A letter to the editor from three of UFT Solidarity's Councilmembers is in this week's Chief Leader Civil service newspaper. For the record, I played a part in helping out with this letter.
An email, slightly different from this one but with the same general theme of restoring more democracy at UFT meetings, has been sent to the UFT, NYSUT, and now the AFT. I signed on to all three.
We have now exhausted our internal union remedies. It could be the right time to go outside the union to attempt to get full democracy at UFT meetings.
To the Editor:
The coronavirus pandemic has brought many challenges for educators in city schools. In addition to the infection reaching into our midst, there have been frequent changes including the abrupt switching between in-person and remote instruction.
The United Federation of Teachers has made an effort to keep members informed about decisions and policies affecting them. There have been frequent town-hall meetings and monthly delegate assemblies conducted by phone. During these sessions, Michael Mulgrew's reports have been followed with question-and-answer periods, sometimes extended for discussion of a large range of topics.
These remote meetings have been well-attended. The delegate assemblies have drawn a higher participation of school delegates and chapter leaders than came to Albert Shanker Hall at the UFT's Manhattan headquarters before the pandemic. More than 2,000 elected school reps joined the January meeting by phone, a 40-percent increase over participation last spring that undoubtedly reflects a craving for information in circumstances that remain so fluid. However, the UFT delegate assembly was meant to be more than an information session.
During the past few months, delegates have attempted to bring school issues arising from the pandemic to the floor for debate. They submitted resolutions for deliberation on the blended-learning agreements and the ongoing negotiations between the UFT and the city over evaluation of Teachers providing remote instruction.
Such resolutions have been crowded out in favor of what amounts to business as usual: matters of primarily symbolic significance, expressions of solidarity and various commemorations. At the two most-recent meetings, wholesale endorsements of dozens of candidates for the City Council were bundled into single resolutions of 20 or more and moved to the front of the resolutions period.
Neither the apparent preference for business that is less than directly related to our work in the schools nor the way time is spent during meetings can be easily challenged by rank-and-file members. Last May the UFT leadership brought a resolution to amend the procedural rules for delegate assemblies without debate. The new rules left delegates unable to raise points of order or offer amendments to resolutions. Meetings cannot be extended past the time for adjournment without a vote to suspend the rules. These changes have given the assemblies the air of a perfunctory proceeding rather than a meeting for serious deliberation.
We believe the phone-conferencing technology could provide the means for any participant to raise a point of order, offer an amendment or make a motion to extend the meeting. This would simply require having operators put members into the queue for the question period.
The UFT's elected delegates deserve a voice in matters that leadership has direct control over, including agreements with the city. The delegate assembly should have its two-way communication restored in a manner befitting the union's democratic aspirations. We urge UFT members to contact email@example.com to help us bring more attention to these concerns.
UFT Solidarity Caucus Leadership Council