Thursday, December 12, 2013


At a rather sparsely attended pre-holiday Delegate Assembly meeting at UFT HQ in Manhattan, UFT President Michael Mulgrew actually conceded that opponents of measures are entitled to half of the speakers during debate.  This rather remarkable admission came after I made my first ever official "Parliamentary Inquiry" to the Chair.

Since last month's complete evisceration of Robert's Rules where Mulgrew did not permit anyone to speak against a leadership sponsored resolution to only tweak the evaluation system in contract negotiations, some of us decided that we needed to truly cite chapter and verse if the opposition to the ruling Unity Caucus was ever going to be heard in a substantial way at UFT forums. 

Instead of using a simplified version of Robert's Rules as I have in the past, I went out and purchased the unabridged Robert's Rules of Order Newly Revised to take a detailed look at parliamentary law. When studying the book quite closely, I came upon something that showed in very clear language that, as I suspected, the opponents of measures were entitled to half of the speakers in debate. 

At the DA, opposition speakers are either shut out or maybe allowed one voice while members of Mulgrew's ruling Unity Caucus, who sign a membership obligation to "Support the decisions of the Caucus/Union leadership in public or union forums," are recognized one after another until they get bored and one of them moves to close debate.

Mulgrew then uses the fact that there is a motion to close debate on the floor, which is not debatable, to call on his supermajority to close debate and stifle all dissent.  He is correct that they can close debate but he is completely out of order in the way he assigns the floor.

Since we were prepared, I informed my friends in MORE that I planned on raising the issue at the December DA.  At the beginning of the question period I demanded a "Parliamentary Inquiry."  The President yielded the floor to me after saying something I couldn't quite make out.  Here is what I stated:

Parliamentary Inquiry
Pages 292-293 Robert’s Rules of Order Newly Revised say a parliamentary inquiry is called for if a member has an important question on a matter of parliamentary law bearing on the business at hand. I have an inquiry on parliamentary law.

Last month Mr. President, you stated that it has been settled that there does not have to be a speaker against each debatable motion.

This needs to be clarified.  I would like to call the chair and the Parliamentarian’s attention to Robert’s Rules of Order Newly Revised, Chapter II: Obtaining the Floor, Section 3 on Page 31, starting on line 8 where it states: 

“In cases where the chair knows that persons seeking the floor have opposite opinions on the question…, the chair should let the floor alternate, as far as possible, between those favoring and those opposing the measure.  To accomplish this, the chair may say, for example, “Since the last speaker spoke in favor of the motion, who wishes to speak in opposition to the motion?”

When are you going to assign the floor as per Robert's Rules so we can have real debate alternating between speakers for and against every debatable measure that is raised here until someone calls the question (makes a motion to end debate)?

(I have to admit that I was a bit surprised that he allowed me to say all of this uninterrupted but it does pay to be prepared.)  Mulgrew pounced on my point about last month saying that he was correct last month in the way he ended debate because when someone makes a motion to close debate and it is seconded, it is not debatable and it's up to the body to decide (A2/3 vote closes debate).  The President then looked to his Parliamentarian to dispose of the main inquiry.

The Parliamentarian must have said words to the effect that I was right because at that point Mulgrew acknowledged that the opposition is entitled to half of the speakers and he then declared that this is how he conducts Delegate Assembly debates (What?) and he would adhere to the rules by asking for alternate speakers both for and against each debatable motion.

OK ladies and gentlemen, it is now up to my fellow Delegates to make this ruling a reality. We are entitled to not merely one, but 50% of speakers in every debate.  My guess is we are going to have to demand our speaking time but it is there for the taking.

(On the issue of ending debate, I still maintain that Mulgrew has been wrong according to the Rules because he should have been alternating the floor throughout debate and since he knows all of the people in his caucus are obligated to support leadership motions, he has no right to call on two or three or four of them in a row.  The opposition is entitled to the floor directly after the speaker who motivates a motion yields the floor.  Let's see what happens when something controversial comes up.)

President's Report
Mulgrew began by calling for a moment of silence for Nelson Mandela. He also called for a moment of silence to honor the lives of Gene Prisco and other UFT members who had recently passed away.  After the moment of silence, there was a huge standing ovation and the DA sang a quick version of "Na na na na, hey hey goodbye" when it was announced that this was the final DA of the Bloomberg years and the mayor would be gone in three weeks.

National Scene
The budget agreement between Democrats and Republicans in DC is not bad.  Problem nationally is Detroit and Illinois where a bankruptcy judge in Detroit and the Democratic controlled Legislature and Democratic Governor in Illinois are cutting pensions.  In Michigan the constitution has a pension guarantee, like we have in NY, that says pensions are protected and cannot be touched.  There will be an appeal and our law firms are involved.  Worker pensions didn't cause bankruptcy in Detroit.  It was caused by poor government decisions and high bank lending fees.  The events in Detroit and Illinois are very serious and have national implications.

UFT has not taken a position yet on Governor's tax commission report.

The first deputy mayor that Mayor Elect de Blasio has chosen used to work for the old Board of Education.  Bill Bratton, de Blasio's choice for police commissioner, is saying the right things.

As for Chancellor, the UFT is comfortable with the people being considered because they are real educators.  We are talking to the incoming administration. The new mayor has to fix many city agencies.

Our enemies are saying the city can't afford to give us a raise.  UFT disagrees.  We need a raise.

