Based on the many comments we received today, I think there might be a consensus that nobody is convincing anyone to either opt-out of paying UFT dues or not opt-out. Therefore, it is time to close the debate. We are just wasting everyone's time with repetitive arguments and comments.
Those on one side feel the UFT is an awfully run organization that exists to feather its own cap and nothing more. They believe that a large-scale opt-out of individual teachers will send a loud message to Michael Mulgrew and the Unity leaders who will get the message and start suddenly coming through for us so that members will no longer leave the UFT.
We counter by saying there is no need to reinvent the wheel. We comment on this all the time and now we will post a replay of a piece we did in 2019 on this topic.
We'll follow that up with one from 2020 at the height of the pandemic so you know that it is extreme right-wingers who are trying to convince us to leave our Union. I'm staying and hoping we get a united front against Mulgew-Unity in the 2022 election.
The May 2019 piece:
NOT PAYING UNION DUES WILL NOT IMPROVE WORKING CONDITIONS
On just about every topic we write about recently concerning the schools in New York City, one or two or sometimes more comments are written saying that routine extensions of probation, the broken testing system, school on Monday, December 23, etc. are just more reasons why we should stop paying union dues and drop out of the UFT. I disagree with these commenters but not because you don't have a point that UFT advocacy leaves much to be desired.
I agree wholeheartedly on this point and nobody has been a more robust critic of the UFT in public than me, including while serving on the UFT Executive Board and at the Delegate Assembly. However, the commenters who want to drop out provide no viable alternative to the union we have. You say the UFT doesn't support us so to protest we should stop paying union dues. Short term, you will keep more money but long term you are dooming all of us to much more and deeper misery. Quitting the UFT is not the answer unless you are organizing something better which I see no sign of anywhere in the New York City teaching force.
Understanding all of the UFT's faults, including a lack of a real democratic structure, let us still acknowledge that NYC teachers during the current contract will eventually start out earning $61,000 per year and max out after 22 years making over $128,00 per annum with good benefits and, except for Tier VI, a very good pension. Do you think our salaries, benefits and pensions are in any way, shape or form possible without a union? Be truthful, please if there are comments.
Beyond the wages and benefits, you say the UFT doesn't defend us very strongly and in many cases, they merely go through the motions by pretending to advocate for members. I agree there is some truth here. UFT's advocacy is not full force like say the way PBA President Patrick Lynch defends his members or TWU's John Samuelson supports his. Let's accept it here as a given that the UFT is not always behind teachers 100% although I am sure many who work for the Union would disagree with that assertion.
The question then becomes this: What are you going to do about the sorry state of the UFT in many schools? If the answer is you are going to drop out and keep some more of your money, well how does that help our cause?
The argument I have heard is that if we all starve the UFT beast, then the Union leadership will be forced to work harder to support us to win back our dues money. There is a giant flaw in this argument as I see it. Many in the UFT leadership are basically incapable of changing and dues money or no dues money, they aren't becoming a militant union on behalf of their members. It is not in President Michael Mulgrew's DNA. Any show of activism is purely for show. The only game he and many of his Unity Caucus followers will play is the political game to try to convince the politicians to support us. They do play this game well at times.
These are not great political times for unions but we have kept a core of a decent salary and benefits. The UFT will still play the political game whether they have $100 million in the Union treasury or 100 pennies. If they only have 100 pennies, they will just be even weaker advocates for the members than now. If thousands of UFT members drop out and are not organized into anything, do you think the city is going to say we better listen to the teachers? No, we will all be that much weaker.
Do you truly feel that Michael Mulgrew is going to become Eugene Debs if half of us leave in order to convince the other half to stay? It won't happen. The militancy has to come from the rank and file. It will have a much greater impact if those militants are UFT members.
Potential defectors need to face reality. There is absolutely no evidence or historical precedent that anyone can find showing that weakening unions by dropping out and leaving the union with fewer paying members and thus fewer resources leads to improved wages, benefits or better working conditions. Find me an example, just one, where this has worked and I will listen.
There is plenty of evidence, however, that working people in states that have right to work laws (unions can't force workers to join a union or pay a fair share fee if a non-union member) do worse economically.
From the Economic Policy Institute 2018 study comparing right to work with non-right to work states:
- Wages in RTW states are 3.1 percent lower than those in non-RTW states, after controlling for a full complement of individual demographic and socioeconomic factors as well as state macroeconomic indicators. This translates into RTW being associated with $1,558 lower annual wages for a typical full-time, full-year worker.
- The relationship between RTW status and wages remains economically and statistically significant under alternative specifications of our econometric model.
