Friday, January 20, 2012


The Unity majority brought out the retired troops to Wednesday’s Delegate Assembly (I saw people I   have not seen in years) to make sure they had enough votes to pass an amendment to the UFT Constitution to expand the Executive Board and add to the voting power of the retirees in UFT elections. I voted no on the amendments as they will limit democracy even further as UFT elections for retired members are essentially rigged. 

As usual I was not able to get the floor to speak to counter the Unity propaganda machine’s salute to the union’s retired members.  President Mulgrew framed the issue by saying that it was necessary to change the Constitution because the UFT has grown so much over the years with the addition of the Child Care Providers who recently joined us and the expansion of the Retiree Chapter.  He was right and adding twelve seats to the 89 seat Executive Board does make sense.  Also, putting a committee together to discuss a possible new vice president for the non teaching members of the UFT seems logical.  However, adding to the weight of the retiree vote in UFT elections is extremely unfair and undemocratic even though I agree with Mulgrew that the retired members are very helpful in our mobilization efforts.

Before Wednesday, the retiree vote in any UFT election was capped at 18,000.  This means that if more than 18,000 voted, the tally was capped at 18,000 and the voting numbers were based on 18,000.  For example, let’s say 20,000 retirees voted and 10,000 voted for caucus A and 10,000 vote for caucus B.  Since the vote was capped at 18,000, Caucus A would receive 9,000 votes in the election and Caucus B would get 9,000. 

This obviously flies in the face of the principle of one person=one vote but the union did not want its retired members to dominate, hence the cap.  The amendment raises that cap to 23,500.  This number is not that far off from the number of active teachers who actually vote so the retirees basically now control the union.  That is not healthy at all but it is worse because any opposition group has virtually no legal right to reach out to retirees.

In 1997, New Action (a caucus within the UFT) filed a complaint with the state Public Employees Relations Board asking for the names and addresses of all the retirees so the caucus could send election materials to them.  PERB dismissed the charge.  In his account of the dismissal, PERB’s Phillip L. Maier said, “The Board affirmed the Director’s dismissal of the charge as deficient on the grounds that retirees are not public employees under the Act, do not have any terms and conditions of employment and are not in the UFT’s bargaining unit.  Therefore, the UFT owed no duty to New Action to supply this information.” (Phillip L. Maier: The Taylor Law and the Duty to Fair Representation)  If retirees are not in our bargaining unit, then why can they vote at all for who represents the actual members of the bargaining unit?  They should vote for their own vice president. 

Let’s get this straight:  Retirees are not in the UFT’s bargaining unit but retirees have a huge say in deciding who will represent the active members of the bargaining unit.  On top of this, an opposition caucus has no right to addresses (or emails I presume) to send out election literature.  That is an incredibly unfair election process.

Unity argues that it is a fair process because they run an election advertisement for each caucus at every election. They never mention that the ad is buried in the NY Teacher newspaper once every three years. 

Imagine this on a national scale: Suppose that only the Republican Party was allowed to contact the voters in almost half the states and they said this was fair because they put in an advertisement once every three years for the Democrats but the rest of the time they just flood them with their own literature.  That is basically the election process for the UFT. The New York Teacher is fundamentally a Unity Caucus publication that is filled with scores of pictures and stories about Mulgrew and the leadership every two weeks.  When election time comes, the opposition gets its two page ad.  Any political science student knows this is not sufficient contact for a serious campaign.  Essentially, UFT elections at the retiree level are rigged.  In the schools it is a little different which is why opposition groups have successfully won the high schools and even once the middle schools.

The infamous Stalin once claimed that it isn’t who votes that matters; it’s who counts the votes.  For the UFT, it is a matter of who has access to the voters.  Since only the Unity leadership has the names and addresses of retirees and an opposition group is not entitled to send literature to what is essentially half of the actual voters, an opposition caucus cannot possibly make the number of contacts that any political scientist would say would be necessary to have a reasonable chance to win an election.

Unity called out the retirees en masse on Wednesday to make sure the amendment to increase the retiree voting percentage passed and it carried overwhelmingly.  I raised my card but never had the opportunity to speak to make the points I just made above on why increasing the retiree share of the vote is just an insurance policy for the Unity Caucus, which has ruled the UFT for around half a century. 

