In most schools in the state, you have a smaller district than we do. From within that district, you elect a president. Your president represents you in NYSUT and AFT, and thus gets your voice out somehow. You can talk face to face with this president, this president answers your email, and this president does not tell you you do not believe in democracy in front of hundreds of people should you disagree with one of his or her decisions.
If your president does a good job, he or she wins re-election. If, on the other hand, your president doesn't get you a raise for over five years, you select someone new. Things like that don't happen in NYC because the overwhelming majority of teachers expect so little and are so mired in cynicism they see no point in voting.
I have no objection to paying union dues. I also pay into COPE. But it's disappointing to realize that I, like every working teacher, get no say whatsoever in what the UFT does with my money. That is the province of leadership, which has secret meetings with their invitation-only caucus, tells them what to do, and then hopes the rest of us don't pay attention.
Outside your building, you have no voice in what your union does. This happens when you are represented by a chapter leader. Let's say, for example, your chapter leader, like most, is a member of the elite and privileged Unity Caucus. If that is the case, your chapter leader has signed a loyalty oath to leadership. Your chapter leader can help protect your contractual rights within the building. Outside, where we are under relentless attack, he or she can do nothing. Your chapter leader goes to conventions and votes as told. Your chapter leader is forbidden to oppose mayoral control, VAM, the awful APPR leadership placed in the hands of John King, the miserable deterioration of seniority rights in the 2005 contract, or the Common Core nonsense that hurts not only us, but also the kids we serve.
On the other hand, if your chapter leader is not part of the elite and privileged Unity Caucus, your chapter leader has no voice in the union either. A non-Unity chapter leader can make noise outside of the caucus, but gets no real voice in the direction of the union. After all, that person doesn't know the secret handshake, doesn't have the decoder ring, and is not part of the top-secret processes in which decisions are made.
So it's kind of a lose-lose. The only voices that set policy for the United Federation of Teachers are those in the highest echelons. All we get to do is pay dues so they can keep having those top-secret meetings at 52 Broadway and jaunting about to conventions and forums in which we have no say whatsoever. Should we support a budget that will essentially give away the city to Eva Moskowitz? Gee, should we maybe think about all the UFT jobs that will be lost when she starts opening schools any damn place she sees fit? Should we maybe do something to stop that?
Apparently not. Leadership doesn't see fit to ask the DA whether or not it's a good idea to oppose or block a budget that cut the legs off of the man who many saw as the best hope for progressive education policy in the country. (If they did, the Unity wing would simply vote as they were told anyway.) Now I'm reading stories of how The Moskowitz Budget may be emulated elsewhere instead.
I don't know exactly when the UFT became about representing the leaders rather than the members. But I know it's a Very Bad Thing, and it needs to change if we are to have hope for the future. We are the last bastion of vibrant unionism in this country, and we need to wake up the non-voters. That will not happen as long as we embrace counter-intuitive nonsense that enriches our enemies without a real fight.
I'm glad I have a union, and I'm glad for its benefits. But knowing that it represents the elite and privileged Unity Caucus rather than rank and file is disturbing indeed.
Stories herein containing unnamed or invented characters are works of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.