Saturday, November 24, 2018


Unity Caucus (Michael Mulgrew's political party) has succeeded, without even trying, to get the opposition groups within the UFT to turn against each other while UFT members in so many schools continue to be treated like garbage by administrators. The UFT's answer to what occurs in many schools is to often side with management and even sometimes treat UFT members with downright hostility. Hence the need for an opposition. To be fair in many schools the Union actually does support its members.

For those who have not been following UFT internal politics, unions many times form rival factions with members who have divergent views on how to run the union. In the UFT, there have been many groups opposed to the ruling Unity Caucus for decades but they are up against a rigged electoral system. It is impossible to win a UFT election because there is no way for a group working all day in the schools to get to 180,000 UFT members scattered throughout the country (remember retirees vote) in a meaningful way where most could answer the three main questions of an election concerning candidates from the voters:

  • Do they know you?
  • Do they like you?
  • Do they trust you? 
In spite of the impossible odds, many deeply committed teachers and other UFT members have worked tirelessly to form opposition groups. In the high schools, we were successful in making elections competitive. In fact, many times the opposition groups have won UFT high school elections. Opposition people are known, liked and trusted in the high schools.

I served for a decade on the UFT Executive Board. In response, the UFT has in many ways marginalized high school teachers (see Department of Education school closing policy over the last generation for the best evidence). The opposition even had the nerve to elect a High School Vice President in 1985 so Unity challenged the election and the opposition candidate won a second election. When Unity was safely back in power, they changed the rules to allow the retirees in Florida and every other UFT member to vote for the High School Vice President to ensure opposition could never win a vice presidency again.

In the 2016 UFT election, the opposition from the Movement of Rank and File Educators (MORE) and New Action won the high schools so we won a grand total of 7 Executive Board seats on the 102 person Executive Board. During their term of office, the MORE-New Action reps did some very good work even with those daunting numbers staring them in the face.

High School rep Mike Schirtzer brought Emily James, who wrote a petition on paid parental leave that garnered 80,000 signatures, to the Exec Bd. to put the issue of paid parental leave on the front burner. The UFT eventually won a paid parental leave provision that is far from perfect but it is something. Would it have happened without the support of the High School Representatives? Maybe, but bringing Emily in certainly helped. More importantly to me, the high school people brought actual rank and file members who were in trouble to the Exec Bd. to tell their stories of abusive principals. Would they have come in if our people weren't supporting them? I doubt it. In addition, the High School Reps at the Executive Board along with yours truly at the Delegate Assembly (other union legislative body) made a minimum of two observations per year for teachers an important issue and it is now in the contract for many teachers. I don't see that happening without our input. 

In this school year. however, our opposition voices have stopped opposing much for the most part at the Exec Bd.  I believe they would argue that because the UFT now listens to them and since part of what they asked for is now part of the contract, they have succeeded. I would agree with that up to a point but there is so much more that needs to be done to make the job in the schools what it was before Joel Klein came in and basically neutered the UFT. We need an opposition to push Unity much further.

Unfortunately, the opposition today is in a sorry state. MORE ran in the 2013 and 2016 UFT elections and won the high schools in 2016 but MORE's leaders in 2018 wanted more of a say in what the High School Executive Board members were doing as I guess they weren't "social justice" enough or just not easily controlled. When some non-socialists/non-communists stepped up to take over the MORE steering committee in the spring, MORE's active majority, which consists of mainly committed left wing activists, found a way to push the non-leftists out. Soon thereafter, the opposition people on the Executive Board decided they would support just about everything Mulgrew-Unity did. I don't know if that timing is a coincidence.

Since the High School opposition reps don't oppose much of anything, like for example the contract, why stay in opposition? The High School Executive Board people not only supported the contract, two even enthusiastically pushed it. MORE had enough with the Executive Board even before the contract. The contract reinforced their view that winning in 2016 was a disaster.

I have to say that while I encouraged ICEUFT to withdraw support for MORE as the group was no longer open or inclusive, I was happy to again work with MORE to oppose the recent contract. If this is the best the UFT can do when times have never been better for NYC, conditions will only worsen when the economy slows as it will inevitably. Almost 11,000 members said no to the contract, including a huge majority of those who voted from the 2,500 strong Occupational Therapist-Physical Therapist Chapter. They voted down their contract. The contract for teachers and other UFT members still easily passed, helped along by the High School Executive Board members. I respect their vote but disagree with it.

