For those looking for a preview of the week ahead, here is our not so brave predictions on how the UFT will vote on any possible job action based on how the UFT operates and the schedule that we already know.
Monday, August 31- The 102 member UFT Executive Board, made up exclusively of Michael Mulgrew's Unity Caucus backed members, will most definitely rubber stamp whatever Mulgrew wants in terms of a strike authorization (or not) with a unanimous vote in support. There are 2, maybe 3, independent thinkers on the Board but I would be shocked if there are any dissenting votes. For most of the Unity members on the Executive Board, their UFT jobs depend on them doing what Mulgrew and Staff Director Leroy Barr tell them to do. They would not go against the leadership on this one or much of anything for that matter. Getting a strike authorization unanimously through the Executive Board should be easy-peasy-lemon-squeezy guaranteed.
Tuesday, September 1-Whatever strike authorization the Unity controlled Executive Board rubber stamps will be rubber stamped again by the larger Delegate Assembly. The DA is theoretically a democratic body but Unity has control of a sufficient number of Chapter Leaders and Delegates who rely on Unity for part time union jobs and/or all expense paid trips to the AFT and NYSUT conventions. Unity members sign a membership obligation to support the caucus in public and union forums. Even if a Unity Chapter is totally against a strike authorization, most will back Mulgrew.
I became Chapter Leader after the Jamaica Chapter voted about 50-2 against the 1995 Contract that had 0% raises for two years while the City and national economies were about to grow substantially with the .com boom. Our Unity Chapter Leader told us he would respect our vote and vote no at the DA. I was the Delegate at the time and he didn't vote no. Those caucus obligations are taken seriously. We ended up almost coming to blows literally (we later made up and he is a decent guy).
The District Reps will be calling their Unity Chapter Leaders and Delegates to keep them in line on the strike authorization. In addition, there are hundreds of retiree Delegates who are exclusively Unity. They will not defy Mulgrew. Call it peer pressure, group-think, or caucus obligations. One time dissident Arthur Goldstein coined the term Unity Loyalty Oath. Please read his account of how the Unity Delegates at the NYSUT Representative Assembly booed our friend Lauren Cohen (now Lauren Lumm) who called out the Unity Loyalty Oath in 2014.
This comment says it from an insider's point of view:
Unity may have undone itself. All rank-and-file members must be told how a band of bullies shouted down a woman who had the temerity to raise the issue of a UFT-Unity loyalty oath signed by many members in exchange for promises of union advancement, free trips and significant financial gain. Is this Unity's modus operandi?
When the Oath is questioned, they attack like dogs. I am very painfully aware that not all Unity members are part of this mob mentality, yet, I know that this same mentality intimidates those who think otherwise within Unity. Leadership espouses solidarity. Yet, the UFT Loyalty Oath has forced our delegates to sell us out in solidarity by supporting past policies that have led us towards our own doom and despair.
This lack of democracy has not changed much since then. Unity will tell you that Arthur and two others have now been taken in by the leadership and I don't believe they ever had to sign the membership obligation to support the caucus but honestly now, have you seen much criticism of the UFT on Arthur's blog lately?
I expect an 80-90% yes vote on whatever job action is proposed at the Delegate Assembly. It may reflect the membership or it may just reflect Unity and the small opposition caucuses that all agree on a possible job action but these are all activists. The entire process at the DA and Executive Board is about as legitimate as an election in Russia. What is going on in the schools behind the scenes will most likely still be a mystery after the DA. That 80-90% yes vote won't mean that much but if I am wrong and there is anything greater than a 20-25% no vote because of independents (people who don't belong to any caucus) and/or a Unity revolt, then there is likely a significant portion of the membership who are opposed to any job action.
Wednesday, September 2-UFT Town Hall. Mulgrew will present information and take the usual friendly questions. The rank and file will get no vote on any proposed job action.
Mulgrew will say that the UFT is a representative democracy so Chapter Leaders and Delegates represent their members. He will not mention how many Chapter Leaders and Delegates are bought and paid for and have signed that Unity membership obligation to support his policies no matter what. His excuse will be that there is no time to take a membership vote and we don't have the technology to do it online. This of course is ridiculous as every Chapter can have online meetings. They certainly can do online votes like they did with SBOs and PROSE in the spring. Mulgrew doesn't want a vote because there is a chance he could lose.
Some of you might be wondering why I would mention all of this lack of democracy when I support a job action as long as the cause is just. I think the cause of possibly saving the lives of members, our students and all of our families is one of the most righteous positions the UFT has ever taken.
If those of us who want the kids and the adults to stay away from school buildings are right that we could be starting a new wave of COVID-19 if students and educators go into buildings, the UFT taking action could be preventing that second wave. We could literally be saving lives. In addition, we do have a contractual right to a safe work environment. We should have done this in March. Bill de Blasio is the one taking a huge risk by opening buildings.
If, on the other hand, we are wrong and the schools open and there isn't any expansion of COVID-19, then we were relying on an abundance of caution based on some of the best scientific evidence available. I would much rather error on the side of safety.
I am exposing the lack of democracy here because process matters. It would be a much stronger job action threat if the membership was truly behind it. I don't know of any strike in UFT history where the membership didn't authorize it. Can anyone tell me about a union sanctioned strike that the membership didn't vote for? Whether UFTers are with the leadership or not, we won't know until the day a sickout/remote-out is called. The rubber stamp process to approve something this week will all be for show. The press may eat it up and not dig deep into what is actually occurring.
Mulgrew might just be betting that he can show the world overwhelming support from the Executive Board and the DA to strengthen his hand enough to get the mayor to back down. The problem with that theory is Michael Bloomberg told Randi Weingarten that he knows the UFT membership better than she does. He called Randi's bluff and the UFT gave in with the 2005 Contract. Has the membership changed enough in just the last two weeks of August to make a job action successful? We are trying to go from almost zero activism to the most militant labor action at lightning speed. A membership vote would sure give us a great deal more confidence that we are there.
What is positive about all of this is that the UFT rank and file is actually involved in what is going on in the Union. Members are educating themselves about what it means to be in a union. It isn't just about a good dental plan. The rank and file want more information. Traffic is consistently way up at this ICEUFT blog. 1,000 people (not all UFTers) attended an emergency virtual MORE meeting yesterday. Even though the caucus inexplicably used most of their presentation to organize for itself rather than make the main focus the possible strike, it is a step in the right direction that so many were interested to give up part of a Saturday in August to listen in. Sources tell me that after a little over an hour they were down to 500 on the call and by the end it was just 60. That's neither here nor there. The point is that UFT members in increasing numbers are trying to be an active part of their Union. An activist membership is what gives a union its strength. I hope and pray that activism is there during and beyond the current crisis.