I recently received an email from a UFT employee chiding certain schools for not appointing delegates to the UFT Delegate Assembly. It complained about those who asked why UFT didn't support Zephyr Teachout and suggested it was their own fault for not getting involved. Well, I'm pretty involved and frankly, the Delegate Assembly is just about the last place I'd expect to have my voice heard.
Whenever someone in leadership stands up against opt-out, for a substandard contract, most of the DA votes with them, predictably and on cue. When James Eterno spoke against the contract Mulgrew turned off his mike. When Eterno said we'd established the worst pattern ever for our brother and sister employees Mulgrew denied it, but offered no evidence otherwise. I've yet to see any, and I can't recall anything quite as bad as 10% over 7 years.
A young delegate from our school watched Eterno get shut down and said, “An elementary student could see how unfair this is.” She's very helpful in our school and she will come to the DA if I ask her. Still, I won’t ask her to come just to pass the time. Most members of the DA have taken an oath to vote with leadership and risk not only convention trips, but often UFT gigs if they vote the wrong way. In fact, the person who sent me that email would be out of a job if he stepped out of line. This would not be so bad if stepping out of line didn't entail opposing Common Core, mayoral control, bad contracts, and a host of other things that hurt not only us, but also the children we serve.
I represent the largest high school in Queens, we have multiple delegates, but making them come would not make a dent in the pre-determined results. When Unity leadership sends the message, everyone knows and acts accordingly. It's infuriating to see the DA represented as a place where decisions are made, as opposed to a place where people are telegraphed how to vote, with virtually no subtlety whatsoever.
I have never been recognized at the DA. I have better luck, and a larger, more diverse audience, in the Daily News. The last time I tried to speak, Mulgrew recognized a Unity Caucus member, three feet to my left, three times as I waved my hand in vain. Unlike most in the body, I was wearing a suit, but nonetheless invisible to the President. At that time, Joel Klein was trying to charge schools for opening before 8 and closing after four. My overcrowded school actually gave classes hours before 8 and after 4. I thought it was a pretty salient point, but our school of over 4,000 was not on Michael Mulgrew's agenda that day.
Those who complain of the UFT's failure to support brilliant, pro-public education Zephyr Teachout are not Johnies-come-lately, and it's not like they haven't tried to be heard at the DA. In fact there was a resolution at a DA last year to decline support for Cuomo last year and it was shot down. We followed up by deciding to do nothing in the WFP election, and it appeared unions, including UFT, would have withdrawn support of WFP had they supported Teachout. NYSUT and UFT did nothing in the Democratic primary and Weingarten made calls for Hochul, who thanked her by speaking at Eva’s latest rally. We all did nothing in the general and everyone knows just how well that worked out.
I have tried to get dissident voices heard by leadership, and the DA is just about the worst forum in which I could do it. When the contract was under discussion, I tried to enable an open forum. I had a journalist interested in moderating it. I was planning to record it and make it available to all, but leadership objected to the journalist moderating, suggesting he might write about it. At that point I knew they would never agree to having this forum recorded and made available to rank and file.
Our delegates actively support union within our school and will come make Hail Mary votes against junk science APPR or bad contracts. I could drag them monthly to hear about what a great job leadership is doing and how anyone who disagrees doesn't believe in democracy.
The fact is, though, that lack of interest in being delegates in some schools is a direct function of the cynicism engendered by a leadership that builds brick walls around people like me and other acolytes of Diane Ravitch.
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