Regular readers of this blog know one of the biggest issues I am passionate about is fairness at the Delegate Assembly. I believe in the dictionary definition of debate which according to Webster is "to discuss a question by considering opposing viewpoints." (Bold type was added by me) I have regularly challenged UFT President Michael Mulgrew on this issue as he seldom calls on Delegates at DA meetings who oppose his majority Unity Caucus.
At Wednesday's, March Delegate Assembly meeting, Mulgrew and I argued vociferously over this issue out in the open. The fact that I was heard from the back of a pretty big hall while he was talking into a microphone from a stage made me feel ok. In the end he said I was wrong but for the rest of the meeting he admitted I was right by asking for speakers against the remaining motions on the agenda.
Here are the details as we get into the Robert's Rules weeds.
There was a resolution on the floor to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education decision. Unity Vice President Sterling Roberson made a strong speech in favor of the motion. This was followed by another Unity speaker and then someone who wanted to make sure Thurgood Marshall was included in the resolution (his name was in there). A Delegate who had opposed an earlier resolution celebrating the 54th anniversary of the founding of the UFT then called for a Point of Order asking if Mulgrew was going to call on any speakers against. Mulgrew said he doesn't have to.
I shouted out that he was wrong. Mulgrew then called both of us out of order but I challenged his ruling based on Robert's Rules. Mulgrew then gave a long speech about how it's up to the body to end debate if someone makes a motion to end debate. Nobody is arguing that a 2/3 majority can't shut down debate whenever they want to but first someone must obtain the floor to make the motion to close debate.
When debate is occurring, the chairperson's obligation is to alternate between supporters and opponents of whatever motion is on the floor. I don't know why this basic parliamentary principle that goes back to the 1500s is so difficult for our President to follow. Mulgrew said I was wrong "as usual" while I questioned his ability to read. I thought we had an understanding after I raised this issue a few months back that he would follow the rules and alternate between those for and against each motion.
After Mulgrew told me I was wrong and I should take the issue up with the Parliamentarian, he spent the rest of the meeting following the rules and asking for speakers against each motion so I guess I can say I was right as usual. After the meeting, I took the President up on his offer and went right to the Parliamentarian, supported by MORE's Megan Moskop and her friend David. Mulgrew saw me coming and sadly decided to walk the other way. I would really like to discuss this with him.
I spoke at length to the Parliamentarian and UFT Secretary Emil Pietromonaco after the DA. The Parliamentarian noted that Robert's Rules says the President has to alternate speakers when he knows there are speakers who want to speak on each side of an issue. Emil backed him up. I said this was a ridiculous argument because Emil and Mulgrew know full well who most of the opposition people are (many wear MORE t shirts at the DA). The President is also aware that the Delegates from his Unity Caucus will support whatever the leadership brings to the floor because their caucus obligations oblige them to support the decisions of the caucus in union forums. When those of us in the opposition raise our cards to speak, we are almost always opposing something or looking to amend it. Calling on one Unity caucus speaker after another is clearly stifling dissent. It is not that difficult to ask who wants to speak against something after a speaker finishes a speech in favor of an issue.
The actual language from page 31 in Robert's Rules 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." It continues by discussing ways for this to be achieved. Later the book talks about other methods for achieving alternate speakers (separate microphones, different color cards). Bottom line: opposing speakers are mandated for it to be called a debate.
On this particular day, Joan Heymont - a leading dissident voice in the UFT for years - was raising her card throughout the debate on the Brown resolution. Obviously, she wanted to speak against it or amend it. She was passed over while Unity speakers were called on again and again.
During my discussion with the Parliamentarian, I even went back to the preface of Robert's Rules and read a portion where it gives the history of parliamentary procedure. Right there on page xxiv, it says in 1592 the principle was established to alternate speakers between those for and against. Here is the wording: "It was made a Rule, That the Chairman shall ask the Parties that would speak, on which side they would speak... and the Party that speaketh against the last Speaker, is to be heard first." Our Parliamentarian said the preface doesn't apply!
422 years of parliamentary tradition thrown out the window at the UFT DA. In the end, the Parliamentarian gave his copy of Robert's Rules to a new Parliamentarian and Emil told me we should speak to Emil himself prior to meetings to make sure the leadership is aware of our intention to speak against particular resolutions. I guess President Mulgrew won't be able to tell us he wasn't aware if we tell Emil in advance.
For the record, I support the leadership on the resolution to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Brown resolution. This isn't about me wanting to speak.
Part III of the DA Report later.