Now that we are right to work in the public sector nationally after the Supreme Court ruled last June that government employees cannot be forced to join a union or pay fair share fees for what the unions do, those of us who are union dissidents are left with four choices:
1-We can shut up rather than be critical and ask to join the in-crowd (become Unity UFT cheerleaders).
2-We can quit our union, go home and hope for the best.
3-We can try to form a better union.
4-We can attempt to bring about change from within the union while still being critical of its flaws.
I still believe, until someone can convince me otherwise, that choice 4 is the way forward. We are better off staying in the UFT, even if we despise much of what our Union's leadership does, or rather often doesn't do, to defend us. Change happens in schools when we persuade our colleagues that it is in our collective interest to be active and force the UFT to support us. Dropping out to save some money each check is the wrong answer; it is pure "me only" selfishness.
The May 2020 piece:
NATIONAL RIGHT-WING ANTI-UNION PEOPLE ARE PUSHING WORKERS TO OPT OUT OF UNIONS
Nobody that I know of has expressed complete rage in public (using their own name) except for me about the UFT's lack of action in March when the Union was not willing to pull members out of schools that had COVID-19 cases. The UFT cares more about protecting their dues than the lives of their members. But what to do about it?
There is a group of individuals that say we should cease paying dues to such a morally bankrupt organization. They then provide a compelling list of other UFT failures including but not limited to: the 2005, 2014, 2018 Contracts with paltry raises and huge givebacks, the 2009 agreement to reduce the interest on the fixed TDA from 8.25% to 7% that CSA (principals and assistant principals) and PSC (CUNY teachers) have not had reduced, Danielson observations, Tier VI pensions, four years to get tenure and routine extensions of probation, etc. These arguments are all valid.
Even some of my colleagues who are very pro-union want us to consider encouraging our readers to drop out of the union. I thought about it. I called it a potential "dues strike" and did some research on how those who went on a "dues strike" could still be protected in case they were in trouble at work. Every avenue on the internet I went to would lead me to anti-union websites that want to finish unions off and use our anger with the union leadership as a justification. There is one group that will even take your money and support you as long as you are against union action.
From a critic of this organization:
The organization focused on the bottom line, literally, because it barely raises enough money to sustain itself, and as a result, does not provide its employees with decent wages and benefits. This was always troubling to me especially since we represented teachers who are underpaid.
The structure is decentralized with so-called hubs in Orange County, CA and Alexandria, VA although there is no management actually in the Virginia office.
I thought this was an organization focused on advancing the teaching profession but saw little evidence of that. In fact, there are no teachers in senior leadership at AAE. They'll say that the board is made up of teachers but they hardly have any say in day to day work and the founders have zero K-12 experience. I found it's a front organization created to sell teacher liability insurance. In fact, the founder was an insurance salesman, which now all makes sense. I kinda feel duped and so should teachers if they think this is more than an organization that tried to sell liability insurance.
Advice to Management
If you are anti-union, say so. If you are pro-teacher, act like it more than selling a product. If you are trying to improve the teaching profession, prove it. Otherwise, be who you really are, an insurance company (but currently in disguise).
These people are not our friends. A separate right-wing organization that is Koch funded is backing a lawsuit by two Chicago teachers who crossed the picket line during last year's successful strike and now want their union dues back. The Chicago Teachers Union only lets members stop dues in September of each year. Here is the reaction to the suit from a CTU lawyer in the Chicago Tribune:
In response, CTU attorney Robert Bloch said the suit was part of a national effort to hurt unions and workers’ rights.
“This is another anti-worker lawsuit from a reactionary, Koch-funded law project, filed as part of a coordinated, national right-wing effort aimed at undermining the rights of workers and their unions," Bloch said in a written statement. “We operate stringently within the letter of the law” governing dues collection, he said.
I believe those right-wing funded or at least inspired individuals might be two or three of the regular commenters on the ICEUFTblog. The two Chicago teachers who are suing for their union dues back are Ifeoma Nkemdi and Joanne Troesch. They sued the CTU, the Chicago Public Schools, and the AFT to get their dues money back. These two scabs from last year's strike were tried by the union.
Someone who crosses a picket line could face “appropriate charges” by the CTU executive board and then go through a judicial process akin to a trial, according to the union’s bylaws. If found guilty, they could be fined, or even expelled.
In March, the CTU informed Troesch and Nkemdi that they had been found guilty of violating the union’s internal strike policy and would be kicked out of the union unless they paid a fine equal to the amount of money they made during the strike, according to copies of the notices.
It's not dues first at the CTU. They don't want teachers who are scabs in their union.
Nkemdi said she was paid for the days during the strike when she worked, helping out with child care alongside nonunion staff, since schools remained open for students who needed care. When she walked by the picketing teachers, they called her names.
