Monday, June 13, 2016


On Saturday Camille and I attended the Movement of Rank and File Educators (MORE) meeting. It was generally a positive experience with most of the time spent looking back at the election and ahead to next year when there will be non-Unity endorsed members on the UFT Executive Board for the first time since 2007. The co-chairs of MORE's coalition partners New Action were also in attendance.

I had a thought after the meeting when a few of us went out to eat. MORE will be having study groups on a few books this summer. One of them will analyze yet again the 1968 UFT strike. I would argue that it is time to stop spending so much time looking back 48 years to an era when the UFT clearly had some courage even if you think the cause in 68 might have been misguided in opposing community control of schools.

If we take the union at its word, the teachers shut the schools down for months because a small group of members were forced to transfer out of a district. In 2016 the UFT allows a significant number of its members called Absent Teacher Reserves to be transferred as often as every week and they do virtually nothing to stop it. The 1968 strike has been dissected to death. We can do it again but what will it prove?

Instead of yet again breaking down the 1968 UFT strike or even the 2012 Chicago Teachers strike or the Seattle Teachers strike of 2015, the strike we should be reviewing in great detail is the Verizon strike of 2016. When we speak about Verizon, we are talking about on balance a clear cut win for labor. 10.9% raises over 4 years with a $1,000 bonus thrown in is clearly better than Michael Mulgrew's pattern for city employees of 10% over 7 years with a $1,000 bonus. Yes I am fully aware that Verizon is a private sector corporation and public school teachers are government workers so it is a little bit of an apples and oranges type of comparison but it is still union verses management and there are important lessons to be learned.

Beyond the salary increases, Verizon workers beat back management's attempts to basically destroy them. For example on outsourcing call center jobs, Salon said this:

They (Communication Workers of America) secured a commitment to add 1,300 call center jobs over the next four years to accommodate demand. Since over the previous four years, 5,000 customer service jobs got outsourced from the United States, this is an even bigger win than it sounds like. Under the new contract, a certain percentage of customer service calls must be answered by a unionized worker inside the Verizon footprint. The company can more efficiently route calls because the footprint gets spread across the whole network rather than state-by-state, but the jobs are more protected.

Verizon also gave up a demand to transfer workers for weeks at a time away from their families. In addition, some Verizon wireless employees will actually be unionized because of this settlement.

How about disciplining employees? Workers made gains. Here is how Lee Sustar and Alan Maass put it in Socialist Worker:

Another big win for tech workers in New York City in particular was the abandonment of the hated Quality Assurance Review (QAR), a productivity program that in reality was a disciplinary tool that led to unpaid suspensions, often 30 days long. This is a rare gain for blue-collar union employees across the U.S., who have had their jobs made increasingly miserable by similar management schemes.

Management also dropped a number of other aggressive demands, such as a cap on pension credits at 30 years and measures intended to strengthen management's hand and harass high-seniority workers into early retirement.

The not so pro labor NY Times called the settlement a victory for labor.

Why did the Verizon workers do so well? Could the key be that there was a reform slate elected in 2011 called Rebuild 1,101 in the CWA that really did rebuild the union from the ground up. (The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers were also involved in the strike.)

Could it be that a union can still win a strike?

Here is what a union shop steward told Socialist Worker:

[A] lot of the important things that happened because of the strike won't appear in the contract language, because they happened to the strikers themselves. For a section of the membership, it was 
a transformative experience where we really felt our power. And it was obvious that this came from our personal participation and the widespread popular support for the strike.

Verizon managemment put all of its corporate muscle behind hiring scabs and a publicity campaign to discredit the workers. It failed.

While the final settlements were not perfect as there were concessions on healthcare (agreed to before the strike started) and there is a second tier wage scale for newer employees, the setbacks here appear to be minimal.

I will leave it to Sustar and Maass to draw the final conclusion:

What won the Verizon strike wasn't just good public relations, community allies or the intervention of the politicians and the federal government, but more centrally the activism and determination of workers during more than six weeks on the picket line.

Getting the public on board certainly helps but there is nothing that compares to activist working people willing to stay out on strike for as long as it takes to gain real victories at the workplace. What a novel thought.

We can all argue internally about social justice verses contract unionism but CWA and IBEW just taught us a valuable lesson on how effective a strike can still be in 2016. Let's learn from it.


ed notes online said...

I'm all for analyzing this strike. We can put this on the agenda of the next ICE meeting at the end of June. I disagree on the 68 strike discussion - I joined that study group -- because I lived that strike and it still has implications for union policy. After that strike the UFT was never close to being militant. I think it important for people to understand that it wasn't Randi's taking over the UFT. I also think it essential for a social justice caucus like MORE to dissect the oft intricate dance between support for community and where that can touch on teacher rights. I did not cross that picket line while many of my future colleagues in soc just unionism did cross the lines. I think there is a fault line that reverberates today - esp since ed deformers have tried to exploit the separation of the teacher union from the community that began in 68 as a wedge and often succeeds. Randi did manage to heal some of the breaches opened up in 68.

