Sunday, October 29, 2006

Chapter Votes Unanimously to Win Back the Givebacks!!

Jamaica Chapter News
October 30, 2006
by James Eterno


As per suggestion from UFT President Randi Weingarten, the Jamaica High School Chapter did not distribute but rather we discussed the UFT’s bargaining demands for the next Contract at Friday’s Chapter Meeting in the library where there was standing room only. Even though the current Contract does not expire until October 12, 2007, the UFT is in a coalition with other unions to try to negotiate economic and some non economic matters.

After the demands were presented to the body, Debbie Saal noted that the UFT did not ask to win back any of the givebacks from our latest Contract. The Chapter seemed revolted by this fact. Debbie proposed that the UFT demand that we take back what we gave away in the last round of negotiations. These take-backs would include:

A full summer vacation, no school before Labor Day

Preferred placements in vacancies for members if a school is closed or reorganized

Right to fill a vacant position if a member is excessed

Transfers based upon seniority and/or School Based Options Committees, a majority of who are UFT members

Chapter leaders collaborate, not merely consultation with principal, on professional activities menu

Hall patrols and cafeteria duty strictly prohibited by contract

Members will be allowed to grieve unfair/inaccurate material in their files

Members will be allowed to grieve unfair/inaccurate observation reports

No member shall be suspended without pay based upon probable cause of serious misconduct or sexual misconduct (members are innocent until proven guilty)

No expedited 3020A hearings for time and attendance matters

The end to the 37.5 minute small group instruction period they have in many schools.

Eric Chasanoff seconded the motion to take back the givebacks and Bob Klugman third, fourth and fifthed the proposal. A full discussion followed with the only reservation being that we separate the economic from non economic demands since some will cost us money that could be taken from a potential pay increase. It was agreed to prioritize them. Some of the math teachers pointed out that in the last two Contracts we have added about a month's worth of extra teaching time (extended day and year) but we were never fully compensated for that time as our sick days remain at a NY Metropolitan area low of ten per year.

Mike Pallisco summed it all up when he made the following statement that could be our rallying cry: “A bad Contract is a bad Contract; let’s fix it.” You can’t get something if you don’t ask for it so the Chapter voted unanimously after the discussion to demand that the UFT take back the givebacks. Later in the day the same proposal to win back the givebacks was made by me and unanimously endorsed by the Independent Community of Educators (ICE). It should be noted that the city and the coalition including the UFT are in serious negotiations for new Contracts. More details will follow on this issue soon.


We would like to Know if your Chapter is Discussing Them

By James Eterno

The UFT has submitted its bargaining demands for a new contract, even though our current contract does not expire for about a year. We have done this because we are in a coalition with 16 unions for economic demands for the next round of bargaining. The UFT presented the demands to the delegates who approved them at the last DA.

Randi then asked us to go back to our chapters and have a meeting to discuss the demands, instead of printing them. We have heard reports that some schools are discussing the demands but many are not.

ICE urges rank and file members to ask that their chapter leaders have a meeting to discuss the bargaining demands, both economic and non economic if they have not yet done so. We will not print them so as to honor the president's request that they not be printed and distributed but we would like people to have discussions in chapter meetings. We discussed the demands at an ICE meeting as did the Jamaica HS Chapter where we had a full debate and vote.

Please tell us if your chapter is discussing the contract.

Thursday, October 19, 2006


At the October 17 Executive Board and October 18 Delegate Assembly, Randi and Unity once again showed their clear biases. Randi created excuses nobody ever dreamed of to ensure that non Unity people cannot win Chapter elections on Tuesday and she stalled for so long on Wednesday that delegates were never allowed to vote on restoring union democracy in the hiring of District Representatives.

Two Chapters filed appeals of the Spring 2007 Chapter Elections to the Executive Board . Grady High School had a challenge to a Delegate election and Forest Hills High School had a Chapter Leader Election challenge. The UFT Constitutition empowers the Executive Board to settle such appeals.

