Sunday, March 04, 2018

If You're Not With Us, You're Against Us

I don't know how to put that more delicately. I really have to wonder about people who won't pay into union. As soon as Janus passes, I'll be supporting them. I'll be paying for their representation. I'll be paying for negotiations on their behalf. I'll be paying for any salary increase or benefit that's negotiated for them.

I read comments from people who won't pay. They say Mulgrew sucks. He did this, he didn't do that. Or Unity sucks. Or whatever. I've had this blog up for 13 years now, and I've done my fair share of complaining about leadership. But I've also taken action. For nine years I've been chapter leader of the largest school in Queens. I've run against the Unity Caucus in both state and city elections, and a few years ago I actually won a place in the UFT Executive Board. It was a minor miracle, but high school teachers have often voted against the machine. That's why Unity rigged the election so we could no longer select our own Vice-President.

It's often frustrating to work in a situation in which you're hugely outnumbered. You bring up a resolution and 95 people are vehemently against it. They explain why and it makes no sense at all. One of the people we ran with for Executive Board got frustrated after his second meeting and stopped coming. I can understand why someone might feel that way. I can also understand anger at the leadership, particularly from woefully mistreated people in the ATR.

But still, no matter what leadership does, no matter what they fail to do, it's on us. We voted for them, sort of, when three out of four of us failed to vote at all. If we are so apathetic that we can't drop a ballot in a mailbox, we have little right to complain. Leadership plays a role in that too. While it's nice to see them reaching out, organizing in schools, and sending people to homes, it's disconcerting to think this is the first time in my 30-plus year career they've bothered to do so.

It's a pretty rude awakening to go from expecting all to pay to having to reach out. Leadership still surrounds itself with loyalty oath signers and that alone keeps them isolated. They hire idiots to represent us and promote them for no reason other than loyalty. Sometimes loyalty oath signers comment on this site. They say the stupidest things and I'll read a few months later they've been promoted. Maybe one of them is your district rep. and you have all my sympathy.

But still, it's our union. It's on us to work to change it. It's a delicate balance. I wouldn't bother to do this work if I thought it had no value. When principals pull crazy nonsense, or harass and abuse people because some moron at "legal" said it was a good idea, someone has to fight. The only people who can do that are you and me.

I'm up for it. If you don't pay, you aren't. And I'm really torn about what to do when people I represent don't pay. Right now when people get in trouble, I try to find out how and why it happened. I ask questions. I scour the contract to find violations. I asked a UFT official if I would have to represent non-members and I was told yes, I would.

I send out a weekly email to my members. I have an email address I devote to union business. When members contact me, I respond. Sometimes I know answers right away. Sometimes I can find answers on the UFT website. Sometimes I ask my district rep. Sometimes I go to contacts both in and out of leadership. But I can usually answer questions pretty quickly, one way or another.

A former chapter leader of mine had a different approach. If you asked him a question, he'd say, "Put a letter in my box." I used to do just that, but one day he told me that 80% of members didn't bother. That's a good way to cut down your workload, but if that's your goal, why did you take the job in the first place?

I'm not sure what to do about people who don't pay. I guess I could get really enthusiastic and show them how dedicated I am. On the other hand, I could drop them all from my email list and tell them to put a letter in my box when they have problems. I could move them from my "right away" files to my "when and if I get around to it" files.

I guess I have to go to discipline hearings them when they get in trouble. But it's hard for me to keep up with my reading. Maybe I could bring a mystery novel with me and read it while the principal does whatever. Maybe I'll forget about all those rules the principal has to follow when he puts a letter in your file. Maybe I won't hear those details because Miss Marple was making a crucial deduction when they came up. Who knows?

Is it ethical to do that? I don't know for sure, but it's hard for me to imagine feeling very bad about it. Is it ethical to withhold dues?

Absolutely not.
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