contract or face Camille's wrath. Camille voluntarily stepped down from the Chapter Leader position when she took a year long gig outside the city. She came back and has been a UFT Delegate from Humanities and the Arts High School in Queens since 2006. Camille is highly respected and sought after for union help. Our phone doesn't stop ringing with people from our schools and many others looking to us for support which we provide to the extent we are able to. We hear so often from UFT members that he/she reached out to the UFT and they did little or nothing to help. That has to stop.
Speaking of strong candidates, MORE-New Action is running Lauren Cohen for Elementary School Vice President. Lauren famously stood up to hundreds of booing Unity Delegates at the 2014 NYSUT Representative Assembly. They couldn't take hearing the truth that they are obligated to vote as Michael Mulgrew and Leroy Barr tell them to. You can see the video below. Lauren is a Chapter Leader too.
Mindy Rosier is also on the MORE-New Action ticket. Mindy worked with me on the resolution to get MORE to ask the UFT to fight last year's awful Education Transformation Act. I challenge anyone to find better people to run this union.
Carol Ramos Widen, Kae Martin-Bridge, Margaret Shand, Nelson Santiago and Christine Gross round out the officer part of the MORE-New Action slate.
The UFT Executive Board is made up of many at large positions where the Unity strength among retirees will make them hard to beat. The same is true for officer positions where for example, retirees vote on who will be the Vice President for Elementary Schools. However, each division exclusively elects their own Executive Board.
When it comes to the seven High School Executive Board positions, MORE-New Action is putting together a kind of union all-star team led by MORE's Mike Shirtzer and NAC's Jonathan Halabi. Both are leaders in their respective caucuses. Add to this mix Francis Lewis High School Chapter Leader Arthur Goldstein as the straw that stirs the drink and we truly have the makings of an all-star High School Executive Board with other activists, some new to caucus politics, also on the slate.
All of these good people won't have the chance to do anything without your help. We must get out the vote if we are to win representation on the UFT Executive Board. Getting out the vote starts with running around and having petitions signed so people can secure a place on the ballot. For Mulgrew's Unity Caucus, this is easy as there is so much patronage that they can all sign each other's petitions at Unity gatherings. For us it means running around to schools and meeting the members to organize.
I've been traveling around Queens after school all week to leave literature with contacts to put in teacher letterboxes and asking for help in the petition campaign. I have met some fine people on the campaign trail and spoken to old friends. I'll have more to say in future posts.
For now, I urge everyone to support MORE-New Action and just as importantly to spread the word.