Perhaps Unity is worried that the active membership has finally had it with their policies as we are under siege in the schools and so we might rebel against Unity.  The retirees who are spread out all over the country (and abroad) but can only be reached by Unity (except for one advertisement every three years) give them some nice insurance just in case the active membership comes alive.

As for the rest of the meeting, there was only a report from the President as we left early to head off to Brooklyn for the Panel for Educational Policy Meeting to protest the latest round of indefensible school closings and the DOE walking out of negotiations on evaluations.

In his report, President Mulgrew said that the current unsatisfactory rating appeal process was corrupt and keeping it was a non starter in negotiations.  He went on to tell us that the city is trying to split the union and this will be another ugly fight.  He continued by noting that he wants to settle the NYSUT lawsuit on evaluations but it looks like State Education Commissioner John King is supporting the mayor which makes it difficult.  He told us the Governor wants the lawsuit settled and many districts upstate are just waiting for a negotiated settlement.  He also told us to expect a pounding from the Daily News and NY Post but that he enjoys it and the membership understands it.  He said we have to do the grassroots work in the communities and that he has full faith that the union will not be divided. 

On pensions he told us that we have paid for every pension benefit we have and we will not surrender our benefits.  He then talked about appointing a committee to add another officer for the UFT since the functional chapters are growing.  Then he motivated the Constitutional amendments.  Subsequently, Mark Torres called a point of order and demanded that Mulgrew leave the chair since he motivated a resolution. Mulgrew turned the chair over to Secretary Michael Mendel for what was the usual mostly one sided pro Unity debate.

The body then voted overwhelmingly for the amendments (no surprise there) and we left to head to the PEP where Mendel and VP Leo Casey made emotional presentations attacking the DOE.  Mendel asked the DOE how they sleep at night and Casey said that just as the DOE walked out on us in negotiations over the evaluation system, we were now walking out on them. 

Overall it was just one more nauseating afternoon and evening as a DOE employee and UFT Chapter Leader.

Monday, January 16, 2012


Mayor Bloomberg made attacking teachers the centerpiece of his state of the city address last week.  His attacks are tired and getting old as are the constant NY Post and Daily News editorials blasting teachers.

A quick little walk through the last three years shows we are his favorite target.  First there was no raise for us even though virtually all the other unions have received two raises of 4% in the current round of collective bargaining.  Then, it was two straight years of layoff threats that included the mayor's failed push to change state law so he could fire us at will. Now the mayor wants us to have weaker due process without appeal to an independent reviewer and since he can't get his way, he is now attempting to close most of the Transformation-Restart Schools and open them up the following day with half of the teachers being replaced.

It would be comical if the lives of so many UFT members and students were not impacted.  As I read our contract, he can redesign schools based on Article 18D, which allows management to excess at least half of the teachers in a given school.  Whether he can do this as part of the Federal Turnaround program without first negotiating it with the UFT is highly debatable and will more than likely be decided in the courts or by the state Public Employees Relations Board.

I have some ideas on what the union can do to help the teachers in the 33 PLA-Restart Schools that will necessitate us being a real union.  Maybe the UFT will do more than just use the legal system and local protests.  It's time.

The teachers in the Restart schools and citywide need to know that we are dealing with a desperate billionaire mayor who will do just about anything to get rid of us.  The mayor's plan is irrational.  If he excesses half of the staffs in many schools but our contract and state law prevents tenured people from being terminated without cause (thank God), then there will be an explosion of Absent Teacher Reserves.  It appears that the mayor is willing to spend an additional $100,000,000 on an expanded Absent Teacher Reserve pool (regular teachers who roam from school to school each week at full pay but cover classes for absent teachers) to obtain $60,000,000 in Federal funds.  Can city hall do math or does the mayor have a Captain Ahab like obsession?

The mayor seems overly determined to bust the UFT.  This will probably be his last chance as his time will run out at the end of 2013 and there doesn't seem to be any call for another extension of term limits this time around.  He needs to kill us off now or never.  He looks desperate but do not underestimate the forces that want to destroy public education and the UFT.

 ... to the last I grapple with thee; from hell's heart I stab at thee; for hate's sake I spit my last breath at thee.
Moby-DickCh. 135 or is that Michael Bloomberg talking to teachers?

Wednesday, January 11, 2012


Great post at EdWize on why we need a neutral review for ineffective ratings.  VP for high schools Leo Casey said the UFT has has done the research and found that UFT members won 10 of the last 2,000 U rating appeals.  That's a .05% success rate. Interesting that  he compares the DOE review process to a Stalin show trial.

