Sunday, April 13, 2014

Arwen Invites a Conversation About Union Democracy

 by special guest blogger Arwen E.

I received an e-mail from the UFT's Janella Hinds and Sterling Roberson the other day.   

It began:

"Dear Arwen,
Educator-driven unionism!"

It mentioned current contract negotiations next.  (We've waited for this awhile, but I understand fully that negotiating with Bloomberg would have proven very difficult at best given his attitudes towards teachers:  hold their "feet to the fire").
The Hinds-Roberson e-mail continues:

"While we are engaged in this important work, it is our philosophy as vice presidents of academic and career and technical high schools that our union is BY and FOR every member. Only through dialogue, collaboration and action will we be best able to advocate for what is best for our students, schools and profession."

I wish I could agree that our union is "BY and FOR every member," but I have learned that it is anything but that.  It is largely "BY and FOR" one point of view. 

I have learned about the UFT-Unity Loyalty Oath and the powerful purse strings attached. I have learned how this harms non-Unity as well as Unity delegates from voicing their opinions or those of their constituencies.

Due to the Unity Loyalty Oath, 800 members are expected to vote the same way.  Both Ms. Hinds and Mr. Roberson were elected as NYSUT board members last week.  I am sure they are deserving.  Yet, I wish that they had been able to win an election in which 800 delegates were not bound to vote the same way.  Although the honors for Hinds and Roberson seem well-deserved, the victory is shallow when the democracy is a sham. 
In the 2013 UFT elections, MORE gained as much as 40% of the votes in high schools.  Yet, their candidates were excluded from participating in not only UFT high school leadership, but also NYSUT and AFT elections.  This winner-take-all policy severely mutes the voice of the people. Our Union policies are not "BY and FOR every member."

From all that I can tell, Unity really takes very little interest in the voices of teachers today.  Less than 20% of current membership voted in the 2013 elections.  Instead of trying to encourage current members to vote, Unity succeeded in having the retiree vote count for even more by changing the cap.  The UFT is one of the only Unions in the nation to allow their retirees to vote. Unity recognized full well that retirees will more than likely vote Unity.  According to one retiree, "I generally vote Unity...if I like the status quo."  We are not living with the status quo though.  Teachers are under attack as never before.  The public-education system of the United States risks extinction.

Last Thursday, there was a NYC protest against Andrew Cuomo's policies favoring charter schools.  I do not know why our Union turned a deaf ear.  There are plenty of teachers waiting to be mobilized.  Teachers share so many common interests with the parents who support public education.  Yet, Unity was absent. By his own admissions, Cuomo hates me by way of my profession, public schools, my union and, indeed, all unions.  Our Union should be leading our defense, not refusing to ruffle the feathers of someone who seeks to destroy us all!

I know there are plenty of highly intelligent Unity delegates, but one can hardly know this when they are not allowed to exercise their free speech outside of the Unity Caucus.  They are forced to leave the caucus as drones directed to vote as one.  I have read and heard so much of intelligence from opposition candidates.  They have their own blogs and websites, with distinct points of view and some good debates via the comment sections.  Apparently, Unity is not tolerant of the same.  If you want your paycheck, you might want to shut up and toe the line.  It is sad.

I am aware that Mulgrew took a more conciliatory tone at the last D.A. meeting and I am very thankful for it.  I hope it is heartfelt and not a Campaign of a Hundred Flowers.  It is my opinion that the people who think freely and question freely without fear of repercussion, forming their own conclusions and supporting them logically and passionately as their own, without being directly or indirectly paid to do so, will always sound more intelligent than parrots. 

Hinds and Roberson conclude their e-mail to me in the following manner:    

"It is vital that we have the difficult and honest conversations necessary with one another and work together to ensure that we as educators are driving the most important decisions that affect our schools, students and profession. Only through asserting our collective voice on every level, from school-level consultations to the national stage, will we protect and strengthen the most important institution in America — public education.
"Thank you for the work you do."
In solidarity"

These are "difficult and honest conversations," only I am afraid no one at Unity is listening to me or, for that matter, to other voices.  Unity's "collective voice" is not collective and in many cases, on many important issues, sadly, it is silent.     
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