Wednesday, January 24, 2018

So You Wanna Condemn the UFT?

Hey, I understand. The union sucks. You had a grievance, and you lost. You had a problem, and no one helped. You called the borough office, and no one called you back. I'm sure you're telling the truth, because all of these things, and many more, have happened to me personally.

You're finished with the union. You have no use for it. You don't even consider yourself part of it, so you say, "Where was the UFT?" Still, there are a few issues I have. Issue one is that you are the UFT, I am the UFT, and all our brother and sister teachers are the UFT. When I ran for Executive Vice President of NYSUT and spoke all over the state, Beth Dimino told me to make the distinction of saying leadership did this or that.

The thing is, though, that UFT does a lot of good things too. We fight illegal, frivolous and capricious letters in your file. We expose Boy Wonders. We get you representation when the miserable, lying SCI reps demand you spill the beans about your brothers, your sisters, or likely as not, yourself. We sit and figure out how you can fight back, and we support your fight every step of the way. I've done all those things.

Maybe your chapter leaders suck. Maybe they took the jobs because no one else wanted to. Now here's the thing--if your chapter leader sucks and only took the job because no one else wanted to, that means you didn't want the job either. So why is that? Is it too much work? Do you feel it's an unacceptable risk to be at odds with the principal? (I mean, it's certainly not the kind of thing that's gonna earn you a raise and a promotion.)

Well, if you feel that way, it's likely those chapter leaders feel the same way. If they suck, that's certainly a good part of why. So you can curse Mulgrew, call him names, blame him for your crappy chapter leader, and whatever. But it's on us too--what have you done to improve the union? Did you even vote? Because three out of four members couldn't be bothered. Did you run around asking others to vote?

In our school, we ran a campaign to collect votes. We bought the best chocolate chip cookies on God's green earth, and gave one to each and every person who handed us a sealed ballot. That's probably why I'm on the UFT Executive Board right now.  That's two nights a month I meet, in addition to the DA, a Queens meeting, and various ELL committee meetings I attend. That's not to mention being chapter leader of the largest school in Queens and writing this blog. (I have no idea how I find time to do any of those things.)

So ask yourself this: If the UFT sucks, what can we do to make it better? If your chapter leader sucks, run for the post yourself. If that's not your cup of tea, you can run for delegate, which is a lot less demanding. That will get you an invite to the UFT Delegate Assembly, where you can wave your hand around and hope that Mulgrew calls on you. Ask your chapter leader if you can be on the consultation committee, which should meet with the principal on a monthly basis.

If the only thing you've ever done is complain, you might want to reconsider your position. They say there are two problems with the UFT--membership and leadership. The first, we can start working on immediately.

I'd give a pass if you're an ATR. Honestly, I don't know how you do that. I'd be very unhappy as an ATR. One way I'm able to remain an activist is by being a classroom teacher. There's kind of a balance between frequently unpleasant things I see and deal with as chapter leader and the clearly good work I'm called to do for kids who really need me to do it. Were I floating around week to week and school to school I'm not sure how I'd handle it. I know people who do, though.

You wouldn't know it from the tone of what blogger Chaz writes, but he's evolved a very Zen mode of viewing his job. He sort of revels in the absurdity of his situation. I once watched him run a workshop on it. If I were running UFT, I'd hire him to do that at borough offices. It's kind of amazing that leadership doesn't see fit to find an ATR to run ATR workshops (let alone grant them representation).

But it's on us to let them know. It's on us to vote against people we oppose. And I'm gonna tell you one more thing--UFT doesn't win each and every fight. I'm really sorry if you lost yours. I've lost grievances to moron arbitrators who evinced no ability to understand English (though it clearly appeared to be their first language). I've fought to enforce class sizes, already the highest in the state, only to have $1400-a-day arbitrators tell me oversized classes are fine as long as teachers get one C6 period free per week.

In fact, I've brought class size resolutions to the UFT Executive Board only to be told that this was the province of the sacred cow called the 300 member negotiating committee. Here's the thing--I'm on that committee. I was not able to attend the first meeting because I had a prior commitment. Even if I had gone I still wouldn't be able to tell you what happened because there's some sort of confidentiality oath.

I can tell you, though, that with 300 people or more, there's very little hope for making any headway when you're a lowly teacher who thinks class size matters. Most of the 300 will have signed the loyalty oath and are bound to do whatever they're told no matter what. Once someone in leadership says it's a bad idea to have real class size regs, 98% of the committee members will march off the cliff following that leader like so many lemmings.

But I'll go to those meetings, and I'll continue to advocate against the hypocrites who claim to place, "Children First, Always" for class size enforcement. I will do my part. I could use help, though, and that entails you doing your part. If we all do our part, it will be harder for leadership and/ or management to debate things that aren't debatable. It will be harder for leadership to defend our 50-year-old ineffectual class size regulation (among other things).

It's on you and me to make leadership sweat. They're reading this, they'll read your comments, and they'll feel your actions. But it's on no one but us to act. If we don't act, we just enable. If we give up, we all lose, and we'll have no mechanism whatsoever to address the inequities and outrages in this system.

Come to an Executive Board meeting, say hello, and help yourself to a crappy sandwich your dues paid for. Next meeting is February 7th at 6 PM. If you want to, you can sign up and let leadership know exactly what you think.
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