Tuesday, December 13, 2016
UFT members may or may not know that my friend James Eterno got more votes from working high school teachers than his opponent. Taking that into consideration, why shouldn't he be UFT Academic High School Vice-President?
The answer is simple. Someone like James would be inconvenient for leadership. For one thing, he has consistently refused to sign a loyalty oath, and is therefore not qualified, in their view, to lead. It's kind of ironic that leadership sees the sworn inability to speak one's mind as indispensable for leadership. Me, I'd think in these troubled times that out-of-the-box thinking would be an absolute prerequisite for survival. Of course I haven't signed the oath either, so my thoughts are nothing but an inconvenience to those at the top.
In fact, in the 1980s, shortly after I started teaching, Michael Shulman of New Action had the temerity to go and get himself elected UFT Academic High School Vice-President. This was unacceptable to Unity, which insisted on doing over the election, only to have him win by an even higher margin. This was even more unacceptable.
So when UFT Unity once again controlled everything, it changed the rules and made all Vice-Presidents at large. Than means that everyone gets to vote on every VP. It doesn't matter if you teach elementary, if you are a paraprofessional, a retiree, or a nurse. You get to help select the High School Academic Vice-President. That's your reward for consistently voting the right way, and the punishment for high school teachers for being so uppity and daring to challenge the status quo.
This directly parallels the undemocratic United States Electoral College system. In fact, it also parallels the Voting Rights Act, which was rendered pretty much moot in 2013. That's discriminatory, and it's a national disgrace. Effectively removing the right of high school teachers to select their own leader is also discriminatory, and it's a local disgrace. High school teachers have no voice in leadership.
Pretty soon we'll be a "right-to-work" country, and UFT leadership will have to ask members to pay dues. How are they going to explain to high school teachers that taxation without representation is the way to go? That's a tough mountain to climb. Are they going to tell us that our choice for Vice-President is invalid because only they know what's good for us? Are they going to treat us like 4-year-olds and expect us to say, "Thank you sir, may I have another?"
I'll tell you something about James Eterno. He knows the contract up and down, back and forth, and can recall instantly regulations I've never heard of. He's been an enormous resource to me and many others. He was the chapter leader of Jamaica High School, and Jamaica teachers far and wide have nothing but respect for him. They contact him immediately from wherever they are ATRs with questions.
Yet UFT members at large have little access to him because leadership prefers to hire people like this one. Not only is James shut out from his rightful place as Vice-President, but he can't even help members on the phone as a UFT employee. I don't know about you, but I call the borough office to talk to staffers only as a matter of last resort. I know who I trust, and not being Blanche DuBois, I'm not willing to rely on the kindness of strangers. Extraordinary competence, alas, takes a back seat to the loyalty oath, and leadership scratches its head and wonders why we're in the state we are.
These are extraordinary times and leadership cannot break out of the weak, flawed thinking that endorsed junk science because it was the easy way. Leadership can't break out of the bind that endorsed charter fan Hillary Clinton and failed to criticize the hurtful policies of John King and Arne Duncan. Leadership can't see that its criticisms of Betsy DeVos apply largely to both King and Duncan.
Leadership continues to walk all over high school teachers with impunity, and they wonder why three out of four teachers don't find it worth their time to vote in union elections. Organizing effectively will soon be a fundamental aspect of our survival as a union. The "sit down and shut up" philosophy of UFT Unity will not enable our union to even survive.