After former Mayor Michael Bloomberg appointed the virulent anti-union Joel Klein as his Chancellor, UFT leadership from the Unity Caucus led by Randi Weingarten appealed for the membership to be united in the face of unprecedented attacks against us. Most of us agreed to a large extent. I was appointed to the UFT Action Committee where I supported just about every union action around trying to get a fair contract.
How were we rewarded for hitting the streets and even Madison Square Garden when the union asked us?
We settled for the giveback laden 2005 contract. This is the contract that left teachers in New York City with the miserable working conditions that we basically are stuck with today. 2005 changed everything as those of you who were employed before that time are well aware.
2005 ended seniority and SBO transfers and left us without regular jobs if our schools closed. Many of us were forced to become Absent Teacher Reserves where we are sent packing from school to school with no permanent job. Hundreds are Provisional Teachers where we are covering for someone on leave while they are out but still have no permanent position. In 2005, we also agreed to give up the right to grieve file letters thus allowing administrators to say almost anything they want about us and leaving us basically no recourse other than to write a response and wait three years while praying the Department of Education doesn't bring us up on charges. We were also sent back to cafeteria and hall patrol in 2005; we settled for weaker due process and agreed to work a longer school day and year all in exchange for salary increases that barely kept pace with inflation. We were told it is the best we can do.
Union leaders are probably going to call us anti-union if we dissent today in the age of Trump. Nothing would be further from the truth. Many of us are very pro-union and want to see the revival of a militant trade union strategy in the face of the adversity we will surely soon face. Militant trade unionism on behalf of our membership and public education is really our best hope to survive the onslaught that will soon be headed our way.
Don't worry if union leaders or their followers tell us we are going to weaken the union by speaking in opposition to the UFT leadership. We were told for years during the Bloomberg era that dissent within the union was going to be used by our enemies against us. I am not buying that line now as an excuse for the leadership of the UFT, NYSUT and AFT to keep their lofty positions while telling us dissent is anti-union in troubled times.
We are well aware that a new case like Friedrichs to take away automatic dues checkoff for public sector unions is more than likely headed to the Supreme Court soon. We escaped Friedrichs earlier this year only because Justice Antonin Scalia died. A union that stands by its membership will get its dues from the vast majority of its members, automatic checkoff or no automatic checkoff. This is no time to allow Trump to be used as a scare tactic by union bosses to keep ignoring the membership, including ATRS, by saying we must be unified. This leadership is in many ways responsible for the mess we are in by making nice-nice with the politicians who have worked against us.
The remedy for Trumpism, Cuomoism, de Blasioism, or throw in the degenerate politician or party of your choice here, is for the union rank and file to act in a militant way. Organize for that real fight and we will unite.
As for dissent in times of crisis, the USA held a contested presidential election in 1864 in the middle of the Civil War. When Europe was being overrun by Hitler's army in 1940, Britain's opposition Labor Party helped a revolt against Neville Chamberlain's government that brought it down.
UFT President Michael Mulgrew last week said we must stand by our core values. I agree. Union democracy is one of those values that cannot be compromised no matter the political situation. Our union needs to fix its structure if it wants to be truly inclusive, particularly when it comes to ATRs who have almost no representation at the Chapter level.
Now is the time to introduce a series of other reforms to make the UFT a more democratic union such as divisional elections of vice presidents so that the high school teachers exclusively vote for the high school vice president, the middle school teachers exclusively vote for the middle school vice president and so on through the other two divisions.
It is also time to call for proportional representation for elections for the AFT and NYSUT Conventions so other voices are heard and we don't make any further political endorsements without real discussion from the rank and file.
Beyond democracy, member grievances need to be taken seriously and if administrators are not working with us, we need to expose them in public. Mayor Bill de Blasio needs us for his reelection. Why would we give him a free ride now?
This is just a start as I am sure the readers of this blog can come up with many other ways to fix the UFT, NYSUT, AFT.