Over the long term losing some of the strongest voices in opposition will hurt us all. MORE is now going back to its left roots and doesn't want to work with other groups and really doesn't care how many votes they receive as they are just looking at the 2019 election as a way to get their program across and maybe pick up some activists along the way.

Meanwhile, the oldest opposition group New Action has no real presence in the schools as their activists are mostly retirees as is the case with us here at the Independent Community of Educators (ICEUFT). NAC in 2004, 2007, 2010 and 2013 did not run presidential candidates and from 2007-2013 they cross endorsed with Unity certain Executive Board seats to ensure some representation. NAC wanted to run with MORE again in 2019 but MORE turned them away and now NAC has decided to go at it alone too ensuring high school defeat for them as well.

The other group left trying to defend teachers independently as their prime objective, as opposed to social justice, is UFT Solidarity. However, in large part due to baggage one of their leaders has with both NAC and MORE caucuses, those groups refuse to have anything to do with Solidarity. Solidarity is willing to work with anyone in the election so they stand as the only inclusive group.

The election comes down to a situation where New Action is running alone in 2019; MORE is running alone and Solidarity is running alone too. Who will lose besides all of these groups running in a four way race? The UFT membership, particularly in the high schools, where it will be an old style Unity monopoly. This will be the case even if the two or three of the most prominent Executive Board members from the opposition take a Unity endorsement while running as independents. They  have already reigned themselves in. Please see New Action 2003-15 for precedent. Or, maybe NAC will ask Unity for seats again. See also NAC 2003-2015 for precedent on how that worked out.

Next year, we will have nobody speaking for the dissident voices who feel the UFT leaves plenty to be desired except for at the Delegate Assembly where it is very difficult to raise anything.

There will be consequences in my opinion to there being no strong opposition at the Executive Board or really anywhere else within the UFT. Unity is not exactly responsive even when there is an opposition. A day rarely goes by when I do not get emails, texts or multiple phone calls from UFT members who want to exercise their union rights and are often not encouraged to do so by the UFT at the chapter, district and central levels. In the future, we can look forward to even less of a response.

Citywide, schools are being closed and reorganized and there is nothing to stop more Absent Teacher Reserves from being created. The disincentive to hire senior people remains in the new contract. The UFT's answer to just about every problem in the schools is to start more committees so union officials can meet with their Department of Education friends to try to make problems disappear quietly without setting too many systemwide precedents. Only the strongest of chapters will thrive under these conditions and even there it is basically dependent on having an enlightened principal who doesn't call DOE legal every five minutes for union busting advice.

In addition, we have an inferior Tier VI pension where a teacher coming fresh out of college at 22 years old will have to work 41 years to be eligible for a pension that will be based on a lower rate than the one I enjoy on Tier IV. Tier VI full pension is 55% of the final five year average salary. Some have told me the 401k option that CUNY teachers now have would be better.

Also, it takes four years to have a chance for new pedagogues to come off probation and extensions are routine if that tenure portfolio is not up to speed or there is a lousy supervisor.  New city employees are also about to be placed onto HIP-HMO instead of having a choice of healthcare plans in year one.

Add to this, conditions in the schools where student disciplinary problems are often swept under the rug, high class sizes and a whacky evaluation system that has only been moderately improved all make the job basically impossible in many, many schools. UFT's outlook is since salaries are generally good, teachers basically should shut up and be grateful. In that kind of environment, one would think an opposition group would have a decent chance of making some gains by winning support in the schools and online to put some real pressure on the UFT leadership. However, it isn't going to happen in the 2019 election with MORE running alone, NAC running alone and Solidarity running alone although Solidarity wants to run with the other groups who won't go near them.

ICEUFT has not run in an election since 2010. I have no idea who, if anyone, we will support.

As three caucuses are running against Unity, right now, Mulgrew-Unity should easily win even the high schools.

There is a little irony here as the anger UFT members feel as they perceive that they have absolutely no voice within the UFT may cause them to decide to bolt from the Union in 2019 since the Supreme Court in Janus allows it now without having to pay an agency fee for benefits an employee receives because of the union. The UFT's contractual opt out period is in June.