“They called me a scab. They said, ‘You turned your back,’” she said. “They were just saying how dumb and stupid I was. ... It was very traumatic, and I knew right then and there that I had to take a stand. I wasn’t going to be bullied out of my decision, and I wanted to make sure other teachers, if they felt the same way that I did, that they had opportunities without harassment and without bullying to go ahead and do so.”
There is no defense for crossing a picket line and making your brothers and sisters face the risk from the strike while you get paid.
These are the types of teachers and groups that are backing pedagogues who want to quit their unions. I looked around if there were non-right wing alternatives and I couldn't find any.
Quite frankly, I am in a terrible bind now. I despise what the UFT did in not telling people to leave unsafe buildings in March and letting those three days of staff development occur on March 17-19 at the height of when COVID-19 was spreading in this area. UFT inaction played a role in getting people sick. I know full well the Union will probably have no good answers in the fall if there is a second wave of COVID-19. Michael Mulgrew, in my opinion, will not tell members to leave unsafe situations as he did not in March and has been silent on the question since then.
In addition, it is virtually impossible to change the UFT electorally since Mulgrew controls very tightly the flow of information. I have said on many occasions that it is unfeasible to get to the huge number of UFT retirees scattered all over the country to get them to answer yes to the three questions Politics 101 says must be answered yes before voters will vote for you:
1. Do they know you?
2. Do they like you?
3. Do they trust you?
I still keep praying that something will happen to wake up teachers so that they demand a real say in their union representation. I even did the research in 2017 to find out what it would take to pull one of the three teaching divisions (high schools, middle schools, elementary schools) out of the UFT and start a separate union. Just to be clear, if a group broke off and started their own bargaining unit, they would keep all current salary and benefits, including the welfare fund. The Taylor Law taketh away double pay in a strike but it also giveth the right to keep a contract until you negotiate a new one.
For high schools, it would take about 100 activists to get about 60 signatures each from high school teachers exclusively to get a decertification referendum to start a separate union. At the time this was being pondered, the daughter of High School Teacher's Association and early UFT leader Roger Parente got in touch with Norm Scott to defend her father's honor. Doctor Matilda Parente and I soon thereafter became email friends. I think she saw me as a spiritual heir to her father. Chaz was also notified and did not discourage this push for divisional unions. We asked for 100 activists. So how many volunteered to help? Ten. Maybe COVID-19 has changed things and teachers are no longer willing to accept a union that would send them into unsafe buildings. I don't know.
Electoral or structural change is tough but the alternative right now to the UFT is right-wing and neo-liberal groups who want to destroy public education and make working conditions and salaries much worse (see Moskowitz, Eva for a possible future for education). They could do real damage in this economic climate. I don't support Mulgrew and I don't endorse Koch. The UFT might react if a bunch of school Chapters go on a "dues strike" with demands for union reforms. Scattered individuals opting out mean nothing even if it is a thousand lone wolves. You will only weaken the UFT more than it already is.
I thought about if there is anything of value in the UFT. There is. The school Chapter level is where there is still real democracy (Chapter Leader, Delegates, School Leadership Team, School Based Options, PROSE, Chapter Committee, School Safety Committee). A majority can still have a great deal of say in school-based decisions if they are organized. If you leave the union as an individual, you lose a chance to serve, vote, or have any influence at the school level. Some schools still do it right. Make sure yours is one of them.
My best hope now is that more schools will become organized and we will stand by them if they take action as we did in March when UFTers asked me if they could stay out if it was unsafe. It is still worth the price of paying dues to have a say in how your school is run. If everyone in your school is on the take or you are an Absent Teacher Reserve, then I totally understand your frustration but rather than quitting, expose the corruption out loud like we bloggers do. You'll feel better and the world is listening.
Finally, I have trouble making the stop paying dues argument in my own home. My wife (a great union activist) told me it was not up to me to lead anyone who wants to quit the UFT. She correctly pointed out that as a retiree, I switched over to her health plan and face absolutely no risk if I leave the Union. I pay dues basically for symbolic reasons as I get no substantial material benefit from being a UFT member.
I have nothing much to add in 2021 although I think it may be possible to see people being more receptive to a different type of union now.
This is my last piece for a while on this issue and also the last time we will be accepting comments on this topic. Cue the cursing out James for censoring your comments.
The last word goes to TJL, no leftist:
To the opt outers: I get it. $1500ish in dues and terrible service. This is what happens in a monopoly. However with no Union at all there is no contract, no grievance. The boss tells you if you don't like it, there's the door, don't let it hit you on the ass on the way out.
The answer is to get rid of exclusive collective bargaining and allow competition. I may not agree on national politics but I'd certainly rather be represented by James, Camille, Jeff Kaufman, Norm Scott, Jon Halabi, and some others I'm leaving out rather than the likes of Randi and Mulgrew.