Wednesday, January 25, 2023

The UFT Contract Teach-In

There's a good idea here somewhere. Involving members is a key element of effective union. It's the kind of thing I would push for. It's the kind of thing I'd unsuccessfully lobbied my Unity friends for over the last few years.  I've written a lot about missing pieces in our union, and rank and file involvement is THE missing piece

Now, though, is a curious time to do this. UFT explains that this is a practice that originated in the 60s, to protest the Vietnam War. In fact, then-UFT President Albert Shanker supported that war. History has proven Shanker wrong. Alas, as the current UFT President battles, in cahoots with our bargaining adversary(!), to reduce our health benefits, we need no hindsight whatsoever to know just how wrong he is. 

This teach-in, ostensibly, has to do with contract talks. Our union finds itself at a bizarre crossroads. Rather than simply negotiate with our employer for better working conditions, we also have to battle our own union leadership. In humiliating defeat after humiliating defeat, leadership has failed to remove benefits from retirees, our most vulnerable members. They are, therefore, coming after us instead.

What our members need to be taught-in is that our leadership made an awful, awful deal in 2018. They agreed to health care givebacks in exchange for a contract that provided us with at, or near, cost of living increases. What astute negotiator offers givebacks for such modest gains?

Mulgrew presented this deal much differently than how it turned out. He told us he had locked in premium-free health care for years, and it now appears the opposite is true. He told us there would be no additional copays or large sacrifices, and that's not true either. Mulgrew often speaks of how smart our negotiators are. However, with all due respect, this deal was idiotic. In fact, Mulgrew ended up sending us an email saying we had to either throw our retirees to the dogs or face premiums for the first time ever.

In 2018, Mulgrew and the MLC made a terrible deal, and everything we were told about it turned out to be false. (Full disclosure--I believed him at the time and supported the 2018 contract. This was an error and I regret it.)

Now we face the prospect of negotiating a contract with Eric Adams, a mayor we supported although he was bought and paid for by the charter lobby. Adams is expecting health care "savings," and by "savings" I mean cuts or extra expenses for members. After all, that is what MLC, including our leadership, agreed to in 2018. 

And make no mistake, Adams has every right to ask where the hell those "savings" are. Teach-in or no teach-in, Adams is not likely to seriously negotiate with us until he sees them. Our leaders signed that agreement, and it was shoehorned into our contract, without our knowledge, under Appendix B. I was on the negotiating committee three years ago, and I was never informed of what was actually contained there. Even if I had been, I'm not sure I'd have understood it. 

What I'm saying here is that the negotiating committee is not, in fact, privy to the closed door deals our leadership may make (or perhaps has already made). As a committee member, I had no idea the 2018 contract would lead to these draconian health cuts for anyone. I therefore doubt that the current negotiating committee knows what's really happening either. 

Whether or not that's the case, the committee has agreed to not share with us exactly what they hell they are discussing. Given that, how are we, rank and file supposed to know what's going on? We are very far removed from those actually signing the contract, Mulgrew and the chancellor. And let's get real--by the time it gets to us, who knows what's actually going to be in it? 

A teach-in could be a great thing. But it's based on the premise that leadership is actually interested in what we think. I am not persuaded that's true. I therefore do not believe this teach-in, however genuine the sentiments of its creators may be, is done in good faith. I believe, and the evidence bears out, that leadership goes behind our back to make stupid deals that benefit no one in rank and file. 

I believe, therefore, that leadership needs to be replaced. And if by any chance I should get a voice in any teach-in, that will be my message to my union brothers and sisters.

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