Monday, January 11, 2016

Restoring Power to the Teacher Means Union Democracy

One of the most objectionable aspects of the Unity stranglehold on democracy is the utter lack of representation we have. I'm fairly certain Karen Magee and Randi Weingarten see it as a great honor that we're allowed to support their organizations with our dues money. They'd probably object when we say we have no representation, but that's certainly the case.

There's only one way for UFT reps to vote at the NYSUT convention, and that's whatever way Leroy Barr says it will be. In fact, at the DA last week, a UFT Unity member reported to me that UFT ballots at the Hilton were not only checked before submission, but also returned to those who made "mistakes."

On Saturday I attended a Stronger Together meeting in Comeswogue. You can see our local delegation, along with PJSTA's Brian St. Pierre, in the photo above. The leader of Stronger Together is firebrand PJSTA President Beth Dimino, who ran for a local position as NYSUT rep back in 2014. Despite having won an overwhelming majority from those in her district, Beth lost the position. Another friend of mine, upstate union President Michelle Bushey, told me the same thing had happened to her. One person told me someone at NYSUT told her the job of these reps was to represent leadership, not membership.

This is due to the phenomenon of at large voting. It means the entire state gets to select local representatives. It doesn't matter if Beth Dimino is enormously popular in her area. All of the NYSUT reps get to vote on every local representative, and because of the overwhelming strength of the United Federation of Teachers, whoever they like gets the job. I say "they" instead of "we" because only the elite, handpicked members of UFT Unity even get a vote. UFT represents 28% of NYSUT members, but because many small locals can't afford a weekend at the New York Hilton, it ends up with 33% of the vote. If they can muster 17% more, which is not all that tough with patronage everywhere, they win.

This lack of democracy is reflected locally with the absolute power of central UFT. Chapter leaders are still elected by individual schools, but that's just a quaint oddity in the system. Whether or not you selected a UFT Unity chapter leader, a UFT Unity person ostensibly represents you in both NYSUT and AFT. Also "at large" are divisional vice presidents. This is most egregious in the high school division, which once committed the unforgivable offense of electing a non-Unity VP. To correct this, Unity made sure all VPs are elected "at large," by all branches, by non-teachers, and by retirees. Thus, the VPs do not, in fact, represent the branches their titles suggest, but rather everyone.

By "everyone," of course, I mean the UFT Unity Caucus, which makes all decisions, tells everyone how to vote, and checks to make sure they play by their rules.  Restoring power to the teacher was the theme of our meeting. This is an issue on multiple levels. We have politicians like Andrew Cuomo, bought and paid for by corporate interests intent on destroying public education. We have autocratic school leaders who make decisions with no regard for those of us who actually do the work (let alone the kids we serve).

It borders on unimaginable that our union leadership would be yet another obstacle to restoring teacher power, but due to their thirst for a "seat at the table" they've pretty much cut the rest of us out of the equation. They've supported candidates like Barack Obama, who made sure virtually all of us would be judged by junk science, and now they support Hillary Clinton, who says she'll close schools that aren't above average. They ask for no concessions whatsoever from these candidates.

Our leaders buy into baseless nonsense to show they're open to reforminess, and are somehow surprised when their BFFs turn around and attack tenure and union. Now, facing Friedrichs, I see no change whatsoever. But there is some awareness here:

If we lose Friedrichs, we'll certainly be "back to basics." We'll have to relive the struggles of the last century. Leadership will have to battle for support, which will not be forthcoming from a group like the UFT, in which fewer than 20% of membership even votes in elections. This is in stark contrast with CTU, which under new leadership has mobilized and energized members.

We're gonna need something better than Michael Mulgrew and his secret plans, none of which I've ever seen come to fruition.
blog comments powered by Disqus