Thursday, May 23, 2019


Transport Workers Union Local 100 is the union for New York City bus and subway workers. They, just like the UFT, had a recent election for officers. Just as with the UFT, the voter turnout was abysmal. The challengers in the Local 100 are protesting the election with the US Department of Labor.

In the Chief Leader article covering the challenge, Joe Campbell one of the defeated candidates for President is cited. Tony Utano is the TWU President who won the election.

In the immediate aftermath of the election results, Mr. Campbell wrote in a social media post that Mr. Utano’s slate “was voted in by 18 percent of the eligible voting membership. That means 82% did not vote for them. Think about how dangerous that is going into contract talks. The fault of voter suppression, member disenfranchisement, and a purposefully horrible election process is the fault of the Union leadership and they wear that badge with dishonor throughout this upcoming term.”
I thought it might be interesting to compare what Michael Mulgrew's mandate is among working NYC teachers (no retirees or non teaching UFTers in this comparison. I want to talk teachers.

Fortunately, we have Jonathan Halabi from New Action's breakdown of the votes. While I disagree with Jonathan writing a wrong name for one of the caucuses as it is insulting to them and their voters, I still was pleased to have a place to look for election results.

There are around 70,000 UFT NYC teachers (that is probably a low number), Jonathan counts 11,909 voters. That translates into about a 17% turnout among teachers. We are approaching low turnout levels not seen since schoolboard elections. Michael Mulgrew's percentage of the votes may look huge at 78%, but it is only about 13% of the eligible teachers. Mulgrew's real strength is with retirees who don't vote in most unions for who represents active members.

Since Jonathan counts in a way that shows the number of voters lower, there probably were a few more voters but you get the idea.

A 13% mandate (let's make it 15% if we estimate higher) is no mandate and it explains why we can't do much as a union. On the other hand, to be fair let's give another view. Some might argue that the 86% teacher voting in favor of the recent contract shows teachers are content. That referendum had over 60,000 teachers cast ballots but voting was done in the schools where it is easier to get teachers to vote but there is very little security.

Do any readers want to chime in here? Are teachers content or have they given up on the UFT or is there something else going on?

Tuesday, May 21, 2019


Sleeper is a 1973 Woody Allen movie where someone goes in for surgery and wakes up 200 years later to find a completely different world. One of the jokes in Sleeper shows how teacher unions were thought of back in 1973.

From IMBd:

Miles is told the old world was destroyed when a "madman named Albert Shanker got hold of a nuclear weapon". Albert Shanker was the longtime head of the NYC public school teacher's union, the United Federation of Teachers, and was often criticized for his extremist views and actions. 

There was actually a time 46 years ago when a teachers' union was considered powerful.
Now let's go to 2019 popular culture by looking at the HBO series VEEP. Former Vice President and former President Selina Meyer is running again to be President and looking for endorsements in Season 7, Episode 3. As Selina discusses endorsements with her staff, they note how one of her opponents got endorsements from two senators and a union. Selina answers that she needs a union endorsement too but not the teachers. She wants a good union.

Even with the recent strikes, popular culture today treats us as a pathetic joke.

The contrast between the popular culture portrayal of us in 1973 compared to now could not be clearer: from able blow up the world to not even worth being courted.

Sad and scary too.

Monday, May 20, 2019


Sue Edelman is an excellent reporter. Her latest NY Post article about the Department of Education is a rare look inside headquarters at Tweed.

An excerpt:
Whiteness has become “toxic” under schools Chancellor Richard Carranza’s regime, insiders charge.

At least four top Department of Education executives who have been demoted or stripped of duties under Carranza’s sweeping reorganization are poised to sue the city, claiming he has created “an environment which is hostile toward whites,” a source told The Post.

The women — all white, veteran administrators — contend they were pushed aside for less qualified persons of color.

“These decisions are being made because
DOE leadership believes that skin color plays a role in how to get equity — that white people can’t convey the message,” said a source familiar with the complaints.

“There’s a toxic whiteness concept going on.”

DOE of course denies any of the promotions, demotions or early retirements are because of race. 

In my experience with the DOE, once Joel Klein left hiring up to whatever supervisor was responsible for filling a position without any regard for civil service norms, the hiring and firing culture became one where looking out for your own kind was often acceptable. The bias cuts in many different ways.

Further down in the Post article, we learn more about the Central DOE culture:
“Since Carranza took office, he’s brought in a lot of new people. As a result, it’s been bureaucratic chaos and backbiting, with deputies and their subordinates seeking better perches in the pecking order,” said David Bloomfield, a Brooklyn College and CUNY Grad Center education professor.

“Racial tensions appear to be one manifestation of these internal battles.”

Sue then shifts her focus toward a different aspect of the race story as her piece continues:
Meanwhile, the DOE has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on consultants to coach supervisors on how to “disrupt the power structure and dismantle institutional racism,” a supervisor said.

“There’s been a lot of discussion of white supremacy and how it manifests in the workplace, conversations about race, and looking at how the white culture behaves,” said a white executive who received the training.

“White supremacy is characterized by perfectionism, a belief in meritocracy, and the Protestant work ethic,” the exec said, adding that whites who object when accused of deep-rooted bias are called “fragile” and “defensive.”

“Can you imagine if we scrutinized blackness or brownness? We’re being trained in anti-bias not to stereotype blacks, but they’re fostering a stereotyping of whites.”