At Grady the main question to be decided was how to proceed if candidates are disqualified from running for Teacher Delegate positions. For years Grady allowed two non teachers (a paraprofessional and a guidance counselor) to be Teacher Delegates. This obviously violated the UFT Constitution. What is very strange is that this obviously unconstitutional arrangement was condoned by then chapter leader Michael Mulgrew who was subsequently promoted to UFT Vice President for Vocational and Technical High Schools by the Unity machine. If a chapter leader didn't know that only teachers can serve as teacher delegates or blatantly chose to ignore the rules for years, it leads us to question his competence or his judgement. After Jeff Kaufman pointed out Mulgrew's obvious negligence, many of the members in the audience at the Executive Board were asking, "WHAT DID VP MULGREW KNOW AND WHEN DID HE KNOW IT?"

Interestingly, Weingarten took a Point of Personal Privilege and proceeded to shoot off a vicious personal attack against Jeff Kaufman instead of addressing Mulgrew's actions. When the body finally returned to the Grady issue, there was some interesting debate because the UFT Election Rules are silent about what to do if nominees are disqualified after an election takes place. Do the qualified nominees who had the next most votes win or is it proper to have new nominations and a new election? Unity decided to make up new rules and allow for a second election to take place. Would they have created a new rule to have a second election if the people who ended up winning election number one were members of the Unity Caucus? We doubt it. The Forest Hills High School fiasco proves our point that Unity actions have nothing to do with democracy and everything to do with pushing the Unity political agenda.

At Forest Hills, veteran Chapter Leader Barbara Kaplan-Halper ( also a member of the UFT Executive Board elected from ICE) was out sick for much of last year. Her temporary replacement was Eddie Mesadore who didn't bother to have some of the new teachers sign up to join the UFT. Mesadore was courted by Unity and had nothing to do with any opposition caucuses so the Union obviously had a favorite candidate when Mesadore decided to challenge Kaplan-Halper for Chapter Leader last spring. The first election resulted in a tie. The Forest Hills High School Election Committee on advisement from the UFT decided to run a second election on June 23. The second election was meticulously run by the Election Committee and it was another close vote (95-95) except that there was a disputed ballot that was set aside. After all the votes were counted, the Election Committee ruled that the person who had made a scribble in the Mesadore box and then a clear X in the Kaplan-Halper box had voted for Kaplan-Halper. The Committee declared Kaplan-Halper the winner 96 to 95. There were two challenges: one questioning the disputed ballot and the second questioning who was eligible to vote. The Election Committee scrupulously made sure that only union members could vote so they were not worried as they had been calling the UFT to make sure only proper UFT members were voting.

Instead of investigating if ineligible voters cast ballots and looking at the challenged ballot, Queens Borough Representative Harolyn Fritz overturned Kaplan-Halper's victory. She told Barbara, Jeff Kaufman, Norman Scott and James Eterno who met with her that she was following the election rules of the American Arbitration Association in voiding the disputed ballot that she never saw. We examined AAA election rules and there is nothing about voiding ballots that have scribble in a box. Fritz told us there were no other issues. She then ordered a third election to be run by the Queens Office and they put a notice in mailboxes while people were attending the school's graduation stating that there were irregularities in election two and there would be a third election the next day. This angered the Election Committee who had already certified the second election but it pleased the administration as Barbara is known as a strong chapter leader. One of the assistant principals gave an endorsement of Mesadore in a Department meeting. Mesadore won a close third election but many of Kaplan Halper's frustrated supporters had seen enough by then. Barbara challenged Fritz's decision to void election 2.

At the Executive Board, Randi did the best job of obfuscation that many eyes have ever seen. She talked about anything but the second election which Kaplan-Halper clearly won in order to try to make a motion for a fourth election if irregularities in election 3 could be proven. Once again she sparred with Kaufman who demanded that the disputed ballot in election 2 be counted and that Barbara's election be upheld. Two members of the Forest Hills Election Committee supported Jeff. Randi and the Unity disciples finally decided to set up a "Tripartite Committee" to examine all of the issues in the Forest Hills Elections.

What's next for Randi: Drinks with Catherine Harris to discuss stealing elections? As Barbara Kaplan-Halper is from ICE, it looks as though Unity will do whatever it takes to make sure she doesn't win.

Unfortunately, that's not all folks. At Wednesday's Delegate Assembly Meeting, Randi ran out the clock better than a football team with a small lead that wants to hold the ball until time runs out . Randi spent time allowing a number of speakers from outside to address the body and she even extended the question period. We spent about an hour discussing a resolution that had support from over 99% of the delegates. Ironically, we had two speakers tell us how important it is to vote in the November elections and another came in to plug his political party. All of this prevented the delegates from having a discussion on union democracy as the issue of electing UFT District Representatives or continuing top-down appointments from President Weingarten wasn't addressed because time ran out.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Letter-in-File Grievances, R.I.P.

