Many New York City teachers view New York State United Teachers (NYSUT) as the group that offers UFT members discount insurance. It is so much more important than that. NYSUT is all of the local unions in New York State combined into a state-wide union. NYSUT matters as a great deal of educational policy is made at the state level.
These days there is an internal rift among the leadership at NYSUT. How this feud plays out will have a large impact on UFT members and just about every education stakeholder in New York State.
It is strange how the press has only paid scant attention to this NYSUT leadership dispute. Full coverage has been provided by Education Notes, the Port Jefferson Station Teachers Association website and Perdido Street School. Outside of these online union sources, only New York State of Politics has touched on the story.
Here are some of the basics:
There are five officers in NYSUT. One of them has split from the other four. Who is the rebel? He is Vice President Andy Pallotta, a former UFT District Representative from the Bronx. Pallotta's job in NYSUT in large part deals with which politicians get our voluntary COPE money. Apparently, Andy encouraged a lot of COPE money to go to Andrew Cuomo recently.
Dick Iannuzzi is NYSUT's President. He is from Long Island but in the past he was supported by the New York City UFT. Lately as the internal rift has exploded, he has taken aggressive positions in opposition to state education policy driven by Governor Andrew Cuomo, the State Legislature and State Education Commissioner John King.
Do you think the UFT by itself would call for a no confidence vote on State Education Commissioner John King as NYSUT did yesterday? Just last year UFT President Michael Mulgrew was asking the State Legislature and Governor to allow King to arbitrate our dispute with former Mayor Bloomberg over the NYC teacher evaluation system.
Who is really behind the row in NYSUT? You probably guessed right if you said it is our own UFT leaders. Mulgrew is supporting the so called insurgent slate called Revive NYSUT. This is ironic as he won't give dissidents in his own union the time of day. I think he has responded to one email I have sent him over the past five years.
As for the NYSUT election, it is basically as rigged as UFT elections. The election for NYSUT President and many other positions is in April in NYC. Most NYSUT members won't be permitted to vote, however, as only NYSUT Representative Assembly Delegates are given the franchise to elect the five NYSUT statewide officers and the 82-member Board of Directors. To be a NYSUT Representative Assembly Delegate from New York City, by far the largest union in the state, one has to win the position in the general UFT election that takes place every three years.
In the most recent UFT election in 2013, less than 20% of active teachers voted. The membership (around 200,000 strong) received a booklet in the mail with over a thousand names on it. Most people who did vote chose a slate, which means they voted for all of the candidates from one caucus (political party) with one mark.
The party that has controlled UFT politics for around half a century is the Unity Caucus, the Michael Mulgrew-Randi Weingarten faction of the UFT. Their huge base of support is among retirees, who now make up a majority of the UFT voters.
There is no way for dissidents (the Movement of Rank and File Educators in the last election) to reach those retirees who live all over the place, other than one ad in the New York Teacher newspaper every three years. Union officers, on the other hand, have complete access to the retirees.
A major union leader told me that when they visit schools during campaign season, they don't campaign officially but everyone knows that they are there to run for office. How is it that UFT officials manage to visit Florida retirees during the election season? Challengers, who have to teach here in New York City, do not have any access to the masses of voters.
The opposition MORE slate and quasi opposition New Action slate combined won a majority of high school votes in the last UFT election. That netted the two groups zero representation in NYSUT's RA.
Membership to the Unity Caucus in New York City is by invitation only. To be accepted into the caucus, one must sign a statement pledging to support the decisions of the caucus in union and public forums (the so called Unity loyalty oath). There is no public dissent allowed. In exchange for absolute loyalty, Unity members get all expense paid trips to the AFT Convention and the NYSUT Representative Assemblies where they vote as an enormous bloc. I very much doubt that the smaller locals in New York State have the funds to pay for their Delegates to travel to the RA and stay at the Hilton.
The party discipline Unity has would make Mao envious. I can just about guarantee that those 800 NYC Unity representatives at NYSUT (around 40% of the total) will be supporting Andy Pallotta and the Revive NYSUT "insurgent" slate. They would vote for a bologna sandwich if Mulgrew told them to.
My read is that current President Dick Iannuzzi, whose vastly improved policies have ironically been strengthened by the internal row, has as much chance of winning as real insurgents do in UFT elections. For Iannuzzi to prevail, the upstate and suburban locals would have to rebel en masse against Mulgrew's endorsed team. (Wouldn't that be cool!)
The UFT has always been the tail wagging the NYSUT dog. This insurrection at the top just confirms that status. We can only hope that Iannuzzi and company have something up their sleeves that we don't know about to make this a truly competitive election.
Iannuzzi's slate might not be perfect but I would place a wager that if we brought the President of NYSUT the resolution that we introduced earlier this month at the UFT Delegate Assembly not to support Andrew Cuomo's reelection, we might get a sympathetic ear. Mulgrew's Unity voted to turn our resolution down and leave open the possibility of a UFT Cuomo endorsement.