For those who wonder why white  voters often appear to vote against their own economic interest by voting Republican, look no further than this story for some of the answer.

Some of the folks who comment here and forced me to moderate might want to chime in as some of the usual stuff is fine with this story. Go ahead but please be careful. It is still a family blog mostly.

Saturday, May 18, 2019


Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders has released his Thurgood Marshall education plan and it is the best education program I have seen from a Democratic contender in decades. It looks like he is listening to Diane Ravitch.

Please read it in its entirety.

Bernie is calling for an end to for profit charter schools, a moratorium on new charter schools, full public accountability for charter schools, stronger tenure as well stronger union rights for public school teachers, a $60,000 minimum salary for public school teachers and so much more.

Here is what the education plan says about the wave of teacher strikes that have spread around the USA.

Over the past year, tens of thousands of teachers across the country have gone on strike to demand greater investment in public education. The wave of teacher strikes throughout the country provides an historic opportunity to make the investments we desperately need to make our public education system the best in the industrialized world, not one of the poorest.

There isn't that much not to like. All that is missing is a denunciation of standardized testing and a call for charter schools to be phased out but his charter policy is very favorable.

I would especially like to hear from Middle of the road politically or right wing teachers on why we should not strongly consider backing Sanders based on his education plan.

Before backing anyone officially, of course we should examine what the other Democratic candidates do on public education.  It is finally part of the discussion in the election for president. Sanders' plan is a big step forward.

Thursday, May 16, 2019


Sometimes I cannot believe how well off the City of New York is. Our budget expert Harry Lirtzman sent me the latest Independent Budget Office report analyzing Mayor Bill de Blasio's Executive Budget. IBO shows the city swimming in money. Read the first two paragraphs that describe the healthy state of the city's finances.

June 2019 marks the 10-year anniversary of the end of the Great Recession. Over the last 118 months the country has experienced a slow but steady recovery, a recovery that will soon stand as the longest economic expansionary period in U.S. history. New York City has seen record growth in economic activity during this period and as a result the city’s own finances have thrived. The city’s tax collections have increased by nearly 65 percent since the end of 2009, an average annual growth rate of 5.7 percent. Collections of property and personal income tax have grown annually by an average of 6.9 percent and 6.6 percent, respectively.

While certain economic indicators have recently signaled uncertainty ahead, for the most part the city’s economy continues to flourish. Still, policy decisions taken at the national and international level continue to pose potential threats to the city’s fiscal condition while pressure from Albany places millions of dollars of city funding at jeopardy. Yet, even with these risks acknowledged and at least partially accounted for, the city’s revenue forecast and expenditure plan continues to grow at a moderate pace while out-year budget gaps remain manageable.

So tax revenue is up 65% since the end of 2009. What rate have salaries for NYC teachers gone up since the end of 2009.

2010-4% increase

City tax revenue up 65% while UFT member salaries rose by 16% and part of that is paid for with healthcare givebacks (higher copays).

Michael Mulgrew bears plenty of responsibility here for negotiating subpar raises but so do the 75% and 86% of teachers who voted for the two contracts that contained these paltry increases.

Sadly, we will do even worse when some of you quit paying union dues to get even with the UFT.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019


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.

Monday, May 13, 2019


Probation for teachers in New York State used to be three years and was changed to four by the awful Education Transformation Act of 2015. You would think four years would be a long enough time to evaluate a teacher to decide if they should receive civil service tenure. All tenure does is entitle a professional to a hearing before a neutral outside person before they can be terminated. It does not guarantee someone a job for life by any means.

Tenure in civil service is routine. Most federal agencies have a one year probation period. It is the same one year for most New York agencies. New York City Police Officers serve a two year probationary period.  Teachers in New York City stay on probation for twice as long as police officers and for no good reason. To add insult to injury, one of Joel Klein's legacies was to make teachers walk through hoops to achieve tenure by having to do tenure portfolios. I never did such a thing and barely noticed the difference when probation was over. It just meant fewer observations. The Department of Education in recent years has made a complete mockery out of the requirement that teachers serve a three year, and after the law was changed, four year probationary period by routinely extending probation.

What has the UFT done to stop this practice of extending probations? Nothing. Well, not exactly nothing because the UFT does go through the motions of making it look like they are doing something. They tell teachers when they get an extension of probation letter to get it to a NYSUT attorney before signing it (see below). That is a complete waste of time as these are boilerplate letters that DOE legal approves of and local administrators just fill in the blanks.

The UFT should be telling probationers that they will sue the DOE because the DOE is making these extensions routine to get around the tenure law which says four years of probation. In addition, this is another issue that could have been taken up in contract negotiations instead of just accepting an early contract with few substantive changes.

From Gene Mann's The Organizer:

New Teacher Corner: Extension of Probation

Probationary teachers are teachers that don’t currently hold tenure in their respective license area. If a principal should choose to extend your probation, it is important to know your rights as a NYCDOE employee.  As a probationary teacher, you do not have to immediately sign the extension of probation. Probationers have the right to have a union lawyer review it first. In fact, every extension of probation should be submitted to the UFT for a NYSUT attorney to review before the member makes the decision to sign. Please inform your chapter leader of the extension and then you should contact your district representative. They will need a copy of the extension so that it may be reviewed by a NYSUT attorney. If your principal is insisting that you sign the extension without the proper time for the extension agreement to be reviewed, do not to sign the extension and contact your district rep or borough office immediately.