We are hoping to have a Chancellor by January 1 who is an educator and then we have to negotiate a contract as well as rebuild the school system.  The President thanked people who came out to December 5 and December 9 actions.  We must fight to move the city to the right place.  The rest of the country is looking to us.

Another 900 checks will go out in December.

Teacher Evaluation System
Both administrators and teachers agree that there are too many observations, too much paperwork and too many components in the new evaluation system.  The President closed by wishing all happy holidays.

Staff Director's Report
Staff Director Leroy Barr reported on several holiday activities that the UFT is involved in and gave the date for the next DA.
Question Period
I demanded and got the floor first with my parliamentary inquiry (see above).
Question: What is going on with fact finding?
Mulgrew Answer: Last hearing for non binding fact finding arbitration is today (Wednesday).  There is one outstanding issue.  The report is due in January and even though it is not binding on either side, fifty years of precedent show that it will be used as a framework to make a contract. If as stated above, we are on the same page as the principals on fixing the evaluation system, we may be able to get something done.
Question: Are there any deficits in our pension system?
Answer: No.  Unlike other states, NY is not passing state budgets that don't fund pension contributions.  Neighboring New Jersey went 18 years without making pension contributions.
Question: ICT teacher and other teacher in the same room getting the same ratings on observations.  Is this proper?
Answer: This is not proper.  Keep giving us information for grievances.
Question: How will the Affordable Care Act impact on our health plan?
Answer: At this time we have already seen benefits as children are now covered up to age 26.  The UFT has a drug cap of $100,000 which is very high.  UFT Welfare Fund always paid if someone exceeded the cap but now other unions which had much smaller caps can no longer have a cap and must catch up as the ACA has done away with these kinds of caps.  The insurance company regulations in the law don't kick in for another 18 months so the staggered implementation of the law does create problems
New Motions 
There were no new motions.
Discussion on Fixing Teacher Evaluation and Repairing the Structure of the School System
President Mulgrew called for a discussion on how we want the teacher evaluation system to change under the new mayor and what we want the school system to look like.  He said that since this would be subject to negotiations, he would like us not to report on this so we won't. We will only say that MORE people played an active role in this part of the meeting.
Special Order of Business
There was a Resolution honoring legacy of Nelson Mandela in the fight for justice and equal opportunity for all; one calling for NYS to halt the inBloom contract for collecting and storing sensitive student data; another calling for inclusive language for UFT members who are not teachers; one to repair NYC's electoral system, and finally a resolution to show solidarity with beleaguered Philadelphia Educators and students.  None of these were very controversial and all passed I think unanimously.  Mulgrew did actually ask if someone wants to speak against one of them.
That's all folks.


Patrick Walsh said...

Thank you James.

Jeff A said...

James, Is it then allowable for the body to call the question at any time to stifle debate? Mulgrew seemed to think so?

James Eterno said...

To move to end debate, first someone must properly obtain the floor. That is what our inquiry was about. We are entitled to half the speakers. If a Unity delegate speaks, we get to follow. When it is Unity's turn, they can move to close debate. If they get a 2/3 vote, debate is done.

Anonymous said...

A view of another delegate:

Union Democracy

During the question period, James Eterno, chapter leader at Jamaica High School demanded a “parliamentary inquiry” into the flagrant disregard of Robert’s Rules of Order at our delegate assemblies. Roberts’ Rules call for alternating speakers “for and against” any motion put on the floor. But this is flagrantly disregarded. Delegates in opposition to the leadership policies are frequently denied the right to speak at all. I myself have routinely been refused the right to present motions or to oppose motions on a wide range of issues, including opposition to the union’s support for mayoral control, for their support to “value added” teacher evaluations, or to the union’s endorsement of capitalist candidates in elections.

As Eterno noted in his written report on the DA (see the UFT-ICE blog), “opposition speakers are either shut out or maybe allowed one voice while members of Mulgrew's ruling Unity Caucus…. are recognized one after another until they get bored and one of them moves to close debate. “ At the last meeting, speakers from the MORE caucus were denied the right to speak against a leadership resolution that would only “tweak” the teacher evals. So this time, James Eterno rose and read chapter and verse from Roberts’ Rules that that showed in very clear language that opponents of measures are entitled to half of the speakers in debate. And that the discussion should alternate between pro and con speakers.

In response, the parliamentarian on the stage mumbled something unintelligible that must have indicated this was a correct reading of Roberts’ Rules. Mulgrew then said it was correct, but if a delegate from the floor demands a vote to close debate, it must be voted immediately. So we will see how this plays out.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for blog it is very informative and makes the point. we need it.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for blog it is very informative and makes the point. we need it.

Anonymous said...

I think that he acknowledged that he already did what you requested. When someone moves to end debate, it is up to the body to determine if it should be called for a vote.

Anonymous said...

By "someone" you must mean the designated Unity "call the question" hack who Mulgrew just happens to choose randomly (from his little map of where they will be sitting.)

Anonymous said...

Mr. Eterno -- Can we please move the discussion forward. Lets talk about the next chancellor. Dr. Marc Epstein SHOULD be considered. His knowledge of our system and issues surrounding education is extensive. He is superior to any of the "wanna-bes" now being discussed. He is much brighter than those who have already turned it down! SUPPORT EPSTEIN!

Marc Epstein said...

Yeah, what he said. I'm the best!

Anonymous said...