Monday, October 09, 2017

Put a Letter in My Box

That was the advice I got from a former chapter leader. What do you do when you get advice like that? Me, I'd write a letter and put it in his box. I can't remember whether or not there was any follow up.

I do recall, though, that the main advice I got from the guy who I replaced was to say that to everyone and everything. "80% of them won't do it," he confided. I also recall the first time, as chapter leader, I had a UFT rep visit our school. She shared these very same words of wisdom with me. I'm thinking they likely came from on high.

When I became chapter leader I made it a point to get every email address I could. I opened a new gmail account and sorted the addresses by department so I could mail to one group at a time. I get email all the time and I answer it instantly. It comes to my phone and buzzes my watch. I figure it's my job to either respond to member queries, or find someone who can, but what do I know?

At UFT Executive Board they never tell me to put a letter in their box. (I don't even know whether or not they have boxes, and if they did their locations would probably be top secret.) I stand up and ask questions at virtually every meeting. At the last two, the response was some variation or other of, "We'll get back to you." When I cited Class Size Matters research on overcrowding, Howie Schoor questioned their assertion, based on DOE figures, that half of our students were in overcrowded conditions. He then said he'd get back to us. I've now had two reps from Class Size Matters offer to explain their research to the board. I told Howie the good news, but he hasn't seen fit to respond.

It's pretty clear to me that put a letter in my box is code for, "I'd rather not be bothered." I see increasing evidence this is unofficial leadership policy. It's telling that UFT's website offers no clue that members are free to address the Executive Board. It's only because the high school reps invite and enable people visiting that they've heard from so many abused teachers this year. I have no doubt the majority would rather approve the minutes, tell one another what a great job they're doing, eat the crappy sandwiches and go home twenty minutes later.

As for immediate action, I get mixed messages from UFT leadership On the one hand, I hear that we need to organize pre-Janus. The Constitutional Convention seems an ideal opportunity to foster that. I've got 300 members in my school. Thus far, after many meetings, I've amassed just six or seven buttons and two bumper magnets. I wore the button and every time someone asked about it I gave it away. I now have none. I got one bumper magnet at the citywide chapter leader meeting, and it's on my car. (The only reason it's still there is because I tend to park my car outside the building, so no one asks me about it.) My district rep. gave me one more, and I gave it away within minutes. I'm amazed that they've failed to utilize such a simple, consciousness-raising organizing tool effectively.

In fact, last week I stayed after the Queens chapter leader meeting for a con-con meeting. I already know about con-con. In fact, I recruited a whole lot of people to COPE, for the first time ever, so as to fight it. I went there specifically to collect swag I could distribute to members. Instead, I endured 30 minutes of a two-hour lecture, learned there were no more bumper magnets, and mercifully left before I had to hear the other 90.

As for organizing post-Janus, I'm just not sure. For me it's a moral imperative to pay union dues. But my most dreaded task as chapter leader is collecting $15 a head, per year, for our Sunshine Fund. Some people tell me the UFT didn't get them LIFO, the day came out of their bank, and therefore they aren't giving the union any more money. I tell them this money goes to a luncheon and gifts for members but they don't care. Some people tell me they have phone and electric bills. Some say they don't feel well-served by UFT but won't say why. I'm not confident they'll instantly agree if I ask they send $1200 a year to 52 Broadway.

A few weeks ago at Executive Board, some genius or other in leadership decided it would be a good idea to abridge our right to bring resolutions. It was odd because we weren't all that focused on resolutions. We had just come from a very positive meeting with HS VP Janella Hinds and were looking to work together. We walk out, go down to the meeting, and they essentially inform us we can go screw ourselves.

Here are a few things to ponder:

1. Technically, membership should guide the Delegate Assembly. The DA, theoretically, is the highest-ranking body in the UFT.  Executive Board should support th DA, and AdCom should support the Executive Board. In reality, AdCom makes most of the decisions for UFT and are never voted down by Executive Board or DA. 20,000 high school teachers have no democratically elected representation on AdCom.

2. NYSUT is the NY State teacher union.20,000 high school teachers have no democratically elected representation on NYSUT.

3. AFT is the national teacher union. 20,000 high school teachers have no democratically elected representation on AFT.

4. A whole lot of chapter leaders join the Unity Caucus. They all sign loyalty oaths and do as they're told. Many are motivated by patronage rather than activism. To be successful post-Janus, UFT needs to emphasize the latter over the former. Leadership is spectacularly unprepared to do that.

5. None of the high school reps have UFT jobs. We are activists, each and every one, doing the work regardless of what leadership does for us (or to us). Leadership seems to feel that spitting in our faces is somehow productive. Thus they demand advance notice of resolutions, even though we all teach full-time, come from all over the city and have very limited time to meet.

I've actually been trying to work with UFT leadership on multiple levels. I didn't attend the meeting with Janella just to pass the time. I have 500 other things I could be doing. I can't speak for the other high school EB members, but that anti-resolution resolution dialed my good will back by a good two years.

And hey, for every action there's a reaction. Unity doesn't consider things like that, and that's why we're facing, for example, Janus.

This was one of the stupidest moves I've ever seen, and stupid is not what's going to save the United Federation of Teachers. You want real activists to help and support you, UFT leadership? You might try treating us with a modicum of respect.

Otherwise, put a letter in my box.
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