Saturday, March 29, 2014

Representation in NYSUT for Hilton Guests Only

If you follow this blog, you may know that I'm running for Executive Vice President of NYSUT. You're more likely to know that I object to the UFT method of bloc-voting, which I consider neither representative nor democratic. I'm more or less an acolyte of Diane Ravitch, who opposes VAM, Common Core, and mayoral control. All of the above are supported by UFT leadership, and based on speaking with working teachers every day of my life, I don't believe rank and file support any of these things.

Of course, when only 14% of working teachers deem it worth their time to fill in an X on a ballot form, it's hard to say. What I do know is that I represent one of the largest schools in the city, that my members selected me to represent them, and that neither they nor I get a voice in our state or national unions. Meanwhile, chapter leaders who represent 12 people get a vote if they signed the UFT-Unity loyalty oath, promising to represent leadership whether or not it reflects the will of their members.

Over the last few weeks, I've traveled all over the state, and I've spoken with a lot of representatives of smaller unions. One cornered me, and told me that the issues we were discussing meant little to him. That surprised me. Common Core was not a big deal where he came from. What bothered him was lack of representation. I'd just heard that UFT represented about 28% of membership, yet had about 34% of the vote at NYSUT. When I asked for an explanation of that, I learned this was because many small locals simply could not afford to sent representatives to the Hilton in Manhattan. Thus, UFT earns 20% more representation. I can only assume that's more or less true for every union that can afford to show up.

Does this mean that at least 20% of NY, a state as large as England, does not get a vote in NYSUT? It would stand to reason.

Can you imagine if the vote for governor were like that? NYC would get a large voice, but you'd likely hear little from the suburbs around Buffalo. It costs $400 a night to stay at the Hilton, and it wouldn't be my first choice to stay overnight. Nonetheless, the UFT is sending 800 people there for the weekend, despite the fact that for many, it could be a subway ride away. How much would UFT save if they issued metrocards rather than hotel stays?

More importantly, how can anyone rationalize squeezing out smaller or poorer locals? Shouldn't they have a voice in who runs their state union? It would be very easy to open up satellite voting stations and hook them up by video. Perhaps it would be even easier to issue ID numbers and allow everyone to vote via computer. That's not my area of expertise, but it seems easily accomplished.

And maybe, just maybe, NYSUT could use a secret ballot, and even UFT reps could vote their minds or conscience rather than whatever they're told by leadership. In Saratoga Springs last Monday night that idea came up, and it sounded like a very good one to me, at least.

Personally, I'm bullish on democracy. How about you?
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