MAJOR RESTRUCTURING NECESSARY TO FAIRLY REPRESENT ALL UFT MEMBERS
by James Eterno - UFT Chapter Leader, Jamaica High School
Members of the Independent Community of Educators welcome the city's 28,000 Home Child Care Providers to the United Federation of Teachers. According to the November 1, 2007 NY Teacher, there are now more than 188,000 UFT members. That means the 80,000 NYC teachers are now a minority in our Union, making up a little over 40% of the total membership. This piece in no way is being written as a criticism of non-teaching UFT members. We are aiming to tell our readers that the Union's Constitution is now completely obsolete and needs to be amended to fairly represent teaching and non-teaching UFT members.
To begin with, examine Article IV of the UFT Constitution which refers to officers. Five of the eleven officers must come from the schools. The Child Care Providers, the newly unionized Administrative Law Judges and others within the UFT who have nothing to do with the schools should not have all officers who are teachers. Most of the UFT's elected officers were at one time teachers. (Quite possibly all of them came from teaching lines; I'm not sure.) This structure is illogical as the majority of the people they represent are not active classroom teachers.
The at large, winning caucus (political party) takes all voting system makes absolutely no sense. There was never any legitimacy to a system that has Elementary School Teachers voting for the Vice President for Academic High Schools, but that is nothing compared to Home Child Care Providers and the City's Administrative Law Judges voting for the High School, Middle School and Elementary VPs. This system is absurd and cannot be justified in any way shape or form by Randi Weingarten and her Unity Caucus. However, if one accepts the argument that we are all one union and should vote together, then shouldn't there be proportional representation (win a proportion of seats based on the percentage of votes a caucus [political party] gets in a UFT election) on the Executive Board?
Representation on the 78 seat UFT Executive Board is now completely out of proportion to the job titles within the UFT. The majority of the UFT membership is now Functionals (non-teachers) and the Executive Board should soon reflect this. According to Article V, Section 1 of the UFT Constitution: "Thirty (30) shall be elected from the four divisions, namely the elementary schools, junior high/intermediate/middle schools, high schools, and functional chapters. Each division shall be entitled to that fraction of the thirty (30) which its membership bears to the local membership of the organization as of December in the year preceding the election."
If by the 2010 election there are 200,000 UFT members and 80,000 (40%) are teachers, this would mean that teachers would only be entitled to twelve divisional seats, plus six more because each division (high school, middle school and elementary schools) gets two additional seats for having over half of their members organized. Thus, one half of those 36 divisional seats would go to teachers who would not make up close to 50% of the UFT membership. The remaining 42 seats of the Executive Board will be elected at large by the entire membership as per the Constitution. With slate voting (put one X in a ballot for a caucus you like and you vote for every candidate from that caucus), the Caucus (political party) that gets the most at large votes wins all of the at large Executive Board seats and of course all of the officer positions.
It is theoretically very possible for a caucus to lose the teacher vote by an overwhelming number of ballots but still win the election and completely control the UFT by winning the non-teachers. This is ridiculous; we are called the United Federation of Teachers. The Union has clearly outgrown its archaic electoral structure. It's time for all of us to demand a restructuring of the UFT.
Here are some suggestions for democratic reform that would require a series of Constitutional Amendments and/or DA motions. Please read them and tell us what you think. (Some of these suggestions are official ICE positions while others are new and not necessarily anyone's position.)
1. Restore divisional voting to each school division for Vice Presidents. High School members only vote for HS VPs; Middle School members only vote for Middle School VP and Elementary School members only vote for Elementary School VP.
2. Create a vice president for the Retirees. Create a vice president for other non DOE employees including the Home Day Care Workers. Create a vice president for all functional school chapters to vote for. Only members of these particular Functional Chapters can vote for their own VP.
3. Teachers and other school employees only vote for a Teacher President who will negotiate for teacher issues.
4. Functionals (non-teachers) not in the school system including retirees vote for a Functional President. (The total would be 15 officers.)
5. Make the District Representative into a Constitutionally elected position (voted on either by Chapter Leaders in a district or by all UFT members within a district).
6. Allocate all at large Executive Board seats by proportional representation. If a caucus (political party) wins ten percent of the at large vote, they should win ten percent of the seats on the Executive Board as well as 10% of the AFT and NYSUT Delegates.
7. Divisional Executive Board seats should also be allocated based upon proportional representation determined exclusively on the percentage of votes in that particular division.
8. At Delegate Assembly Contract ratification votes, only members of a particular Functional Chapter or the Teachers should be able to vote on their Contracts. All it would take is different colored voting cards for different functions and teachers.
9. Give email addresses of all of our members to registered caucuses so each caucus can send campaign emails to the membership.
10. Open up the NY Teacher to dissenting voices in every issue, not just in the two election issues every three years.
The alternatives to these suggestions are to split the Union into smaller more manageable locals including one for the retirees and home childcare workers, or to keep the current totally undemocratic system where thousands of members feel completely disenfranchised and a very small percentage actually bothers to vote in UFT elections.