Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Teaching in a Right to Work State

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From time to time in this space, you may note a disparaging word or two about UFT leadership. There are several reasons for this. One is that leadership has supported a host of counter-intutitive measures that hurt working teachers in its perpetual bid for a "seat at the table." Mayoral control is a biggie. We supported it when it came out, and then, after it was proven an unmitigated disaster, we demanded a few changes. When we failed to get them, we supported it anyway.

There is our support for APPR, which forces teachers to be judged on test scores largely beyond their control. There is our support for charter schools, which operate on a completely different playing field and yet are used by politicians and journalists to undermine those of us who teach all of NYC's children. There is our support for and participation in charter colocation, which reminds me of nothing more than a cancer to public schools. There's our abject failure to support opt-out, and our misguided trust in the Heavy Heart Assembly, Cuomo, Gates, John King, Mary Ellen Elia and the like.

And then there is a rigged election that deprives high school teachers the right to choose its own VP, not to mention the UFT choosing district reps who chapter leaders used to elect. Democracy finds it hard to breathe, let alone prosper, under loyalty-oath driven representation, as the UFT ensures those of us who follow the philosophy of Diane Ravitch get no voice whatsoever in NYSUT or AFT.  

But as we face a real threat in Friedrichs. The fact is, if dues retrieval becomes voluntary, the massive apathy engendered over decades by union leadership will cause massive losses in revenue, and will render collection the number one, if not the only priority, of the leadership that's failed to represent the feelings and struggles of working teachers for decades. Will it become the lot of chapter leaders to skulk around begging people for $1200 a year so Michael Mulgrew can negotiate sub-standard contracts, two-tier due process, and punch us in the face if we don't support Common Core? That's gonna be a tough sell.

On the other hand, it's not a whole lot of fun being in a so-called Right to Work State. Take a look at North Carolina, where teachers can't even make ends meet. The environment is not a whole lot different from that here, in that teachers and public schools are routinely blamed for all the ills of humanity. But the funding has been rolled back to the point where public schools can barely function, and the teachers are on long-term exodus from the state. Make no mistake, that's the agenda of the reformies, and Cuomo would do it in a New York minute of the parents and citizenry were less aware.

Union is our bulwark against this, and we must work to make UFT an organization responsive to those of us who see what's coming. Flawed though our union is, we must work to improve it rather than lie down and watch it be destroyed. As bad as things are, they could be much worse. A lot of us are working to make things better, and I expect to give more detail on that in this space in the coming weeks and months.

Friedrichs can hang over our heads like the Sword of Damocles, but we cannot give up. We cannot become North Carolina. If you think it can't happen here, take a look at Michigan and Wisconsin. No one thought it would happen there either. Because even if we win Friedrichs, that's just cutting one head off the monster. Surely another will grow in its place.

We need to be smarter and quicker than the reformies. Our current leadership has not proven up to the task. One way or another, we are going to help them, whether they like it or not.
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