One of the biggest reasons we lowly teachers have no voice in the UFT is because many, many delegates are "at large." In fact, most of the million names on the UFT ballot are AFT and NYSUT delegates. These delegates are chapter leaders, delegates from the DA, or simply people leadership finds useful.
Delegates come from all kinds of schools, and a delegate from a school with 12 members has just as much of a vote as a delegate with 300 members. In fact, for all we know, the school with 12 members could have ten delegates while the school with 300 could have zero. Does that sound fair?
It doesn't really matter, since they are all bound to vote the same way.
Our union leadership loves "at large" voting. That means any potentially insurgent groups are drowned out by more predictable groups, like the retirees who make up 52% of our electorate. If UFT ran the country and didn't like the way New York voted, it would give Oklahoma and Texas votes to correct what it perceived as our misjudgment.
The only thing our NYSUT and AFT delegates have in common is that each and every one has signed a loyalty oath, and each and every one will either vote as instructed or face expulsion from the elite, invitation-only Unity Caucus. While it's true that the UFT could simply send one delegate with 800 votes and save us a ton of money (and why not since we all know in advance how UFT delegates will vote), that wouldn't look good. It looks better to send 800 people to LA and have them vote all the same. That gives a persuasive illusion of democracy and makes most of us think that all these folks somehow represent us.
They don't, of course.
When I first started teaching, I voted for New Action. I don't remember why. One year, a guy from New Action became Academic VP. The UFT contested his election and demanded a revote, in which the guy won by a larger margin. From all accounts, he did a terrible job and was not reelected. Nonetheless, UFT Unity did not care for this. It was unacceptable that high school teachers select their own representative. So they changed the rules, and rigged the election further.
Now the high school VP, and all VPs, are elected "at large." That means everyone votes for them. So we no longer get to choose our own rep. This is precisely because we committed the unspeakable crime of actually choosing our own rep, once. So now we must be punished and this must never happen again.
I've only been chapter leader for five years, but they tell me UFT District Reps used to be elected by the chapter leaders, perhaps even by closed ballot. The whole secret ballot thing does not exist in the "democratic" Delegate Assembly, so if you raise your hand the wrong way and you are Unity, you could be not Unity the next day. Anyway, several groups of chapter leaders had the temerity to elect District Reps who were not Unity. So guess what Unity did?
They changed the rules. Now, committees of Unity members select the District Reps, and guess what? There aren't any more non-Unity District Reps. I think Stalin said it's not who votes, it's who count the votes. But in this case, at least, it's most certainly who votes, and anyone who dares vote the wrong way will be overwhelmed and drowned out by someone more reliable.
What's next? Will Mike Mulgrew hand-pick chapter leaders? Will they pre-slug the ballots to save the expense of counting them? Will they do away with troublesome elections altogether?
Only time will tell.
Thanks to AS for illustration!