As the July 18 Minneapolis AFT Convention approaches, it is worthwhile to point out just how disenfranchised high school teachers in New York City are. In the recent UFT election candidates from the opposition MORE-NEW ACTION won a clear majority of those who voted in the High School Division. MORE-NAC candidates received around 200 votes more than the candidates from AFT President Randi Weingarten and UFT President Michael Mulgrew's Unity Caucus, but Unity has rigged the system so even when Unity loses, they win.
The Unity minority will send all of the UFT high school representatives to the Minneapolis convention. Even though a clear majority of high school teachers who cast a ballot favored the opposition MORE-NEW ACTION caucus that I ran with, we will have zero representation at this summer's AFT convention.
Why is this?
UFT elects its 750 AFT convention delegates on an at large basis. The giant UFT with over 189,000 members is divided into four divisions: elementary schools, middle schools, high schools, functional (non-teaching including retirees who vote in huge numbers). Since UFT members vote at large for who will will represent us at conventions and who will be the divisional vice presidents, even though a majority of the high school teachers who voted in the election don't want Unity, the Unity advantages in the other divisions mean Unity will send all of the delegates to the convention, even from the high schools where Unity finished second.
Since I work in a New York City high school, I couldn't possibly get to Florida to campaign to the many UFT retirees living there. I did go to many high schools as a candidate for Vice President for Academic High Schools and won a majority of the high school votes. What does that mean? High school teachers lose based on the unfairness of the UFT electoral system.
To show the extent of the disenfranchisement of high school teachers in New York City, I thought it would be interesting to see how big a union the New York City high school teachers would be if we were a separate union local. I did a quick investigation and New York City high school teachers on our own would be a very large AFT local indeed. In fact, we would be significantly larger than the entire Philadelphia Federation of Teachers. I believe Philadelphia is the fourth largest AFT K-12 teacher union local, behind only New York City, Los Angeles and Chicago.*
Preliminary numbers from the American Arbitration Association showed that 19,539 ballots were sent out to high school members houses in the recent UFT election. Updated numbers increased that total to 19,861.
How does this compare to Philadelphia? The answer comes right from the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers website:
The PFT represents more than 16,000 dedicated women and men working in Philadelphia public schools today.
19,861 UFT high school teachers in New York City as opposed to around 16,000 total for the entire Philly local.
MORE-NEW ACTION's majority among high school teachers who voted gets us a mere 7 UFT Executive Board seats on a 102 member Executive Board but no representation at the AFT convention, no high school vice presidency and no representation at the statewide NYSUT convention. New York City High school teachers are truly marginalized by this system.
It would be great if people from outside of New York City understood how undemocratic the UFT truly is and if they would start to pressure for real change to the system since those UFT delegates from Unity are bound by caucus membership obligations to vote as the leadership instructs them to. Those 750 bound delegates are the tail wagging the AFT dog.
*Houston is the fourth largest city in the U.S.A. (Philadelphia is number 5) but I had no luck trying to find the size of the Houston Federation of Teachers. There are 65,000 AFT members in all of Texas but it is hard to say how many of those Texas AFT members come from Houston. Texas doesn't have collective bargaining for teachers but if anyone has the Houston information, please send it to us and we will be glad to add it in.