Since retiring in April, I have dedicated as much time as possible to being a volunteer advocate for teachers and some others. Not only do I assist UFT members with their concerns, I also work with friends from Long Island. Many people passed through Jamaica High School and I guess I developed a reputation for being a competent union representative so I am called on by former colleagues and their friends. It is a good feeling that teachers have some trust in my knowledge.
Today, I found out that a former Jamaica colleague now working in Nassau County won a programming grievance that I helped with. It was a rather straightforward case of too many preps so we just had to thumb through the local contract and find a clause that said administration can't do that. Once we discovered the right clause, we wrote something out and forwarded it in. This grievance was a fairly easy win. The person will start the year in September with a program that adheres to the contract and can prepare properly in the summer.
I have helped with other grievances and talked with union leaders from Long Island and upstate on many occasions. What I find interesting is how professional and respectful they are with me. I get a good feeling. It does not hurt that administration outside of the city in many districts is very different from what we have here in NYC. In the Nassau case that was resolved today, it did not have to go to an arbitrator. Many administrators out on the Island can actually read clear language and they back down when they are violating the contract.
Let's compare that with New York City and trying to deal with the United Federation of Teachers and Department of Education. When I was a chapter leader, I had a basically professional working relationship with most of the UFT hierarchy and almost all of the grievances filed from Jamaica High School went through as far as they could. However, when we had programming grievances, they often weren't resolved in June and if they went to an arbitrator, it went until October so then programs had to be changed and kids were impacted. It would be in administration's interest if they really cared about students to resolve most of these cases and not let them go outside the building. That is how it should be and to be fair, this is how it is in NYC schools with enlightened administrators but hundreds don't follow this simple reasoning.
In addition, in the UFT contract, unlike many on Long Island, it is up to the Union, not the person grieving, to decide whether a grievance will be taken to the Chancellor and arbitration. The Union says they wrote the contract this way to avoid setting bad precedents but in reality it's just another way the UFT controls the members. The grievance process is slower than slow and generally situations are not resolved because nobody from the DOE Office of Labor Relations that I know of is encouraging principals to resolve grievances. Instead, the DOE practice boils down to "My principals right or wrong" in most instances.
Total principal empowerment has led to a very adversarial process in NYC in many cases. Last year I represented someone in a school outside of Middle College where I was the UFT delegate. The UFT actually allowed me to present a Step I grievance to the principal. The grievance went in our favor but then the Union quickly pulled the plug on sending me in to help members and the principal in this school soon thereafter ran rough shod over the teachers and people had to transfer as their only option. Had the UFT led a real fight, we might have won.
The UFT leadership I guess believed I was showing them up. It was bad politically for them. Forget about the possibility that I may actually be competent and trying to advocate for teachers. When talking to union people outside of NYC, I never get that nasty look that says, "What are you doing here?" Teachers aren't asked, "Why are you talking to someone from NYC?" It's refreshing.
To the dear Unity Caucus (Michael Mulgrew's faction of the UFT) higher ups that seem to be intimidated by me having anything to do with a member who has a grievance or otherwise needs help and asks me for it, I have some advice: Relax. Winning a UFT election as an opposition caucus is about as likely as winning the mega-millions drawing.
You also need not worry that Michael Mulgrew is going to employ me. For anyone who witnessed our battle of wills at the contract Delegate Assembly in 2014, I think you saw that the animosity between us was real. When Mulgrew and I have seen each other at closeup range a few times, we normally don't even say hello. You think he is going to hire me to take your jobs? Not in a million years.
Since opposition to Unity isn't exactly united at this point, I don't even know if we can pull it together to win the high schools next year in the 2019 UFT election, particularly if we lose members after the Janus decision.
Calm down Unity people; when I try to advocate for a member, my primary motive is to help that person. At least they seem to understand that concept on Long Island.