Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Tony-O, Tony-O, Wherefore Art Thou, Tony-O?

I've often thought having a mobbed-up union boss would be beneficial to teachers, but the other day Mike Antonucci came out squarely against it. I pointed out that after the graft and extortion at least there'd be some benefit to rank and file. Mike suggested Miami where Pat Tornillo ran the union:

He led the nation's first statewide teachers' strike, a bitter walkout that kept 1-million Florida children out of school but gave public employees the right to bargain collectively.

He built the largest labor union in the South, securing higher pay for teachers who paid him millions of dollars in dues - money he used to help elect dozens of Democrats to public office.

Wow. He got higher pay for teachers and the right to bargain collectively. That's nothing to sneer at. And he used the money to elect Democrats in Florida. I'm for that. Maybe if he'd elected a few more we could have avoided the endless reign of George W. Bush.

The UFT, on the other hand, used dues money to elect Republican George Pataki so he could veto 25/55 and improvements to the Taylor Law. They used dues money to support Republican Serphin Maltese, who was instrumental in breaking two parochial school unions. And, truth be told, they've helped elect dozens of Democrats too. All in all, what's the problem here?

Former employees say he charged the Miami-Dade teachers union for $2,000-a-night hotel suites and trips to Europe and the Far East. According to published reports, he used his union credit card to buy tailored suits in Hong Kong, jewelry in California and python-print pajamas from Neiman-Marcus. He is even accused of using union dues to pay his maid.

Hmm...the UFT supports multitudes of trips to conventions for loyal Unity/New Action hacks. It pays 40 million dollars a year to support patronage employees. It pays the salary of a full-time limo driver to whisk UFT President Randi Weingarten wherever it is she goes. Now I won't speculate about python-print pajamas, but who would begrudge a couple grand to a union boss who actually improved conditions for working people? Not me. On the other hand, Ms. Weingarten, who I'm told makes in excess of 300 grand, has brought us the following:

1. Punishment days in August
2. Unpaid suspension based on unsubstantiated allegations
3. A sixth class for most high school teachers
4. Perpetual hall patrol
5. Halved prep time
6. Talk about class size, but no substantive action whatsoever
7. Enabling mayoral control, with no checks or balances
8. Severely abridged seniority rights
9. Compensation increases that failed even to meet cost of living...

....among other things. It's true Ms. Weingarten's innovative "more work for less pay" approach endears her to the likes of Rod Paige. But I wonder if we'd be better off under someone who actually worked to better our lot.

During a recent 30-month period, Tornillo and his wife charged an estimated $350,000 to the United Teachers of Dade, reported the Herald, which said it inspected Tornillo's credit card statements, union checks and financial records.

The spree came on top of the $243,000 salary Tornillo received annually as union president. He is now on unpaid suspension.

Why not get a union leader who works for us, and double, triple, quadruple the salary so he (or she) can do this stuff legally? It's a drop in the bucket, compared to the patronage mill the UFT runs. Did you notice the glitzy television campaign that preceded the UFT election? Ms. Weingarten spent millions of our dues dollars to plaster her name and expensive new logo all over Law and Order. Did anyone raise a fuss? Of course not. It happens before every UFT election so it must be legal.

But it does no good at all for those of us who actually have to work.

Let's get a mobbed-up boss and pay a million a year. Two million a year. What's the big deal if we're already paying 40 million a year in patronage? For that, we still have no one to stand up for us. And the fact is we need someone who will stand for us, rather than simply doing whatever advances her personal ambitions.

Despite popular sentiment otherwise, NYC's 30-year teacher shortage did not occur because the pay was too high and the work too easy. And its legacy benefits neither teachers nor the kids we serve.

Update: Mike Antonucci responds here, asking, "What do you call it when you pay an individual additional money to get the result you want?" I'd call it extortion (but I'm fairly certain Mike has something else in mind.)

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