UFT President Michael Mulgrew is working to get religious and medical exemptions from the city's COVID vaccine mandate. He should be working on getting at least as many safety precautions in the schools as there were last year when COVID was at a lower rate in NYC than it is now but instead, Mulgrew is doing his best to placate an intractable loud minority of anti-vax mandate UFTers, many of whom are anti-union. Mulgrew is part of the bipartisan consensus among Democrats and Republicans to open full in-person learning no matter what is happening with the Delta variant.
How many UFT members are we talking about who aren't vaccinated?
This is how Selim Algar described their numbers in the NY Post:
The United Federation of Teachers is gearing up for a war with the city over the fate of more than 15,000 educators who have yet to receive the COVID-19 vaccination — with classes set to begin in days.
I would not call this a war but the Union is taking up resources to advocate for the anti-vaxxers who call themselves pro-vaccine choice but let's face it, many are just anti-vax radical right-wingers.
If we accept Selim's number, let's try to estimate how many UFTers we are referring to. According to the Chief Leader, there are 148,000 Department of Education employees. A Hart survey of AFT members found that only 10% said they would definitely not get vaccinated. We are roughly talking about between 10 and 20% of education workers who do not want the vaccine and some of them have legitimate medical needs for an exemption that should be respected. As for religious exemptions, obtaining one when every major religion supports vaccines (I linked to an Idaho publication so as not to be accused of citing some left-wing media outlet) will certainly boost fringe churches but I very much doubt they will have much sway with the DOE and they should not.
The UFT is working on getting limited religious and medical exemptions from the vaccine mandate for Department of Education employees. The Municipal Labor Committee's (umbrella group of all municipal unions) lawsuit and the UFT impasse will likely be resolved in arbitration. These are basically about procedures and who is eligible for exemptions and as such, the unions should be successful. However, in the end, there is most probably going to be a vaccine mandate for city workers.
Why is the UFT spending all of this time and energy worrying about a vocal minority of members while leaving the vast majority to pretty much fend for themselves in what oftentimes could be crowded schools that could easily become virus super-spreaders?
What really bothers me is the anti-vax mandate crowd is often anti-union too. Breaking teacher unions is a big part of the right-wing agenda. Look at some of their relentless negative comments about the UFT, not the leadership, but the actual Union, on this blog.
The leader of the anti-vax teachers put out something on Saturday where he mentioned his phone call last week with Michael Mulgrew. (I will not link to them; they are easy to find.) Here is part of what Mr. Anti-Vax mandate said:
When Mulgrew called me the night before his town hall he said that the movement to have rank-&-file members leave their unions was funded by two billionaires. This has much truth to it...
More from Mr. Anti Vax:
[We do] not believe UFT President Michael Mulgrew’s announcement that he is moving to arbitration over medical and religious exemptions to vaccination supported our constituency enough to stop recommending NYC educators to leave the union. We stand by our call for UFT members to leave the union right now.
This is all you need to know about these anti-vaxxers. They are by and large anti-union and admit they are helping people who want to break ours. I say this as someone who truly respects minority rights. I worked for ten years as one of 7 dissidents out of almost 100 UFT Executive Board members. It is not a pleasant place to be. However, I will not consider destroying the UFT unless you have a plan to replace it with something better. The anti-vaxxers do not have that plan on their site. They appear to be just another right-wing, anti-union front group.
The goal of the anti-vax movement now is to get as many people as possible to quit the UFT. If you didn't have enough reasons to be wary of them because they are anti-science and could be considered anti-life, they are also proudly anti-union.
I know that no amount of blog posts will convince them that they should listen to the other side. This is from Politico on a poll showing a healthy majority of Americans support vaccine mandates:
Curt Anderson, a Republican strategist who advises a host of Republican senators and elected officials across the nation, agrees that the government can only do so much and recalls an argument he had with a reporter who criticized one of his clients for not doing more to call for vaccinations.
