Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Why Is There a Revive NYSUT?

There are a lot of stories floating around the net about this. There's a grain of truth to some of them. Many of  them revolve around Governor Cuomo. They say that NYSUT President Richard Iannuzzi wanted to order three tickets for Andy Cuomo's thousand-dollar-a-plate birthday party, and that Executive Vice-President Andy Pallotta not only bought an entire table of ten, but also gave seats to several of his Revive running mates. Iannuzzi then made any outlays of more than 5K subject to a vote. That's true.

There is of course the myth that Pallotta, a product of UFT Unity and a long-time UFT District Representative, wanted to stir up the state union, because he didn't deem it active enough. Pallotta, the sitting Executive VP, is in charge of legislation. On his watch, we've seen not only a crippling tax rule, but also a Gap Elimination Adjustment that cuts state aid. So districts get less state money, and can't raise taxes to compensate for it. This has cost plenty of NYSUT jobs, and has also saddled hapless kids with higher class sizes.

There's then the story that NYSUT leaders belong to some super-exclusive club, and blogs overstating the membership fees. There are ridiculous contentions about one of the VPs, who doesn't play squash, playing squash there. I always thought squash was a vegetable, but regardless, this club was used as a place of business. People tell me there are Revive tweets suggesting they should have done business at McDonald's. Maybe the blogger in question didn't know the membership was 30 years old, or that neither of the officers were working there 30 years ago. I don't know.

What I do know is that Andrew Cuomo came into office promising to go after unions. I'm a lifelong Democrat, but I found that so repulsive I voted for a third-party candidate, for the first time ever. And the first time Cuomo ran, NYSUT sat out the election in AFL-CIO, which resulted in the AFL-CIO endorsement of Cuomo. Personally, I'm mystified as to why union would endorse someone openly hostile to us, but as NYSUT declined to vote, they let it pass.

What I'm hearing, though, is that NYSUT is no longer prepared to sit idly by, what with abundant evidence that the governor values charter schools dearly, and public schools not at all. If NYSUT were to vote NO on Andrew Cuomo, that could cost him a labor endorsement he values. (We, of course, are public school teachers, and he couldn't care less about us.) And were that to happen, we could stand to lose our much-coveted "seat at the table."

Thus, UFT-Unity raised Andrew Pallotta has put together a group of people to challenge everyone but himself, and the rest of the NYSUT officers decided to run for their jobs. This was a very good deal for Andy Pallotta, as he could not lose. However, someone went and decided to challenge him, and that would be me.

I've been awakened by writing this blog, by running for chapter leader,and by watching my union create an inner circle of people who signed loyalty oaths to support whatever they were told to support. That included things that hurt teachers--mayoral control, VAM, Common Core, and a contract that decimated seniority privileges. Personally, it's hard for me to understand how an education activist could support causes like those, and I'm still mystified as to how any of those things benefit teachers or students.

And spreading this program statewide would be a huge error in judgment. We simply can't have it. The Revive candidates protest too much, claiming repeatedly they are not beholden to UFT leadership. Yet only last year Pallotta sent NYSUT staffers to campaign for UFT fave Bill Thompson. Perhaps Mr. Pallotta was unaware NY mayor is not a state position. It's odd that when asked point-blank in Melville whether or not he'd support Cuomo, yes or no, he hemmed and hawed until the crowd dragged out of him the statement he would not personally support Cuomo. I don't know a single member who supports the atrocious anti-education, anti-union, pro-corporate policies of Andrew Cuomo.

But the member who supports Cuomo, whoever he or she may be, should vote for Revive, in the unlikely event he or she has a vote. NYC voters are all members of the Unity Caucus, and cannot vote for Stronger Together (or me) under pain of expulsion from the caucus, a proud tradition initiated 50 years ago when members were ejected for opposing the Vietnam War. They were wrong then, and they are wrong now.

On the other hand, if you don't support Cuomo, tell your chapter leader you want him or her to vote for Stronger Together. Stronger Together will fight destructive policies rather than enabling or supporting them. Stronger Together will work for educators and NYSUT members, and Stronger Together will altogether halt the myopic and misguided policy of begging for a seat at a table on which we are the meal.

And on the first weekend of April, hundreds of locals will elect Stronger Together. From thereon in, no one on the staff will spend time orchestrating coups rather than working for members. We will find ways to improve conditions for working people in New York State, and if our corporate, privatizing pals don't like that, too bad for them.

We are the union, we were here before Andrew Cuomo was here, and we'll be here after he and his mad presidential ambitions are nothing more than a gladly-forgotten memory.

And the answer to the question in the title? Revive NYSUT exists so that Andrew Cuomo can get the AFL-CIO endorsement again. They will tell you many other reasons, but that's the only one that counts. UFT leadership is used to getting what it wants.

This year, they'll have to make do with democracy.
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