Under these circumstances, it may be time to keep some of what remains of my own sanity and move on from UFT politics.

Should the ICEUFT blog boycott the election as a totally rigged process overall that is now apparently going to be futile even at the high school level?

Should we support Solidarity, NAC or MORE?

What do you think?

I'd really like to know your thoughts. I plan to keep helping individual chapters and members who reach out but is it time to say bye-bye UFT elections? 


Anonymous said...

Just a small correction... Tier VI pensions are not capped. The longer you work the higher the pension

James Eterno said...

Changed capped to full pension. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

20 year teacher here. My thought is that MORE has turned into a bunch of commies. New Action is decent but Solidarity seems like the only caucus whose members focus 100% on teacher working conditions. I would love to see a New Action/Solidarity/ICE alliance to fight the Unity machine. If we don't stick together we are all gonna hang together. Mulgrew is laughing at all this bullshit infighting among the caucuses. He thinks that since 85 percent of teachers voted "yes" on the contract that he is in safe territory. And guess what? He is right. However, there are thousands of teachers who DO NOT want to drink the Kool Aid and want their voices to be heard. Unity can most likely never be beaten but we need to have a voice on the Executive Board. The only way to keep that is by having a strong force in the next election. My biggest fear was touched upon in your post. The economy will eventually go sour again. If Mulgrew did not fight for decent improvements this time around, the fact remains that the City is gonna want blood from us in the next contract if the economy is in bad shape. That is a fact.

ed notes online said...

Boycott what is a phony election anyway. No one can win anyway. At most with all groups including ICE there are at most 100 people who do much of anything and half are retirees. And since I've been going to Ex Bd meetings on and off for 20 years you overrate the impact of the reps. So even if all groups run together the most we'd get is those 7 HS seats and in a miracle the 5 MS seats. That's 12 out of 102. You know those 11,000 people who voted against the contract and those 12,000 who voted opposition in 2016? Let them get off their asses and actually do something beyond casting a ballot instead of leaving things to all the yahoos like us who have foundered around in the dark for decades. Those 25% who voted no in 2014 went into the witness protection program. They could have actually made a difference in MORE in focusing on conditions in the schools. Time for new blood and if no one gives enough of a shit then so be it.

James Eterno said...

That kind of sums it up Norm for all to see Norm. I thought our people did a pretty good job for the most part up until MORE came after them.

Anonymous said...

Norm makes goods points. People like Norm and James have done more than their share for the rank and file. But I have not been convinced to boycott vote. At this point I'm leaning toward Solidarity. Roseanne McCosh

Anonymous said...

James, What you fail to see is that, teachers dont trust you either. You waste your time with this fruitless politics of yours. We still voted for the contract despite your propaganda.

You adopt the dirty and underhanded practices that you blame Unity for and think that will convince us. By the way, some of the central and school supervisors you villify on this site with incomplete or one sided stories have families and friends in the UFT that are completely against your cause. You have built a growing base of teachers that are against you at least from what I hear others say at PD I went to on election day.

Of course you shouldn't care about any of this.

My mother uses to say, anyone that gossips about others, will eventually gossip about you so they cant be trusted. When anyone goes overboard or crossees the line, people naturally began thinking about the other side sympathetically.

Regardless of my or anyone's else's opinion, the statistics are what they are. Unity won!

Anonymous said...

Solidarity all the way for me. They are the only caucus that has balls.

ed notes online said...

