Friday, December 27, 2013

UFT's Road Not Taken

Let's say our union has to decide who represents it at conventions. Since only 14% working teachers find it worthwhile to even vote in union elections, and since Unity-New Action has had an ironclad monopoly on elections for over half a century, it pretty much comes out to who Unity-New Action sees fit to nominate. So let's look at who they choose.

On the one hand, we give you hypothetical Chapter Leader A who doesn't do much of anything. He falls asleep at meetings. He even falls asleep when he's ostensibly representing you. When you have a problem, he says, "Put a letter in my box." He does this because 80% of the members who hear it won't do it. And if the other 20% bother writing something, he ignores them too. Let's say this guy runs a member-supported Sunshine Fund and uses the proceeds to take his hungry friends to dinner in upscale restaurants, though none of the members know exactly what the hell he does with the money. Let's say he never does a thing outside of school, he never advocates for his school, he watches it fall apart, and doesn't give a golly gosh-diddly-darn. Chapter Leader A signs the Unity loyalty oath because he doesn't care at all which policies the union may endorse.

On the other, let's take, say, real-live chapter leader James Eterno. James knows the contract like the back of his hand, and is faced with the prospect of being in a so-called failing school. He busts his ass trying to save it. He mobilizes members, bringing 75 of them to a PEP meeting. He speaks out in blogs, in newspapers, in media about what's going on. He enlists the help of politicians, and organizes the entire community to take a stand. He does everything he possibly can to save his historic school. In the end, Walcott and Bloomberg move to close it, because they can. UFT is still doing some sort of kabuki dance around some lawsuit that says DOE can't do this, but since it's largely a fait acompli, no one's confident the school is coming back. Eterno declines to sign the Unity loyalty oath because he firmly opposes policies like school closings, mayoral control, and VAM.

Which one of these chapter leaders do you choose to represent the interests of the entire union? I can tell you the United Federation of Teachers chose the former without reservation. Apparently, this chapter leader represents us better than Eterno. After that, the great minds at UFT leadership scratch their collective heads and ask themselves, "Why is it that 86% of working teachers don't vote?"

Of course, it could be the fact that we have morphed into the United Federation of Retirees, with retired teachers forming 52% of the voting bloc. After all, there's a UFT HQ in Florida, and I suppose they have meetings and gala luncheons. Doubtless they think current leadership is praiseworthy for providing such amenities. But there are those of us who find it ridiculous that retirees have most of the voice in our working future. I, for example, think retirees should have a voice in retiree matters, full stop. They should not be choosing anyone who represents working teachers.

And it could be the fact that many teachers have little to no faith in their chapter leaders, and that Chapter Leader A is not merely some abstract model. How do we move our union into a force that involves and motivates working teachers, rather than simply the phone call we have to make when we need a new pair of glasses?
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