Wednesday, May 15, 2019

NOT PAYING UNION DUES WILL NOT IMPROVE WORKING CONDITIONS

On just about every topic we write about recently concerning the schools in New York City, one or two or sometimes more comments are written saying that routine extensions of probation, the broken testing system, school on Monday, December 23, etc. are just more reasons why we should stop paying union dues and drop out of the UFT. I disagree with these commenters but not because you don't have a point that UFT advocacy leaves much to be desired. 

I agree wholeheartedly on this point and nobody has been a more robust critic of the UFT in public than me, including while serving on the UFT Executive Board and at the Delegate Assembly. However, the commenters who want to drop out provide no viable alternative to the union we have. You say the UFT doesn't support us so to protest we should stop paying union dues. Short term, you will keep more money but long term you are dooming all of us to much more and deeper misery. Quitting the UFT is not the answer unless you are organizing something better which I see no sign of anywhere in the New York City teaching force.

Understanding all of the UFT's faults, including a lack of a real democratic structure, let us still acknowledge that NYC teachers during the current contract will eventually start out earning $61,000 per year and max out after 22 years making over $128,00 per annum with good benefits and, except for Tier VI, a very good pension. Do you think our salaries, benefits and pensions are in any way, shape or form possible without a union? Be truthful, please if there are comments.

Beyond the wages and benefits, you say the UFT doesn't defend us very strongly and in many cases they merely go through the motions by pretending to advocate for members. I agree there is some truth here. UFT's advocacy is not full force like say the way PBA President Patrick Lynch defends his members or TWU's John Samuelson supports his.  Let's accept it here as a given that the UFT is not always behind teachers 100% although I am sure many who work for the Union would disagree with that assertion.

The question then becomes this: What are you going to do about the sorry state of the UFT in many schools? If the answer is you are going to drop out and keep some more of your money, well how does that help our cause?

The argument I have heard is that if we all starve the UFT beast, then the Union leadership will be forced to work harder to support us to win back our dues money. There is a giant flaw in this argument as I see it. Many in the UFT leadership are basically incapable of changing and dues money or no dues money, they aren't becoming a militant union on behalf of their members. It is not in President Michael Mulgrew's DNA. Any show of activism is purely for show. The only game he and many of his Unity Caucus followers will play is the political game to try to convince the politicians to support us. They do play this game well at times.

These are not great political times for unions but we have kept a core of  a decent  salary and benefits. The UFT will still play the political game whether they have $100 million in the Union treasury or 100 pennies. If they only have 100 pennies, they will just be even weaker advocates for the members than now. If thousands of UFT members drop out and are not organized into anything, do you think the city is going to say we better listen to the teachers? No, we will all be that much weaker.

Do you truly feel that Michael Mulgrew is going to become Eugene Debbs if half of us leave in order to convince the other half to stay? It won't happen. The militancy has to come from the rank and file. It will have a much greater impact if those militants are UFT members.

Potential defectors need to face reality. There is absolutely no evidence or historical precedent that anyone can find showing that weakening unions by dropping out and leaving the union with fewer paying members and thus fewer resources leads to improved wages, benefits or better working conditions. Find me an example, just one, where this has worked and I will listen.

There is plenty of evidence, however, that working people in states that have right to work laws  (unions can't force workers to join a union or pay a fair share fee if a non-union member) do worse economically. 

From the Economic Policy Institute 2018 study comparing right to work with non-right to work states:

  • Wages in RTW states are 3.1 percent lower than those in non-RTW states, after controlling for a full complement of individual demographic and socioeconomic factors as well as state macroeconomic indicators. This translates into RTW being associated with $1,558 lower annual wages for a typical full-time, full-year worker.
  • The relationship between RTW status and wages remains economically and statistically significant under alternative specifications of our econometric model.
Now that we are right to work in the public sector nationally after the Supreme Court ruled last June that government employees cannot be forced to join a union or pay fair share fees for what the unions do, those of us who are union dissidents are left with four choices:

1-We can shut up rather than be critical and ask to join the in crowd (become Unity UFT cheerleaders).

2-We can quit our union, go home and hope for the best.

3-We can try to form a better union.

4-We can attempt to bring about change from within the union while still being critical of its flaws. 

I still believe, until someone can convince me otherwise, that choice 4 is the way forward. We are better off staying in the UFT, even if we despise much of what our Union's leadership does, or rather often doesn't do, to defend us. Change happens in schools when we persuade our colleagues that it is in our collective interest to be active and force the UFT to support us. Dropping out to save some money each check is the wrong answer; it is pure "me only" selfishness.

15 comments:

Anonymous said...