Someone has to show me what Solidarity has actually done since the last election. Barely a hint of life other than a web site. Then they surface. Have they actually done anything since the last election other than call for a piece of the action for an election? That they couldn't get even 40 people to run last time to form a slate -- watch the excuses pile up -- and the attacks to come on me for daring to say this - calling me an agent in the pay of Unity for daring to criticize them. I have major issues with MORE but at least there's a pulse with 40 people going to meetings every month no matter how dysfunctional. They may be leftists but that's fine with me. New Action couldn't even get more than 2 high school people to run for the Ex bd last time and MORE had to come up with 5. So they have no presence in the schools either. I'm sticking with MORE even if MORE's decision not to run with New Action is a terrible one. For the sake of a big tent I pushed for MORE to bite the bullet and even let Solidarity join in - even given the history of how Solidarity was formed with its leader and founder declaring himself the presidential candidate and calling on all other caucuses to support him - an itch that never quite goes away. Now if Solidarity can put together a slate and show some serious depth in the schools we can take a look after the election. Until then I'm not putting my foot in that water and will push for a boycott of the election. A vote for anyone is a vote to continue this bogus process which will never change. A vote is an endorsement for a lack of democracy. I was surprised at how many people in MORE agreed with not running. I am going to be making the case that the caucus system is dying and this election is a sign of that. All the various grouping can do is lobby Unity for some crumbs unless they can organize in hundreds of schools. MORE in 2012-14 had that potential. The first break came with Portelos leaving and founding Solidarity in 2014-- that broke the big tent and helped strengthen one faction in MORE. The victory in the high schools in the 2016 election was not viewed favorably by that faction and they immediately went on the attack. I can claim the the divisive moment in the opposition was the formation of Solidarity and the declaration by Portelos he had to be the presidential candidate (watch the revisionism come flying) instead of staying in MORE with the rest of us and fight to make MORE into what we believe it should have been. Remember one of the highlights of MORE was running with Stronger Together to challenge Unity in the NYSUT elections in 2014 which the faction that has taken over MORE opposed. And they also weren't happy wit the way we ran the high school election campaign. MORE internally was the battleground and when people abandoned that battle to organize their own little sectarian caucuses that battle was lost. Here's my answer to building an opposition. No caucus runs for elections until there is a real organized presence in the schools to challenge unity at the school level. 300 anti-Unity chapter leaders at the DA will do more than any election.

Anonymous said...


"When some non-socialists/non-communists stepped up to take over the MORE steering committee in the spring, MORE's active majority, which consists of mainly committed left wing activists, found a way to push the non-leftists out. Soon thereafter, the opposition people on the Executive Board decided they would support just about everything Mulgrew-Unity did. I don't know if that timing is a coincidence."

The fact is we opposed their nonsense reso and criticism around BLM and cut the leg's out from under their attempt to paint the other caucus -which had way more success in attracting persons of color than MORE (a mainly white group)- as racist. We then decided we needed to take steering over in order to prevent the caucus from going over the cliff. They then found a way to push us out and took the caucus over the cliff anyway.

Also a fact is that you were very much in the loop on that. How you can write that you now think it was a coincidence that the EB memebers supported Unity after that, and not before as is the case, is beyond me. You defended us last year. You took ICE out of MORE when it happened. You know this isn't coincidence.

ed notes online said...

A few more things. James says the only group to defend teachers is Solidarity. Is it. Who defended teachers in abused schools over the past few years? MORE and New Action through their elected reps. Ed Notes and ICE blog too. Defense of teachers starts with teachers on the ground. it is so easy to say you are for the defense of teacher rights but with no organization it is useless. And to declare Solidarity is not Portelos is like saying the Republican party is not Trump.

Anonymous said...

So? And? Nothing is changing. This is a waste of time. Either you take the suffering or you quit. Expecting it to get better after all these years is stupidity. It is abuse from all sides to get your salary, your 1%-2% raises, wait for the retro, fill up ALL retirement accounts...

Michael Fiorillo said...

To the Left sectarians and those allied with them (at least until they're no longer seen as useful) in MORE, winning the Executive Board seats was a "disaster" because those elected teachers did not submit to a futile and losing orthodoxy, because they couldn't be contolled, and because they saw their mission as helping teachers and other UFT members, rather than "Building The Party," virtue-signalling and cynically using Identitarian politics to shame those they disagreed with.. The contempt that many in MORE felt toward white teachers from working class backgrounds who were native New Yorkers was palpable, despite that fact that the group is overwhelingly white and from privileged (and often Ivy League backgrounds), far more so than the Unity Caucus they claim to oppose.

Thus, they had to be slandered and purged.

MORE is a club, not a union caucus, and if you don't have the "right" politics,you're not

Anonymous said...

HS students can't write a sentence. What are we really accomplishing?

Anonymous said...

