Many people are wondering what the post Janus UFT will look like. We speculated in March but as the decision gets closer I can say I am not sure what anything will look like after the case is decided.
Here is what we do know. The Supreme Court will soon issue a ruling in the case of Janus vs AFSCME. Most of us are expecting a 5-4 decision to come down against the unions. It is always possible that Chief Justice John Roberts or maybe new justice Neil Gorsuch could side with the unions to keep labor stability by upholding the 49 year old Abood precedent that made it legal for unions to collect fair share or agency fees from non-members both in the public and private sector. We do not see that as very likely but one never knows. More likely, the public sector will soon become right to work throughout the country which will mean unions will have to convince their members to stay and pay union dues while not being able to deny fair representation to people who refuse to join the union and pay dues.
According to a NY Teacher piece, Michael Mulgrew stated that the right wing has raised $6 million to "mount a campaign to attack public sector unions in the state..." The UFT traces the funding in part back to the infamous Koch brothers who are two of the funders of the Freedom Foundation. This so called Freedom Foundation went after union membership in Washington, Oregon and California after an earlier Supreme Court ruling in Harris v Quinn allowed certain indirect government workers to opt out of fair share union fees. The Freedom Foundation went door-to-door and did a huge media blitz to get workers to leave their unions.The union out in Washington says less than 10% quit the union but the Freedom Foundation says it was over 55%. Can the UFT survive a similar public campaign to convince members to leave the union after Janus? As I stated above, I don't know but I wouldn't bet against our union.
Let us be open and above board here. Can we possibly defend the UFT? I am pro-union and have worked hard since the mid nineties to build a more militant UFT as have many other activists in ICEUFT, Teachers for a Just Contract, New Action, MORE and many who are not in any caucus. Electoral success has been elusive except in the high schools but we keep attempting to make our union world a little better.
The UFT leadership's defenders argue that our salaries and benefits are competitive and that Michael Mulgrew, Randi Weingarten and their followers in the Unity Caucus have navigated difficult political terrain to keep most of our rights intact. They say it would be much worse without a union or with a smaller one. They have some valid points.
The critics say our working conditions have deteriorated significantly since the infamous 2005 contract and other contracts signed with anti-teacher Mayor Michael Bloomberg that Weingarten still touts. How can someone be proud of a contract that created the Absent Teacher Reserve pool which allowed the city to close multiple schools and displace so many educators? Before 2005, members were placed in one of six schools of their choosing if a school was closed but now they become substitutes. How can a union leader boast about agreeing to deny teachers the right to grieve unfair/inaccurate letters in the file that has allowed many abusive administrators to run roughshod over teachers? How can she crow about acquiescing to putting teachers back on potty patrol and other givebacks that have made the job miserable for so many teachers?
Weingarten's successor Mulgrew in 2013 allowed anti-public school State Education Commissioner John King to decide on our evaluation system and King made it much worse than the traditional system. Even after the law changed to allow more flexibility, Mulgrew still agreed to a minimum of four observations per year for most of us. Toiling in NYC schools is next to impossible unless someone is working for one of the enlightened administrators (they definitely still exist). In addition, the Tier VI pension plan since 2012 has made new teacher pensions inferior compared to veteran educators; healthcare copayments are up; our raises have been miniscule as Mulgrew agreed to a contract in 2014 where we only received a total of 10% increases over 7 years and 1 month and we are waiting until 2020 to be paid in full for work we did from 2009-2011 that other city workers received in those years. Also, don't forget that NYC Teachers' Retirement System members who are in the UFT had our interest rate on the fixed TDA reduced from 8.25% to 7% while administrators and CUNY teachers are still getting 8,25%.
Can anyone make the case that our salaries, benefits and working conditions in the schools are improving?
The UFT champions will say that the union is still there to defend us if we have grievances. Let's look at the grievance process. On most issues, a grievance or APPR (evaluation system) complaint can take forever to resolve as the Department of Education basically stalls on even obvious cases so the abuse continues for the UFT member who filed the complaint. It can take years for something to get to arbitration. I saw two cases last year where the union was obviously 100% right and it was clear but the DOE still took the cases to arbitration. The arbitrator chastised the DOE at the hearing and sided with the teacher so the DOE lost but they still won because they wasted everyone's time with cases where they had no chance so other teachers had to wait in line to have their cases heard. This is important because the arbitrators work a limited number of dates each year to hear cases and they are paid equally by both the DOE and UFT. Those complaints cited above are two union victories. The arbitrators have to make both sides happy to stay on the panel as both sides must approve their rehiring annually so the DOE has to win some. If the DOE forces the union to use up some of its unofficial quota of victories on open and shut cases, then the union will lose others that we should win. The system is less than ideal.