James Eterno said...

The UFT is not ememies with the community in 2016 and Unity Caucus is plenty diverse. These discussions of 1968 while teachers are being attacked in schools today are completely irrelevant to people working in schools except to a truly inside baseball crowd. Your last sentence about Randi healing some of the rift is true. We can learn a whole lot more by looking at what succeeded at Verizon in 2016. But if the 68 strike is what people still want to discuss, far be it for me to try and stop it. Enjoy.

Anonymous said...

Class size will have to double and more teachers and ATRs will have to be terminated without due process before the apathetic members of this union would even dream of a strike. Many of the newest members don't even want a union.

Anonymous said...

Norm and the left will trot out the 68 strike every chance they get to play the identity politics card by saying the UFT is racist. Very few African Americans are buying that line. Unity/UFT has plenty of blacks and Latinos. Check out how many African Americans voted for Hillary. The Verizon strike had plenty of white males involved so to some on the left that makes them suspicious. Workers standing up for what is right means less to some on the left than identity politics.

Anonymous said...

The UFT isn't racist. The DOE is and the UFT is complicit in that racism. The demographics of the ATR pool and those of teachers hired since the inception of the ATR pool will prove it. The DOE and UFT are refusing to reveal those statistics.

Anonymous said...

A Queens teacher won a $125,000 city settlement for injuries caused by out-of-control teens who also harassed her racially and sexually while school leaders did nothing to stop it, she says.
Kathy Perez suffered five herniated discs in her back, two in her neck and a torn meniscus in two incidents at MS 72 Catherine and Count Basie in Jamaica about 18 months apart.

In the first case, teens racing around the room trampled her. In the second, a girl shoved her to the floor. Both times, ambulance workers removed Perez on a stretcher.
In between, administrators shrugged off multiple frightening incidents, Perez told The Post.
“These kids knew they could beat on me all they wanted, and the administration would tacitly encourage it by not doing anything about it,” Perez said. “In no other workplace would I be expected to take this as part of my day.”
MS 72 struggles with discipline problems and low student achievement. In school surveys, kids have complained of bullying.
Perez says several kids taunted and threatened her as they spewed X-rated profanity. They called her “white bitch,” pelted her with pencils, and tossed rocks as she walked to her car, warning that she would “get shot” and “get my ass kicked.”
Among the reports she filed:
One boy ran around class waving a collapsible cane, narrowly missing students and swinging it close to Perez’s head. A dean removed the boy for several minutes and “then sent him back in — with the cane.”
Three boys unscrewed table legs, slammed them on desks and swung them at each other and at the teacher while kids screamed.
“Repeated pleas for help went unanswered,” Perez said.
One girl sprayed perfume in Perez’s face. The same girl taped sanitary pads colored with red markers around the room, shouting at Perez: “Nobody wants to see your nasty period on the wall, dumbass!”
 A boy climbed on a table and “pretended to hump his backpack,” telling Perez, “You know you want it so drop your pants. I’m gonna give it to you hard.”
Her attempts to control the hooligans met with accusations of racism.
“‘It’s because I have a flat top (haircut) and I’m black you f—in’ racist,” she quoted a boy she told to sit down.
Principal Omotayo Cineus testified at a deposition that she removed offending students from the classroom.
“Children were spoken to and parents were spoken to,” Cineus said.
But Perez said nobody responded to her reports. “I have no evidence that anything was done,” she said, adding that students returned to her room and the harassment worsened.
Cineus even slapped Perez with a disciplinary letter after her two children sent an e-mail to the principal saying they were worried about their mom. Cineus called it “inappropriate communication with superiors.”
She did not return a call for comment.
Perez, who underwent back and knee surgeries, filed two lawsuits against the Department of Education in 2012 and 2013, one in state court alleging personal injury, the other a federal civil-rights case.
She settled in April for the $125,000 payment, which includes her lawyer’s fees, and now works in other schools.

Anonymous said...

With your new status can you push for a public meeting with the UFT concerning the ATR agreement that ends this month? Many of us, contrary to popular opinion, are miserable and want this bullshit to end. Thanks in advance for anything you can try or do.

Anonymous said...

Students arent trash????

Anonymous said...

Of course they are, but then so is everyone else in the DOE. It's the type of trash that is in question and the type that is thrown at you.

Anonymous said...

As usual trying to up the level of discourse here calling everyone trash