“What planet are you from?” Anderson recalled saying. “Do you think people are sitting around and listening to politicians and celebrities? So people are thinking, ‘J-Lo says it, and now I’m going to take the vaccine?' What the hell? The people who haven’t taken it so far are not gonna see a PSA and suddenly go out and get it.”
They aren't going to be convinced by me, a phone call from Michael Mulgrew, an arbitration, or a frivolous lawsuit either. This isn't about choice; it's about an ideology that is very dangerous and does not respect the rights of the majority who would prefer to follow the best current scientific thinking.
Dr. Paul Offit from Children's Hospital of Philadelphia is quoted in this Business Insider piece explaining the formula to get us to a high level of protection from COVID-19. He says:
Any way you do this math with Delta, around nine out of ten of us need to get vaccinated in order to achieve a level of widespread disease protection.
Other experts agree. But what about the anti-vaxxers and people who have already been infected? More from Dr. Offit:
Even though some Americans who aren't vaccinated have had prior infections, which confers some immunity, "you really still need to have at least another 25% to 30% of people who have not been naturally infected or immunized to be immunized. You need that," Offit said.
Plus, "there is just a certain group of people who are not going to get vaccinated," he added. "What do you do then? I think the answer is what we're doing, which is mandate vaccines."
What concerns me here is that in an effort to placate people who are in their own alternate universe on vaccines, the UFT is ignoring the majority who are communicating with me. They want much more robust protections to open up schools. It looks like the radical right and Mulgrew are really not that far apart on the back-to-school issue. They both want schools open for full in-person learning no matter the potential carnage that I pray does not occur. We have Florida Governor Ron DeSantis leading the so-called freedom movement in schools.
"If you're coming after the rights of parents in Florida? I'm standing in your way," DeSantis said. "If you're trying to deny kids a proper in-person education, I'm gonna stand in your way and stand up for the kids in Florida. If you're trying to restrict people and impose mandates and ruin their jobs and livelihood, if you are trying to lock people down, I am standing in your way. I am standing for the people of Florida."
What part of that apart from mask and vaccine mandates would Mulgrew disagree with?
On keeping schools open in-person no matter what, it seems Mulgrew, Mayor Bill de Blasio, and Governor Ron DeSantis are in full accord. The UFT has agreed to full in-person schooling with a very limited medical remote option available to only a few as Delta spreads. Mulgrew also agrees with lots of new mandatory standardized testing (they call it diagnostic testing) but very little COVID-19 testing in schools, useless 3-feet social distancing protocols, and questionable ventilation. Mulgrew isn't that far off from DeSantis and the national consensus to open the school doors wide open. COVID policy in the United States is a bipartisan failure that has plagued this country since the pandemic began, resulting in 40 million COVID cases and now around a tragic 650,000 deaths and counting.
Back to that majority of UFT members. Most are vaccinated. The majority I believe want vaccine mandates for their colleagues and students who are eligible too. They are more than likely for a remote option open to every family (compulsory for students who won't get tested for COVID regularly or who refuse to wear a proper mask or get vaccinated if eligible). I don't believe the majority want iReady, MAP, or other ridiculous diagnostic testing for students either. The majority who contact me would agree with Leonie Haimson who lays out the shortcomings of the city's reopening plan in Gotham Gazette. Her criticisms include the city not significantly lowering class sizes in this emergency to permit effective social distancing and to help with learning.
I'd like to hear from the majority who are vaccinated and are in favor of vaccine mandates.
Anti-vax mandate people and/or anti-union folks please stay out of this discussion. You have your chance enough here. I want to know how the masses feel.
- If you are part of the pro-vaccine majority, do you think it will be safe in NYC schools or are we likely heading for large COVID-19 outbreaks this fall?
- Is the UFT doing its job to protect UFT members and the kids in the schools?
Please note the seven-day average in NYC for COVID cases last year at this time was 290. Yesterday, it was 1,991.