On a simple issue like letters to the file being written past the three month time limit from when an incident occurred (see Contract Article 21A1), I have heard of two schools in the last month where the DOE denied the grievances on untimely letters at the school level. Those who grieve are rarely getting redress at the Chancellor's level either. DOE strategy seems to be to just clog up the process. Class size arbitrations are a joke too that has been well documented for years. The way too high contractual class size limits are in reality suggestions. Some parents have sued to try to get the city to follow the law and reduce class sizes. Where is our union?
Our contract has been weakened and the grievance process is not exactly a speedy way to address most violations. Many members only use the union to take advantage of welfare fund benefits (dental, drugs glasses, hearing aids) but those benefits are paid for by the city and administered by the union so one might ask objectively why do we need to pay union dues? We pay around $1,400 per year. For what?
This came from Bronx ATR:
Bronx ATR said...
I just got my golden ticket from the UFT and a letter explaining discounts galore and the announcement of visits from the UFT traveling troupe, 'The Door Knockers'. Nice, but meaningless. Why don't they announce they are working towards meaningful change for all teachers? If the answer is they aren't - then why aren't they? S/U evaluations is a no brainer; ending Fair Student Funding is common sense and helping discontinued teachers is the right thing to do. Send a letter out about that, Mike.
Good questions Bronx ATR.
I agree that we are potentially much stronger if everyone stays in the UFT but will the leadership respond to us if we all decide to stay? I doubt it. They will most probably be as arrogant and tone deaf to the needs of the rank and file as before or maybe they are just completely impotent and can't do anything.
Whether 100% stay in the union or 50% leave, expect a lousy contract. There will be no push by the UFT to get a contract that restores teacher dignity by ending the test and punish along with Danielson evaluation system, or one that places teachers from closing schools where they want to be or an agreement that ends fair student funding so senior teachers are no longer punished for their higher salaries. I can't even fathom a contract that gets teachers raises that beat inflation. You get the picture. If teachers opt out in droves, it will just give the UFT another excuse for doing next to nothing when DC 37 or another union sets a wage pattern that based on precedent all other municipal unions will then also receive because of what is called pattern bargaining.
If the UFT gets over 90% of the membership to stay in the union under these conditions, I will tip my hat to them and admit that Michael Mulgrew's Unity Caucus loyalty oath based machine is one of the greatest political machines of all time. Unity offers little for $1,400 per year so if over 100,000 educated people say they will voluntarily pay, I would salute Unity. Those of us in opposition would deserve credit too for being able to beat this machine in elections at the high school level many times. I was on the Executive Board for a decade. Seven opposition members are on the Executive Board today. We have stood up to a finely tuned machine.
That machine cannot be underestimated when it comes to defending itself. I was in a school today where one of the workers thought that we might lose all of our benefits if Janus wins and we no longer have a union. This is a very intelligent individual. I wonder where the rumors are coming from. The Koch brothers may have met their match as Unity defends its empire.
Are there alternatives?
We have documented here many times how it is impossible to win a general UFT election because an opposition group cannot reach all of the members, particularly retirees who are situated all over the country, so there is no way to get to the voters enough to sufficiently answer the three questions of politics:
1-Do they know you?
2-Do they like you?
3-Do they trust you?
If everything is so desperate, then why don't we just encourage members to leave the UFT?
This one is very difficult for a pro union stalwart like me. Sadly, the UFT does not represent many people adequately. I don't think too many days go by where I don't get at least one or two phone calls, texts and/or emails asking for union assistance. The UFT has clearly failed many of its members.
That being said, I would only consider supporting members opting out of the UFT if the people who leave join together to start a better, actual militant union. By militant, I don't necessarily mean striking as there are other ways to make a statement, defend ourselves and hurt the city. The UFT last had an exclusive bargaining election in 1962. The new state law protecting unions seems to give outsiders a chance to represent workers who opt out of their unions. I'm not there yet, and may never be as I would still rather see the UFT repaired from within, but maybe union competition has the potential to improve teacher working conditions.