Not politically correct to say this but the only way to get the UFT to change is by the en mass pulling of dues. There should be a concerted effort to start a new HS union separate from the UFT before this occurs. I’m not going to continue to support the UFT come June and the UFT can plaster my name on the front page of their paper. It’s they not we.

Anonymous said...

First of all, millions of not voting gave us Trump. My vote of No on the contract combined with other No votes. It’s a statement. Not voting would make me a jerk.

I don’t support any caucus (I really don’t like Unity because I have watched people at the DA vote against their own beliefs), but MORE has become a joke. It’s a shame. There were some good people in there (with good ideas), but many of the people who are left are people who I find extreme (and I’m very liberal and a lefty) and honestly, at this point, they are anti-teacher. Some of their beliefs don’t work in the classroom or in schools. Yes, there are injustices in the world and in our schools, but the battles they have choosing to have are actually terrible for the groups they are trying support.

The whining about Unity here is laughable. It’s not their fault they are better organized then their opponents, it’s our fault for letting them become that powerful. It’s the same as the Dems and the Gops; and finally the Dems are figuring out how to take back the states, towns, councils, legislatures, and the house. I agree with the post above: "I would love to see a New Action/Solidarity/ICE alliance…”but I don’t see it because everyones’ egos are in the way.

Sadly you have turned this blog into a whine fest and I still read it, but I rarely agree with you because you attack your allies worse than you attack Unity. You keep feeding the trolls and it has become very sad that you are reduced to this. Stop being Jill Stein. Be a fighter for teachers.

James Eterno said...

I did not think people were leaving MORE to go to Unity. Not for a minute. I asked if it was a coincidence.

James Eterno said...

Defending teachers as a primary objective of a caucus running in the election. I better be very clear here Norm.

James Eterno said...

I fight for teachers every day and pushed for that alliance 1:23.

Peter Zucker said...

James, I give Solidarity credit for defending teachers. However, they have accomplished nothing other than giving teachers false hope and turning Solidarity into a personality cult.

Anonymous said...

Is that why i get called white bitch everyday, students do no work, cant read or write, but everyone graduates..

Anonymous said...

I agree with 8:31 and 1:23.

ICE is a joke. It's just a sensationalist and personal vendetta blog. Like the NY Post!

You cannot talk shit about other people in the DOE and expect your readers not to question you at some point.

I always wondered what if a supervisor created a blog to talk about their teachers. You would be in am uproar about it being bullying tactics.

Yet you do it. I think it's unprofessional and crass! Besides, what good does it accomplish for anyone?

Leaders lead by example as I tell my students. The same way I dont bad mouth a student in front of other students. Because the kids will laugh with you initially but resent you later.

Then I saw your name all over the NY Post in Sue Eldemens aeticle about Mulgrew. I just shook my head. You'll do anything for attention.
When it comes to sensationalist nonsense like that, expect James Eternos name.

I too am glad we ignored you and voted for the contract. James, you sir, are a comic. Certainly not a leader.

Anonymous said...

Now we can wait for a whole 2%.

Anonymous said...

1:23 the sadness is in retirees telling us in-sevice folks what to do. At least James admits most of ICE ( which is James and this blog and only him) and New Action are retirees. The only folks still working are in MORE and Solidarity. Why should we listen to James and Norm?

Peter Zucker said...

Funny, those who criticize James, it'll sure be swell if you had the guts not to post anonymously. Grow a set.

Francesco Portelos said...

We don't have to put out a list here of what we've done Norm. It is what Solidarity does 24/7 that matters and what we stand for.

Yes we have a website and it alone supports members. Just in the last few months we helped substitutes across the city win their preps back after we posted schools that were violating their contract.

Probationary teachers have somewhere to turn to when faced with sudden attacks on their young career.

Our member toolbox had been highlighted all over social media including Chaz. There is nothing like it out there. Built by our members for UFT members.

The website, and all its real member resources, is just an extension of the work we do and have been doing.

The beef between MORE and I is that I called them out back in 2014. I sat in meetings where I was surrounded by mostly white teachers complaining mostly that there were to many white teachers. I left and very proud of the work of Solidarity caucus.

Actually, if anyone is interested in running with us, here is the form you could fill out.

ed notes online said...

