Thursday, October 05, 2017


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.


Anonymous said...

Why would we loose our rights and benefits when you yourself said that due to Triborough, our contract would stay in place if we dumped the UFT?

Anonymous said...

Something has to be done about retirees being eligible to vote in elections. What other unions allow this?

James Eterno said...

You would not lose your rights if a new bargaining unit is formed and I said so in the post. PERB is pretty clear on all of this.

My whole basic point was that if many people are not willing to step forward and get involved in their union, then nothing will change or the situation will worsen.

James Eterno said...

What leverage does anyone have to get the UFT to have retirees vote for their own VP and not the officers? Retirees by about 9 to 1 vote Unity. Why would Unity change this? It is a great insurance policy for them.

Ms. Tsouris said...

I'm a retiree who never voted unity. Unfortunately most people, even fairly smart ones, fall for propaganda and UFT bs which is the original fake news. The UFT also resorts to bullying its own expensive-dues-paying members. As a retiree, I think I vote for the retiree rep only, but I don't vote any more. I never voted for any contract ever either, by the way. I never felt we were given enough respect, dignity, and money. We had our August pay withheld until we returned to work the following September. That was the NYC Board of Education in 1978 when I started teaching. The UFT allowed this keeping back of pay and the city benefited from the interest accumulated by 50,000+ teachers. The NYC teaching staff has always hovered at about 75% female. Don't tell me this wasn't gender discrimination. It was allowed by the UFT at a time when women were UFT presidents. Luckily, that changed possibly under Giuliani or Koch, I don't remember. Nevertheless, the UFT was complicit in gender discrimination and is forever selling out members, a la the ATR situation/fair student funding that was agreed to by our fine union. They are currently telling retirees they may not have the Si Beagle Learning Centers for retirees any more, which many use and enjoy, if Janus becomes reality. It's the best benefit I've ever experienced, but this is what they're presenting us with,it's pathetic. I know they own their building in downtown Manhattan and one of the adjacent buildings. They are landlords of extremely valuable real estate. No, this retiree was never on board

Anonymous said...

So where are the usual suspects today? Where is the guy who documents every black crime in the country? Where is the one demanding two observations and a parking permit? Where are the rest of you? Surely one or two must be high school teachers. Now that you are asked to possibly do something, it is fairly silent. I will get my 60 signatures. I want a real union. The rest of you only complain. Small wonder we get fucked so much.

Anonymous said...

Im here, blacks still commit most crimes but what does that have to do with anything?

Anonymous said...

Can I become fight ctle hours guy? I'll take that role.

Anonymous said...

Im 37 and quitting right after retro gets paid, not staying on a disgusting, abusive and sinking ship.

Anonymous said...

Why don't any of you commit to trying to fix the ship? You are getting the blueprint here. Take it and let's fix it.

Anonymous said...

Because it wont change

Anonymous said...

I’m in. It was always High School teachers who got the gains in the contract, anyway. But, today is different. We still have some holdovers from the Teaching Fellows who are out for themselves. The younger Teaching Fellows are into the militant thing (they love Bernie and DSA). I think we could win them over. But, the middle-aged corporate refugees . . . I think they are never going to be unionists. Maybe the shock of Janus would do it.

Anonymous said...

Teaching Fellows? Is'nt that program gone? That group did not even last the two years they signed up for! Very few are left. Most got tired of visiting our town!

Anonymous said...

Ummmmm Anonymous 6:36...African Americans DO NOT commit most crimes. Whites do. How sickening that there are racists in our midst.

I would work for a new union in a heartbeat. All my colleagues at my high school despise the UFT.

Anonymous said...

Anyway, the UFT, like all well oiled political maschines, will have a faux "outsider" come to power when needed. This will rescue some dues and some respect for a time. I however will end my dues, watch the UFT crumble, and laugh. Years of abuse and neglect have made me a union-sociopath, just want to see it die...actually I think I am more of a union-psychopath.

Anonymous said...

Propaganda works not on the basis of the argument. Rather, (as a beer company ad exec told me) by convincing the viewer that not buying the product makes you an outsider. Nobody wants to be an outsider. So, crafting MORE’s message requires making people feel like Unity is a sinking ship. That should not be hard to do.

James Eterno said...

Unity is a sinking ship but how are y;ou going to get that message out when Unity controls almost all of the information that gets to the membership at large. Social media is us talkiing to each other.

Anonymous said...


Just say you high schoolers are able to break away from the UFT. Guess who your 3 most famous new members will be: Mulgrew, Hinds, Roberson and about 6 or 7 current High School District Reps.

You don't think that group would start a new caucus, let's call them "Unity 2".

Do you really think "New MORE / New Action" are going beat "Unity 2" ?

You truly have never faced a real campaign against you. That is why you one your division.

I wouldn't start decorating your new office just yet.

Anonymous said...

Parking Permit and 2 Observations Guy here. What I am going to do? Well, I am an elementary teacher and. for the past 2 UFT elections, i convinced most of my clueless fellow teachers to vote the MORE ticket and they did. I think the way to beat the UFT is to continue to push to get people who oppose Unity in office. MORE is a good start. If Janus goes through, I am not sure that starting a whole new union will be that easy. I think Unity will be damaged for the first time ever and they in fact, may have to work with people who do not agree with them to stay above water.