Another good piece over there was the one Casey wrote saying that the study showing that having good teachers increases student earnings was not peer reviewed yet it was released to the public. In addition, Jackie Bennett's work on how closing schools are set up to fail is also enlightening reading.

I have not been a big fan of Edwize since the 2005 propaganda pieces selling the horrible contract but I will say that some of this stuff going up nowadays is quite helpful.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012


Last Saturday, I received  the agenda for the January 18, 2012 Delegate Assembly well in advance.  It contained two proposed constitutional amendments that won't do anything to make the UFT a more democratic union.  The UFT Executive Board, which has the constitutional responsibility for running the organization, will be expanded from 89 to 101 members.  The reason to add to the Executive Board is that the UFT is growing with the addition of the Family Child Care Providers and many new retirees.  Therefore, I agree that it does make sense to add to the Executive Board.  However, the Executive Board is one of the least democratic institutions in the world because of the at large system of voting for most of the seats that in such a huge union makes it virtually impossible to challenge the incumbents.

Most of the Executive Board and all 11 officers (president, vice presidents, etc...) are elected at large which means all members of the union vote for each position.  At large voting allows a retiree or a non Department of Education Family Child Care Provider to be voting for the high school vice president and most of the other people who represent the high schools.  This is ridiculous.  It is just as absurd for a high school teacher like me to be voting for someone to represent the Family Child Care Providers.

A better amendment would have been to put in place some kind of proportional representation system so that if a caucus (political party) receives a certain amount of votes (say 25%) in any UFT election, then that caucus would get that percentage (25%) of the seats on the Executive Board.  That is a fair system but you won't see that happening because the leadership of the Unity Caucus, which has run the UFT since the sixties and has a monumental financial advantage in every election, would have to deal with smaller groups who have support concentrated among certain UFT members.  Having that kind of diversity on the Executive Board would make us a stronger union as more voices would be heard but it would dilute the power of the ruling caucus so don't expect such an amendment to see the light of day.  Also, restoring the right of each division (high school, middle schools, elementary schools, special education) to exclusively elect their own vice presidents will not happen because the ruling caucus would have to admit that they might lose some day.

Expanding the voting representation of the retirees is simply a Unity Caucus insurance policy to expand their power. The retired UFT members are the most loyal Unity constituency so expanding their voice makes sense to Unity.  However, whether or not retirees should vote for active member leaders is highly debatable.  The New York State Public Relations Relations Board took up the retiree topic in 1997.

New Action (another caucus within the UFT) said the UFT should give them a list of retirees so they could mail the retired members UFT election material.  PERB said that since the retirees are not part of our bargaining unit, then no caucus was entitled to their addresses.  Since the state does not recognize retirees as not part of our bargaining unit, then one has to ask why they should be voting for who will represent active members?   Retirees should have their own vice president that they elect exclusively to represent them.

The retiree vote was capped at 18,000, meaning that if more than 18,000 voted, the votes are weighted so 18,000 is the maximum.  That cap will be raised by the amendment to 23,500.  Forgetting the issue with one man=one vote, this is a pure power grab by the ruling caucus to make sure that their loyal retirees have even more of a voice than they do now.  The active people will be further marginalized. What is really needed is to alter the UFT's fundamental foundation.

The structure of our union is basically designed to perpetuate one party rule forever and these amendments will worsen this.  In order to win an election with close to 200,000 voters spread out over many states, a caucus would need a ton of money to have a reasonable chance to communicate with so many members enough times to make a difference.  The Unity Caucus has the union patronage jobs and free trips to union conventions to buy loyalty and those people spread the word in the schools and in retirement communities. To obtain those perks, Unity members must sign a statement saying they will support the positions of Unity Caucus in union and public forums.  Many have termed this statement the Unity Loyalty Oath.  They also must pay to join the caucus.

One ad in the NY Teacher at election time is all the opposition is allowed and that is certainly not enough to get through to these masses of people to win an election.  The UFT structure is extremely unfair and these amendments will not change that.  Adding to the retiree vote total will just further alienate more of us.

I will be voting no on the constitutional amendments. It makes no sense to expand the Executive Board without changing how it is structured and expanding the retiree vote will not strengthen us.

Had the union really taken democracy seriously, they would have put together a committee with membership from all parties and independents and come up with a more democratic structure.