It is the 1:23 people who are at fault for sitting on their keyboards. Stand up and challenge the bastards. James and I did it when we were working. You have no idea of the political climate I worked under in a district where the UFT controlled the appointments of principals. All of my activist colleagues from the early 70s in my district were gone by the late 70s. My Dist Rep and the Supt came to my supervisor and suggested a U rating. Luckily he had integrity.
And James -- there are a whole load of people who have stood up for teachers over the years. The election is irrelevant for fighting for teachers. How did that fight help even your own family? It is time to try doing things another way instead of the same way and expecting different results.
If all groups ran together the vote would not vary much than it would if you add up the totals of the 3 groups. There is a 12,000 group of people who vote against Unity but other than that sit on their hands and maybe comment here once in a while.
Your work with teachers is absolutely unconnected to whether the opposition has seats on the Ex Bd or if it runs in the election. The caucii have had no real success in reaching very deeply into schools. I've seen it in MORE where we had many more schools 6 years ago than now -- so many left NYC or stopped being active in MORE. It is a zero sum game. A caucus needs to be active on a number of fronts where there are teachers but the problem with so-called activists is that they are active in so many issues outside of the UFT. But one recent move in MORE is to find teachers through the Democratic Socialists by holding happy hours and use that as recruiting grounds. They are all on the left but at least they are alive and gutsy, not like the anon whiners who comment here. You want to leave the UFT in June? Good riddance.

Anonymous said...

I think some of the comments here have reached a new low in stupidity. Since Portelos and Norm and MORE and NAC are all fighting, it must mean James' approach to attack supervisors who abuse UFT members is wrong. You have given illogic a new name.

Anonymous said...

If James would just be nice to horrible administrators so they could do more to run roughshod on our members, it will be alright in the schools. Unity Caucus forever.

Anonymous said...

Norm and Francesco get your shit together so both of you can help us. Is that too much to ask.

Peter Zucker said...

Make Belive: The beef between MORE and I is that I called them out back in 2014. I sat in meetings where I was surrounded by mostly white teachers complaining mostly that there were to many white teachers. I left and very proud of the work of Solidarity caucus. Oh this is priceless. History rewritten.


Francesco Portelos said...

Tried. We are open to talking. Norm throws jabs online and is nice in person. Norm, let's only engage in person. Next exec bd meeting?

Anonymous said...

You sound like one big family; bicker and bicker some more. There are thousands of administrators in the NYC DOE. Only the most corrupt and immoral are called out. I don't have a problem with that. I wouldn't mind of administrators called out the most corrupt and immoral superintendents.

How about a teacher survey as to the top 5 priorities, join forces and turn the tables on Unity which has been at best, minimally productive. Unity is certainly not worth the 150,000,000+ they rake in. This would take a lot of work and mostly from retired folks. Many of us are drowning in school work and suffer anxiety through the roof, to be very productive on the union front.

I barely hear a peep from my CL about any union activity. Sadly, I think it is this way in the majority of schools. Using ignorance to keep the power is not a new strategy.

James Eterno said...

Agree 6:53 but we need your help too. Active people who are respected in their schools are the main ingredient in building an opposition.

Anonymous said...

Hey Pete you should run with Porty - this way you could be next to the man of your affection. I’m only joking of course but your intense hatred of him is going on too long. Bury the hatchet (not in his head).

ed notes online said...

Francesco - I always say that you should not do online stuff other than family. You said stuff that was wrong and I called you on it. Nothing is personal at this point. We have political disagreements that often become personal. So despite all the shit between us when I see you I enjoy our talks. I'm trying though it is hard to moderate myself and get along with everyone I can on a personal level even if not politically - even UNity Caucus folks.

Anon 6:53 - James is right. Even if you contacted us anon about your school and CL we could get a handle on things. If the opposition had people in 300 schools the union would be different. Unity has that and more and dominates the schools.

Anonymous said...

We already agreed on the next lousy deal. Call us in 2022.

Anonymous said...

Hey ed notes, I’m 1:23 and i’m going to try to be polite but you have no idea what I do for the teachers at my schools. I do stand up and fight so get off your high horse.

ed notes online said...

But how does that fight Unity in the overall picture? Your anonymity is part of the problem, not the solution. The fight is with others not alone. I'm fighting for a big tent battle against Unity, a fight I appear to have lost. For now.