Anonymous said...

Retro checks are in payroll portal.

James Eterno said...

3:42, Your comment is quite funny. No new office for me. I have already said how Unity would react if the movement to certify a new union ever got an inch off the ground.

Let's be really clear here: Neither MORE/New Action nor ICE have called for a new union for high school teachers.Let's state that right at the top.

All I did was lay out the ways to change things and say how extremely difficult both winning an election and fragmenting the high schools would be. I thought I did this in a kind of neutral way. Reread this part of the posting:

"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."

Unity will come out and call anyone pushing a fragmentation drive real nasty names long before it ever got to the stage where there is a new union. I would expect they would say anyone signing or spreading a petition to make a separate bargaining unit was Hitler, Mussolini, the devil and maybe Stalin all rolled into one.

I clearly pointed out that it wasn't about me or any leader.

How would you open up our union so it supports its members? The cold reality is that it is now a bureaucratic joke of a union where there is no accountability for the leadership.

Anonymous said...

Look at the retro, uft took double dues, what a fucking scam. Money from 9 years ago, no raise, but they take over $100 bucks.

Anonymous said...

And no interest, so cut it in half in inflation over 9 years

James Eterno said...

You are making my point. This union is not looking out for us now what to do about it? Complaining here won't change a thing. Filling out some form the UFT has will get you a phone call from a Unity person who works part time at a borough office who will listen to your complaint and then probably do nothing

Working with an opposition caucus or being one of those people who agrees to spread a petition for a real union might actually help. Your call.

John Elfrank-Dana said...

I have been advocating a breakaway union for high schools for years now. I was a chapter leader for 10 years (retired my last year) and a delegate for 6 years. I worked as an arbitration advocate in the UFT Grievance Department until I demanded to get paid for my work. I took them to small claims court to get what they owed me and won. Needless to say, they didn't want me in their office any longer.

The UFT (Unity Caucus) is a textbook case in organizational pathology, where the original purpose of the organization (protecting the rights of members) becomes supplanted by the perpetuation of a political inside group that continues to enrich itself. To do this the UFT has morphed from a democratic union into a corporate entity. I has increasingly removed democratic accountability to members by "at large" officers that are elected by non-constituent groups, like retirees and elementary school Unity hacks voting in the High Schools Vice President. Or, like the District Reps being appointed and not subject to the vote of chapter leaders in the district, as used to be the case.

Notice also that brand new teachers pay the same $100 a month dues as the most senior teachers. What incentive does the UFT have to protect member rights? What do they care about rampant teacher turnover? So long as they have a no layoff clause in the contract, the UFT's dues stream remains intact. Hence, why senior members are harassed to quit or retire early with their "union" doing nothing other than offering the illusion of due diligence with bogus appeals processes that have an over 90% failure rate.

Most recently, those of us out on medical or maternity leave in Oct. 2015 did not get the Oct. 2015 retro check as we were off payroll, but were promised by the UFT that we will get it in 2017. We were bargaining chips for the UFT. Many on maternity don't come back (thus, they will never get their retro) and us on medical often die (thus, no payment again), saving the city a lot of money. Well, now I hear on good information that we will not get our 2015 check until 2021. I am not surprised.

Unity Caucus has rigged the system that makes it impossible for change via elections. They are a textbook, Tammany Hall, kind of political machine. Mulgrew once told me, "these teachers will never go on strike". So, he thought my attempts to radicalize my chapter were futile. Yes, the dreaded "S" word. That's because Unity consistently uses the threat of strike and does nothing to lead the membership to prepare for one, to scare members who have mortgage payments to make. Well, fewer and fewer members have mortgages now.

I teach TFA and Fellows in retirement and did so 10 years prior to retiring in 2016. Trust me, there's little optimism that they will stick around much longer in teaching and it has everything to do with working conditions.

Break these chains. Create a real union. You'll be surprised just how enthusiastic you will find the high school, and probably middle school, members who want radical change. As a retiree I pledge my support to this project.

John Elfrank-Dana
UFT Chapter Leader (ret.)
Murry Bergtraum High School

Anonymous said...

Powerful stuff John.

Anonymous said...

As soon as this Janus case is won, my dues are out. Mulgrew is a thief. "Taxation without representation" days are over!

Anonymous said...

James we are counting on you to step up. You need to take the lead on this. This is our opportunity.

James Eterno said...

Nobody on their own, as I said in the posting, could get 6,000 signatures. As for elections, I have stepped up for every election since 1997. I need some clarity 8:57. email me if you would like. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Even Norm Scott says it is possible to get high schools out of UFT and start over. Read Ed Notes today.

uel a challenge to Unity.

Is this a feasibility for high school teachers? Not overall -- but with about 7000 signature of high school teachers to split of the high schools, not an impossibility. Thus we may see a populist internal movement counter to the MORE campaign that would leave MORE in the position of carrying the water for Unity while it gets outflanked by a militant/populist wing. And maybe just in time for the spring 2019 elections -- where the people who left cannot vote.