Alex de Tocqueville in his classic Democracy in America warned about democracy deteriorating into a "tyranny of the majority." The governing structure of the United Federation of Teachers is a textbook example of a tyranny of the majority.* The ruling Unity Caucus (Michael Mulgrew and Randi Weingarten's political party) shuts out dissenting voices and basically rigs the election process in a sophisticated way to make challenging them basically impossible.
An opposition party cannot possibly get to retirees scattered all over the country and beyond so they could get to know us. Therefore,UFT elections are over before they start. The union has offices in several states, a newspaper and vast email network to spread the UFT message which is the Unity caucus message. Add to this the Unity loyalty oath which compels Unity members to support all caucus positions no matter how detrimental they are to the rank and file or they risk losing free trips to conventions and/or union jobs and the result is many schools with Unity chapter leaders hear only the Unity party line.
Unity keeps tight grip on information. When was the last time there was an opposing viewpoint presented in an op-ed in the NY Teacher? Opposition is allowed one advertisement at election time every three years. That is it. Anyone who has passed Political Science 101 knows this is not sufficient exposure for a fair electoral process. In spite of these huge obstacles, opposition groups to Unity, currently MORE-NEW ACTION, have won a majority of the voters in the high schools in many UFT elections including in 2016.
The high schools are one of four divisions in the UFT. The others are middle schools, elementary schools and functionals (non teachers). We concede that we are nowhere near Unity in the three other divisions. However, in the high schools the UFT is now a "tyranny of the minority" as Unity Caucus, the clear runners up in the recent UFT election, control all of the high school positions except for seven high school representatives on the 102 member UFT Executive Board. That's better than nothing but clearly the high school teachers deserve more.
When high school teachers agreed to join the UFT in 1960, Academic High School members voted exclusively for their Vice President and Career and Technical High School (called Vocational High Schools back then) members did the same. However, when New Action's Michael Shulman had the audacity to actually win the Vice Pesident for Academic High Schools position in 1985, Unity challenged their own election and forced a second one where Shulman won by an even greater margin. To make sure this never happened again, Unity changed the rules several years later so that all UFT members, including the retirees that we could never possibly get to, vote for the two high school vice presidents.
We know MORE-NEW ACTION won the high schools even though we still do not have a breakdown of the slate vote by divisions in the 2016 election for the first time in the nineteen years I have been following UFT vote counts. We can look at the Executive Board tallies by division to figure out how high school teachers voted. We know who won the vice presidents by division since the overwhelming majority of voters choose a slate to vote for all of the candidates of that caucus. We can easily conclude that a clear majority of high school teachers voted for the MORE-NEW ACTION slate because all of our Executive Board candidates won by around 200 votes over their Unity opponents. Remember, only high school teachers voted for these positions.
It is obvious that a majority of the high school teachers who cast a ballot want Christine Gross and yours truly to be their vice presidents for the Career and Technical and Academic High Schools respectively. So, who will be in those jobs? The answer of course is Unity's Sterling Roberson and Janella Hinds. Nothing against Sterling or Janella who are decent people but they do not represent the majority of the high school teachers who voted. MORE-NEW ACTION does. Throw in Solidarity's 2.4-3% and it is a strong majority of those who vote in the high schools who don't want Unity representing them. We truly have a tyranny of the minority.
Let's take this lack of democracy a step further and look closely at those Executive Board results. The four top vote recipients are Arthur Goldstein, Chapter Leader of Francis Lewis High School (2292 votes), Jonathan Halabi, Chapter Leader High School of American Studies at Lehman College (2290), Ashyra Gupta, Delegate from Harvest Collegiate High School (2289) and then Mike Schirtzer, Delegate from Leon Goldstein High School (2286). Arthur, Jonathan, Ashraya and Mike beat Unity's Anthony Klugg and James Vasquez handily. Nothing against James or Anthony but who deserves to be the Assistant to the Vice President, Queens, Manhattan or Bronx High School District Representatives? In Unity's world it is the ones with the fewer high school votes!
Yes these positions were not on the ballot this spring. Please note, however, that chapter leaders used to vote for district representatives and Manhattan High Schools voted for independent Bruce Markens. Bruce was DR for a decade. When Bruce retired, Manhattan High Schools had the nerve to vote in another non-Unity representative Tom Dromgoole. Unity's response was to change the rules to make district representatives a position appointed by the UFT President.
High school teachers who have seen our schools closed all over the place and working conditions deteriorate are being almost completely disenfranchised by the UFT. Unity will let seven of us speak and vote at the Executive Board but that's it.
The UFT is a tyranny of the minority in the high schools because of the overall UFT tyranny of the majority. That needs to change but will not until the sleeping giant that is the UFT membership at large is awakened.
*I fully understand that the UFT tyranny is not exactly of the majority because 3/4 of the teachers don't vote. If we had voting in schools, I think I know politics well enough to conclude that the turnout would be substantially higher but results would not change that drastically because of Michael Mulgrew's name recognition. Therefore, tyranny of the majority fits for this piece.