I have been going to or listening to Delegate Assembly meetings since 1994. I have been a student of UFT history from the present back to when the Union started in 1960. The last time the UFT leadership was rebuffed by a major Delegate Assembly vote was probably in 1990 when the DA voted down a member loan to the city. A few months later, a loan with better repayment terms was approved by the DA and ratified by the membership. The DA even approved the 1995 Contract with two years of 0% salary increases that the membership later rejected. You probably have to go back to the 1960s to see the Union's leadership lose other important votes at the DA.
It happened this past Wednesday twice and almost a third time at the November 2021 Delegate Assembly. The significance of rank and file UFT Delegates voting against leadership positions cannot be ignored as it hasn't happened in modern memory.
Many of the Delegates are from the majority Unity Caucus (Michael Mulgrew's faction of the UFT). Unity has controlled the Union since the early 1960s. As has been widely documented, Unity requires its members to sign an obligation stating that they will "support the decisions of the caucus/ Union leadership in public or Union forums." Critics call it the Unity loyalty oath. Unity members vote the way the leadership tells them to, period full stop! This is real caucus discipline. If a Unity member votes against the Caucus, they can kiss goodbye most UFT job opportunities. Some of those jobs pay close to or well over $200,000 per annum and they come with a UFT pension as well as a DOE pension. Dissenters can also say goodbye to free all-expense-paid trips to AFT Conventions and NYSUT Representative Assemblies.*
However, this year the Delegates can participate remotely in the hybrid setting. Therefore, nobody, such as their UFT District Representative, can see how each Delegate voted. Unity Delegates are now free to vote as they see fit. We saw on Wednesday that many Unity members freed of their loyalty oath obligations will vote for opposition caucus proposals that they believe are in their interest even if it goes against Unity leaders. Three times during debate at Wednesday's DA UFT Vice Presidents spoke out on one side of an issue but then twice the Delegates rejected what the VP wanted and a third time they came very close to overturning what the VP argued for.
Let's deal with the close call first. From the floor, independent, former Unity Chapter Leader Nick Bacon raised a resolution on healthcare calling for much more transparency in the process if we are going to make changes to healthcare for active employees. Retirees are being pushed onto Medicare (dis)Advantage. Here is what we wrote in our notes of what Bacon stated and the Unity response:
Nick Bacon has a motion for next month for healthcare plan changes. UFT has a large weighted vote on MLC. There have been changes to retiree healthcare and putting new members on HIP. This should come to the DA and we should vote here at the DA before we vote at the MLC on healthcare changes.
Janella Hinds, VP Academic High Schools says having a healthcare committee will allow us to discuss healthcare so when the MLC has to make decisions, we can make informed decisions. We have never had healthcare votes as a right so we should vote against this motion.
An independent Chapter Leader from the Bronx vs the UFT Academic High School Vice President? This is normally a 90% vote or 80% vote against the independent. But no, the vote was 49% in favor of the motion and 51% opposed on the phone. Remember it is a hybrid DA so some are live in the hall and more are on the phone. The live people were not tallied but just raised their voting cards. Someone demanded to know the exact results. Mulgrew didn't allow a count in-person even though it was close. This is in violation of Robert's Rules but I digress. Some opposition Delegates began chanting, "Hands off our Healthcare! They soon thereafter settled down.
Next up was a resolution on lower class sizes through a City Council bill on health code occupancy limits in schools being updated. The resolution was motivated by Elementary School Vice President Karen Alford. She quite cleverly launched a preemptive strike against an amendment that might be raised. VP Alford noted very clearly that we shouldn't negotiate lower class sizes into the Contract because the money would have to come from somewhere else (like salary increases). The amendment is then brought to the floor saying among other objectives that lower class size should be a priority contract negotiating item and then there is an actual debate on making lower class size a contract demand. I thought for sure after the signal from VP Alford and others that the Unity faithful would dutifully vote no on the amendment to make lower class size a priority in contract negotiations. Then, it starts to get crazy when DR William Woodruff calls the question to get a vote on ending the debate. Independent Delegate Daniel Alicea shouts for a point of order on whether the person calling for the end of debate on this fundamental issue is on the UFT payroll. Woodruff is on the payroll and makes close to $200,000 per annum as a District Rep so it is a valid question if he represents his employer (the UFT) or the members in the school where he works one period a day. Woodruff takes a point of personal privilege on how he is insulted but the point that UFT paychecks can influence judgment has been made. I figured the amendment to make lowering class size a contractual demand would easily be defeated.
Then, a shocking event occured: 61% of the Delegates on the phone supported the amendment that among other things makes lower class size a contract negotiations priority. The leadership clearly lost. Mulgrew reversed course from earlier and now wanted a standing count of the live Delegates as he is on the losing side and more of his people are in the hall than on the phone. Live, they can be watched. The amendment still passes after the live votes are tallied. I don't ever recall the leadership losing like this on a DA vote in my time since 1994.
The drama did not end. The next resolution was introduced by Daniel Alicea that Mulgrew let sit there for 11 months since it was originally raised. It was on ending mayoral control of the NYC schools. Daniel made a thorough speech talking about how mayoral control is undemocratic, discriminatory, and more. This was too much for Mulgrew. Suddenly, he interrupted the speaker in midsentence to complain that someone in the room was broadcasting the proceedings to people outside. (Retiree Advocate had people supporting the healthcare resolution and a person from another opposition caucus was outside the building too.) Mulgrew said shame on the person who was transmitting the meeting.
Well, I guess he is calling shame on himself as the UFT was broadcasting this meeting through phones to thousands of Delegates and other UFTers can call in to listen too. Any one of them could have sent it through to the people outside. Mulgrew sounded completely unhinged during this tirade. He sent out his "goons" to shut the broadcast off as it supposedly violated UFT rules but he is the one violating the rules by transmitting the meeting through the air through phones. He then ranted about how our enemies would love to hear our deliberations. I got news for you, Mike: they have heard us deliberate for decades. Click here as part of this piece is a Daily News account of the DA and membership meetings before the 1962 strike. Mulgrew finally calmed down and continued the meeting. Daniel very politely took Mulgrew off the hook by withdrawing his motion as it mentioned the mayor's election which is now passed. Daniel asked for there to be a multipartisan new motion on ending mayoral control which sunsets in Albany in June of 2022 before giving up the floor.
One more resolution followed. It was on school safety. It was introduced and motivated by Alexandera Haridopolos from the opposition MORE Caucus. This motion had been sitting around for months just like the previous one. Supporters of the motion and an amendment to make it timely made clear that they don't want principals taking over school safety as they have too much power. Who could be against reforming school safety by hiring more social workers and guidance counselors but keeping school safety agents out of the hands of principals? This time Unity put up Middle School VP Rich Mantell who gave the Unity line that the amendments on reforming school safety were too confusing. 68% voted for the amendment and 75% voted for the resolution as amended on reforming school safety. The MORE rep's motion carried.
All in all, not a bad day for the new United for Change coalition. Mulgrew's response will probably be the return of his filibuster next month.
*Update: I was reminded tonight that this past April in the remote format DA, Unity lost a vote on a comptroller endorsement but they quickly recovered by the next DA. The Unity Caucus Delegate who led the charge against the Corey Johnson for comptroller endorsement, he wanted David Weprin instead, was banished from the Unity retiree Delegate slate. By the next month, Johnson was easily endorsed. The Unity faithful were put back in line.