Sunday, January 26, 2014


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.


reality-based educator said...

Great piece, James. Really shows how the "insurgents" at NYSUT (backed by the UFT, of course) are actually the establishment.

Anonymous said...

James when will the non-binding arbitrator decision on our future contract come out? There are many negative people who think that pattern bargaining will end with us. My concern is that the decision will be duplicitous (we will be told pattern bargaining has held us when it may doesn't). What is your take on this? Is Mulgrew feeling pressure from the other unions not to cave in and accept something less than the pattern? Can you share what you know about the attacks on Randi from your delegate report?

John Lawhead said...

Thannks James! It seems to me that Mulgrew's machinations would indicate a belated discovery that NYC is not a world unto itself. Strong popular forces are afoot across the state challenging the policy and leadership fiasco in education.

Why couldn't Mulgrew and Ianuzzi work in tandem to reverse their complicity in APPR, Common Core, the insults to all public sensibilities and the teaching profession?

NYSUT staged a large event in early December in which UFT-backed groups participated but there was not a word of it in The New York Teacher.

Clearly, the issue is Cuomo and what he might have to offer us between now and November. I read a posting on Facebook from a backer of the Revive NYSUT "insurgency" who argued that one of Ianuzzi damning flaws was that he hadn't spoken to Cuomo enough in the past few months and could be doing more to change his mind. How much longer will UFTers sit calmly through Mulgrew's explanations of Cuomo good intentions?

John Lawhead said...

Here it is from the horse's mouth.

"Our stance on Governor Cuomo. Have you ever been so mad at your principal or superintendent that you did not talk to them for a couple of days? We all have. But have you ever gone months without speaking? Probably not, because you understand your members’ needs come before your own personal ego. You also recognize that failing or refusing to meet makes it easier for them because they do not have to deal with the union.

"The REVIVE team recognizes that there is no support for an endorsement of the Governor nor do we think he has earned one. This is not entirely the Governor’s fault. When the President of NYSUT does not meet with the Governor to educate him about member concerns for months at a time we should not be surprised at the result. We will engage the Governor to address your concerns . . . hopefully to win him over. We will be the voice he cannot ignore; be it every week, day or hour until he understands our issues and concerns."

"Solutions"-driven Unionism!!
Engage the Governor!!

Over and out

Harris Lirtzman said...

Thanks, James, for explicating something that on first blush seems impenetrable but when thought about for a few minutes makes perfect sense.

UFT wants full control of NYSUT.

UFT will not brook the least dissent statewide, anymore than it will here in the City.

Cuomo wants Ianuzzi "gone." Therefore, UNITY will make Ianuzzi "go."

When Ianuzzi has been "made gone" the "revived" NYSUT will begin to meet with and "educate" Cuomo to encourage him to backflip himself on John King, APPR, Common Core, the Board of Regents, "merit pay" and property tax caps.

Cuomo will listen carefully to the "revived" NYSUT and make some calibrated noises that indicate he has "listened" to the new NYSUT phone calls and read the new NYSUT memos.

NYSUT/UNITY will then acknowledge those "noises" as real progress and endorse CUOMO because his dead-cat Republican opponent, someone like Westchester County Executive Rick Astorino, will have taken "objectively anti-union" positions that require teachers to protect themselves in the bosom of the Governor.

The only benefit of this imbroglio is that it makes very clear to any teacher in the state who has the least bit of political consciousness that UFT/UNITY is a totalitarian organization. Unfortunately, how many working teachers have the time, inclination or awareness to follow any of this stuff?

It took many years for dissidents to overthrow East European totalitarians or for union democrats to overthrow the leadership of the Teamsters. It will take a very long time to displace UNITY/UFT but we have no choice but to continue to fight.

Raving Lunatic said...

We are disappointed, Mr. Eterno, that now we have finally given you something to dissent about yet you are still complaining. Kindly restrict your complaining to topics we deem permissible, like Ianuzzi, that disloyal dog.

I've got a very busy day doing whatever it is I do at 52 Broadway and I really haven't got time for this. Kindly cooperate so I can get back to my important activities.

Francesco Portelos said...

Thanks for this breakdown James. I was following, but this cleared up some things.

Assailed Teacher said...

Nice piece James, thanks for breaking it down. What are the chances that dissidents here in NYC can organize with dissident teachers/parents upstate to stop this coup in NYSUT? It seems even if we do organize, Unity will do what it will do anyway.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, james. You made this convoluted "civil war" clear and understandable.

I also like the new look of the blog.

GeoKaro said...

Excellent analysis and explanation.

That there is so much organized discontent towards King and Cuomo across the state, it is likely that a viable opposition to Mulgrew/Pallotta can be stitched together from this opposition.
So Phil Rumore is having curious thoughts that siding with Mulgrew is better than with Iannuzzi? Has he forgotten that Mulgrew = support for Cuomo? I would venture that independent Buffalo teachers (and a growing number of their reps) would also note Mulgrew's Cuomo connection with alarm. These teachers will not forget that Cuomo and King have repeatedly threatened to take over the Buffalo School District for, among other reasons, agreeing to an MOU rider to the APPR agreement whereby evaluations would not be an immediate trigger to the start of 3020-a termination proceedings.
This critical mis-step on Rumore's part might stir up moves to challenge him in a more organized manner in the future.