There were some insightful comments on Monday's posting on the future of the UFT next year when the U.S. Supreme Court in the Janus vs AFSCME case will most likely make union dues optional in the public sector for non-union members (agency fees).
In comments it was suggested that the membership should oust President Michael Mulgrew through the ballot box while others thought starting a new high school teachers union would be a better alternative as we move ahead. These are both ideas that could lead to a more militant union movement but I wrote a comment telling people how next to impossible the former suggestion would be to achieve and how extremely difficult it would be to accomplish the latter too. Either way it would require a level of commitment from the rank and file that would be an extraordinary change compared to what we have now.
We need a strong union for sure. How do we get one? After 22 years of actively opposing Mulgrew's Unity Caucus, I do not know if I have the answer on how to get people to stand up collectively. I do know change will not occur without real involvement of the rank and file.
This is my response to the comments from Monday's post. It was originally a comment that has been expanded into a separate posting.
We cannot, I repeat, cannot win a UFT election as an opposition group unless there is a miracle of the size of Moses parting the Red Sea. Forget about an electoral takeover of the UFT. The system is rigged in a very sophisticated way to ensure Unity (Michael Mulgrew's political party) keeps control.
The UFT has close to 200,000 members scattered throughout the country. Remember, retirees vote in UFT elections. The Union controls the flow of information to the membership through the NY Teacher newspaper, a website, Facebook and Twitter as well as officers and district reps all spouting the Unity party line all day and throughout the night in visits to schools and UFT functions. Add the bought and paid for chapter leaders, delegates and others who join Unity and agree to be loyal to the caucus and you have a one party political machine that is second to none in this country. It responds to itself but not the membership of the union at large.
While Unity people have full time jobs where they can spend at least part of their days spreading UFT propaganda, the opposition is in school all day teaching classes so we cannot campaign enough to answer the three questions from politics 101 that voters must answer yes to for a candidate to have a chance of winning an election:
1-Do they know you?
2-Do they like you?
3-Do they trust you?
We never can get beyond question 1 except in the high schools where we have had a presence for a long time. They know us. We can campaign enough to be competitive and often times win the high schools which nets us a grand total of 7 seats on the 102 member UFT Executive Board. Our representatives try valiently but are basically treated as a kind of a nuisance by the UFT leadership. I know this because I was a High School Executive Board member for a decade. Not much has changed for our 7 brave reps today.
There has never been a close UFT election in the elementary schools or with non-teachers in the UFT (Functionals) or retirees. Functionals and retirees make up the majority of the UFT. How are we going to get to all of them? Opposition cannot; Unity has their ear regularly.
One ad buried in the NY Teacher every three years and an email attachment of the ad are basically all we get as an opposition. It is not sufficient to say the voters know us, like us or trust us.
Middle schools are a potential target that were won one time by the opposition. However, if opposition won the high schools and middle schools, it would net us a grand total of 12 seats on the 102 member Executive Board. If we were to win all three teaching divisions (elementary, high school and middle school), we would have less than 1/4 of the entire Executive Board and no officer positions as they are all voted on at large by the entire membership. We still would not be represented at the AFT or NYSUT conventions as elections for those delegates are all voted on at large by every member including retirees and non-teachers.
The bottom line is that unseating Mulgrew/Unity in an election is an almost impossible dream and high school teachers in part probably because we vote opposition have been marginalized for decades by the UFT leadership.
For those who wish to pull the high schools from the UFT and start a separate militant high school teachers union, that too would be a steep uphill climb for sure. There are about 20,000 high school teachers in NYC. We would be a significant union local if we dropped the UFT and started our own union.
The rules of the state Public Employees Relations Board (PERB) say 30% of a potential new bargaining unit must sign a petition seeking to get to PERB to try to certify a new union. The new bargaining unit must have a showing of interest, meaning basically that the makeup of the new union would have to make sense as a bargaining unit.
Here is the actual language from PERB rules Section 201.3d: "A petition seeking to certify a fragment of an existing bargaining unit as a separate bargaining unit shall be supported by a showing of interest of at least 30 percent of the unit alleged to be appropriate."
Since high schools were once a separate entity who have our own dedicated section of the contract and certainly could make the case that we've been abandoned by the UFT (see closing schools for evidence), leaping over the showing of interest hurdle is possible.
However, getting 30% to sign a petition to have a showing of interest hearing is another matter. 30% of 20,000 would mean obtaining 6,000 signatures of exclusively high school teachers on petitions. Those petitions would need to be signed by the 6,000 before there is a new 2018 UFT contract according to the PERB rules. In other words, right about now would be the time to organize the petition drive.
By the way in case any ignorant person tells you we would lose all of our salaries, benefits and whatever rights Unity hasn't given away if we dump the UFT, the Triborough Amendment would keep the current contract in place until we have a new one. It would just be different people enforcing those rights.
I appreciate that some teachers think I could lead such a movement but a leader isn't what is needed. It's activists willing to work their butts off that are necessary if people really want change.
If there are 100 activists who can get about 60 signatures each exclusively from high school teachers, then those hundred activists and not some leader can start a UFT revolution.
That is a herculean task.
Most teachers, including high school teachers, don't bother to vote in UFT elections. Would they sign petitions for a new union?
Do those activists even exist who can educate those 20,000 and have them sign petitions?
Please also keep in mind that Unity would fight like crazy to force high school teachers to remain in the UFT to keep collecting the dues if a movement to certify a new union got off the ground. Unity may leave something to be desired when it comes to defending teachers but they are extremely adept at holding onto power.
Finally, this movement could be started by middle school or elementary school teachers too or all three divisions. It doesn't necessarily have to come from the high schools. Teachers are a minority in the UFT.
If people really want change, many teachers are going to have to step up and get involved either within the UFT or in some post Janus organization that some want to start.
That is the cold reality. The alternative of an even weaker, smaller UFT with people just keeping their dues to spite Mulgrew is something I don't even want to contemplate.