Great post. The Uft has cultivated a apathetic rank-and-file. No one is going to go out and charge windmills or fight sea waves like Don Quixote. Teachers are, if not anything else, cheap. Teachers are a thrifty bunch and expect value for their hard earned money. Are union dues worth what you are currently paying? Are they worth half of what you are paying? There will be an uptick in people who will be leaving the union. If the UFT wants to prove it’s worth, it is going to have to start working for teachers – not the CSA, the DOE or Bloomberg‘s ghost. The road towards this is by transparency and democracy. Unless the Uft starts to understand that simple fact, they will slowly bleed out. In its current incarnation it deserves no less. All the hard learned lessons of unionism and militancy will have to be relearned. You’re right - not paying union dues will not improve working conditions, but neither will paying them.

ed notes online said...

I think comparing Patrick Lynch as a union leader does not compute. It would be like comparing a teacher and a cop - by the very nature of their jobs they have way more clout - and guns. This is true for cops all over the world. The police force is always there to be used against people like teachers- like if we try to enforce a picket line ---

James Eterno said...

We've added TWU's John Samuelson Norm for the anti-police crowd. Watch the video of Samuelson defending huge overtime by telling the MTA Board how their workers get so much overtime because the MTA does not fully staff to maintain the system. Watch him criticize management. When do you hear Mulgrew defending our people like that?

James Eterno said...

From the NY Times on internal dissent in the PBA around the time of the 2015 election where Patrick Lynch got 70% of the vote when police were five years without a contract and I don't think their retirees vote.

https://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/06/nyregion/patrick-lynch-re-elected-to-lead-new-york-police-union.html

"Throughout the campaign, Mr. Lynch, who has led the union since 1999, faced criticism from his challengers over his failure to secure a contract for the 23,000 members of his union who have been working without one since 2010. He was also assailed for not stopping Gov. David A. Paterson from slashing pension benefits for newly hired officers in 2009."

"A wily politician given to strategic bursts of outrage, Mr. Lynch alienated some of his members, and much of the public, this winter when he called on the police to sign petitions to keep Mr. de Blasio from attending their funerals if they were killed on the job, and he quietly stood by as his officers engaged in a work slowdown on summonses and quality-of-life arrests.

In January, some of Mr. Fusco’s supporters rose in mutiny against him during an association meeting at a catering hall in Queens, demanding that he drop his fight with the mayor and concentrate instead on the business of the union."

Even some cops want moderation from their union. My point on militancy stands Norm and the PBA contract that they ended up is nothing to brag about for sure.

Anonymous said...

June is the month teachers can opt out of dues. They will follow suit since the UFT leadership is apathetic to classroom cncerns

Anonymous said...

Just another reason to opt out.

Anonymous said...

I’m glad that you wrote this because I do believe that some of your posts excite the anti-union people.

Anonymous said...

It would be helpful if union reps visited the schools on a regular basis; especially to the schools that do not have a CL. Seeing my union rep in the building once a year is not enough especially because I never know the day he will be there.

Anonymous said...

How about an incompetent CL who is untenured and in the back pocket of the principal, and the SBO that keeps going through because young, naive teachers keep voting for it because they dont better

ed notes online said...

While I agree with James on opting out I also believe that if thousands of people did opt out even if not in an organized way, that might be a wake-up call. On the other hand if few people opt out - like the 2 or 3 who post comments here, that may also be a sign that people are not as dissatisfied as this blog seems to think. Now the response will be that they just didn't know. Well, if you are that unhappy and with the news out there about Janus, that is not an excuse.

James Eterno said...

Thousands of people opting out will be a wake up call for what Norm? It would just make us a weaker version of what we already are. Some union staffers will be laid off. Advocacy will worsen. People not dropping out does not mean they are content. I am not leaving and I certainly am not happy with the UFT leadership.

Anonymous said...

Apathy creates a malaise that stops one from any type of action - opting out or organizing. It seems that teachers and ATRs aren’t as angry as they once were, and are in a zombie like trance of sleepwalking to each weekend, vacation and finally retirement. I believe those that haven’t completely succumbed will opt out - how could they not? (There surprisingly doesn’t seem to be many of them.) Many will let that opt out period pass by like another series of thankfully forgotten school days.

Anonymous said...

I am more angry than ever.

Anon2323 said...

My wife and I are both teachers in doe 15 years plus. This maternity/paternity is a joke! If you are married you have to split the six weeks. Great job finding loop holes for married DOE teachers! I have 95 days in CAR you would think doing a 2 for 1 swap to my wife would be great, but no cannot do that anymore. If they consider my wife and I as ONE. We should only be paying 1,500 a year not 3,000 between us.

Anon2323 said...

My wife and I are both teachers in doe 15 years plus. This maternity/paternity is a joke! If you are married you have to split the six weeks. Great job finding loop holes for married DOE teachers! I have 95 days in CAR you would think doing a 2 for 1 swap to my wife would be great, but no cannot do that anymore. If they consider my wife and I as ONE. We should only be paying 1,500 a year not 3,000 between us.