One of the worst givebacks in our current contract was the right, under Article 21A, to grieve letters in the file. We have addressed this loss in the past but today, I had the rare opportunity to participate in one of the last letter-in-the-file arbitrations we shall ever see unless we win this valuable right back.

Under Article 21A supervisors can include in your personnel file letters of a disciplinary or negative nature limited only by whether they were "unfair" or "inaccurate." In past contracts any unfairness or inaccuracy would invalidate the whole letter. Under more recent contracts this was watered down to allow the arbitrator to change the improper parts.

With our new contract, of course, there is no right to grieve these letters. The principal can write anything he/she wishes without fear that a grievance procedure will change or delete the letter. When the U-rating is given the letter can theoretically be challenged but U-rating appeals are run by DOE supervisors. They will clearly not provide the forum to remove the letters that our Union has been so successful in doing at arbitrations. (According to Gary Rabinowitz, Special Rep in charge of LIF Arbitrations, the Union had a 50% success rate at arbitration).

At the time of the present contract's implementation there were a number of letter-in-file grievances at Step III. The Union and DOE agreed that these grievances would all be heard at "expedited" arbitrations. Today, I participated in two of these.

While there are some very fundamental problems in which LIF grievances are (should I say were) handled there is no doubt how empowering the procedure is to the member and the Chapter. The principal and assistant principal, who were after one member of my chapter, had to explain and testify to support what they had written. The grievant and I then explained and testified what really happened.

The grievant received a U-rating based on these letters so if the arbitrator removes or changes the letters in a favorable way she will be able to keep her job. It is difficult to predict what the arbitrator will do but at least she had a fair opportunity to confront her supervisors and demonstrate that these unfair and inaccurate letters should be removed.

I explained to my member that this arbitration existed in the "twilight zone" and that if the letters were written today she would only have the U-rating appeal to deal with the letters.

She gazed at me quizzically and said, "Why, in the hell, would anyone have voted for this contract?"

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Q&A on Edwize, the UFT Blog

We were recently contacted by a member of the media to respond to questions about the UFT's blog, Edwize. The following are the questions and the answers we submitted:

Q.: According to UFT staff, Edwize was intended to be a vehicle for the UFT to join the debate about education policy. It was not intended to be a space for discussion of internal union politics. However, before and during the contract vote last year, Edwize became a forum for discussion of the contract. Is this accurate?

A.: Edwize not only supported the contract but vehemently attacked the opposition. Some of the attacks were personal.

Q.: Is Edwize a valuable resource for you and other UFTers? Why? What should Edwize be that it is not, in your view?

A.: Edwize is viewed by a handful of people since it was clear, early on, that it was an uncritical mouthpiece for the then current union policies. It is clearly partisan and those members who view it, know this.

Q.: Was Edwize an important forum for debate of the contract? What were the limits? What were the benefits? Did rank-and-file members who were not already activists talk about Edwize and content posted there?

A.:While the main posts were in total support of the contract certain comments were deleted. There was a clear agenda and they did not hide it.

Q.: Did you experience any censorship of your views on Edwize?

A.: See above.

Q.: Should Edwize be a forum for discussion/debate in the upcoming UFT elections?

A.: While the opposition does not need this forum I sincerely believe they will keep far away from election issues for fear of the LMDRA. They do not want their messages seriously questioned.

Q.: Edwize does not link to ICE-UFT, as far as I can tell. Have you asked them to link to your site?

A.: That is correct. I asked the person in charge early on to link us and other teacher sites since their list of sites seemed to be quite extensive. I was politely told that the blog was "not for partisanship." Chalk one up for anti-Union Democracy.

Q.: Any other comments?

The ICE-UFT blog was started shortly after Edwize began. We are consulted by many of our members and the media as the only clear opposition to UFT-Unity politics. We support our Union but not its leadership and all of us work very hard to force our leadership to allow the Union to become more democratic. When we question Union policy we are labeled, on Edwize and elsewhere, as anti-union. While we have a small presence on the Executive Board we are effective in raising critical issues to our members. Our blog has been a strong voice in that effort.