City and State, a major mainstream publication, has published an article that includes the opposition to Michael Mulgrew's Unity Caucus coming together to run in the 2022 UFT election. The piece also focuses on the opposition winning victories at the November Delegate Assembly. Daniel Alicea, Norm Scott, and Bennett Fisher from United for Change are all quoted. The news media covering UFT politics and the Delegate Assembly is important news.
With a union election around the corner, a pandemic-intensified fight over class size is developing among the rank and file of the United Federation of Teachers.
Earlier this month, a group of opposition caucuses within the UFT announced that they had banded together in a long-shot bid to seize control of the union’s leadership.The rebels have had some initial success.
The same day that the new coalition named United for Change (UFC) announced its policy goals, it notched a symbolic win at a meeting of the union’s delegate assembly. The coalition, which has highlighted reducing class size as a central part of its grievance with the union’s leadership,passed a resolution among the union’s delegates that contains language calling on the union to push the issue in the collective bargaining process and support related state legislation.
“We had a victory tonight,” said Daniel Alicea, the UFC delegate who introduced the amendment at the Nov. 17 meeting. “We saw an amendment that shows that they’re willing to have a full-court press for class size.”
The left flanks of New York’s unions are increasingly calling to prioritize direct action and contract negotiation over legislative fixes to labor issues. The UFT’s most recent contract, which expires in 2022, contains negotiated limits on class size that have been in place in various forms for decades. Pre-K is capped at 18 students with a teacher and a paraprofessional, kindergarten at 25 students, grades 1-6 at 32 students, middle school at 30-33 students and high school academic classes at 34.
The UFC coalition wants the UFT to lower the class size limits further in addition to do more to enforce violations of the existing class size cap in its labor contract including an increase in litigation when necessary.
Alicea believes that one reason the leadership hasn’t lowered the class size caps under de Blasio is they believe asking smaller class sizes can only come as a trade off in salary negotiations. With billions of federal education dollars coming to the city through COVID-19 relief funding, Alicea argues that the time is now to fight over reducing the contractual caps and more.“We're looking for not just contractual caps, but also the contractual loopholes and exceptions and a grievance process that is further expedited,” said Alicea.
Norm Scott, a retired union activist and member of the UFC, cited the contract’s "half-class" loophole as a part of the contract the union should be fighting to amend or get rid of.
Under this exception to contractual class size limits, principals can exceed the size limit until there are enough additional students to make up half a class. So, in classes with 32-student limits, until a school reaches an extra 17 students in a grade level or subject area, the principal can load up other classes with kids past the limit.
“If we file a grievance, we lose,” he said, adding that the situation is much more challenging for smaller schools, with less classes to divy up the extra students.
On the 2022 election:
The history of the UFT is that of one-party rule. Since its founding in 1962, the Unity Caucus has commanded the union and held nearly all of its 12 union-wide leadership positions in spite of the emergence of an increasing number of opposition groups that go back to the ’1980s. The one deviation in Unity’s electoral grip on this administrative committee came in 1985 when an opposition caucus called New Action successfully ran a candidate for the union’s high school vice president role. After that defeat, the union changed the constitution and broadened which groups of members could vote for certain divisional positions — high school vice president included — which increased Unity’s chances of winning the high school seat back.
In recent electoral cycles, opposition groups, including Movement of Rank-and-File Educators (MORE), UFT Solidarity, New Action-UFT, the Independent Community of Educators, Educators of NYC, and Retiree Advocate-UFT, tried joining together in different combinations of alliances and fared better when they had a unified slate. That however, did not happen in the last election in 2019, and as a result the opposition groups lost seven positions their members had held on the 102-member Executive Board, which plays a policymaking role.
“One of the key factors in UFT elections has been the retiree vote, which generally has gone very high for Unity,” said Scott, who for decades has chronicled union politics on his blog, Ed Notes.
UFC is hoping to make in-roads with this demographic by protesting the union’s support for shifting health benefits for about 250,000 retired city workers to a new plan under Medicare Advantage. While a Supreme Court judge stopped the cost-cutting measure from going into effect in October, it resulted in swift backlash among many of the city’s retired employees. Hundreds reportedly marched against the new insurance package in July.
The UFT was founded in 1960, not 1962, and I don't believe there was a contested election in the first couple of years as a coalition from the founding organizations including the Guild and the High School Teachers Association led it. That said, it has been almost 60 years of one-party Unity rule since then. That is way too long. I am hopeful that the United for Change coalition that ICE is a part of can succeed.