Monday, May 19, 2014

Will the New Contract Divide and Conquer?

Is the name of U.F.T.'s Unity an oxymoron?  Does Unity fail to see how the new contract will divide and conquer its own constituency or has it intentionally planned it this way?    

A.T.R.s will be separated from the rest of the rank and file by a seemingly second-class system of due process.  They seem to get the short end of the stick.  Unity argues that their expedited 3020a disciplinary process will be beneficial to all involved (Memorandum of Agreement, pp. 38-40).  Perhaps, it may.  That is Unity's opinion.  But, did they bother asking any A.T.R.s first?  Doubt it.  From all I hear, A.T.R.s are staunchly against it.  They are suspicious, and rightly so.  The system has already dealt them a shoddy deal.  Why should their due-process rights be any less than the rest of the rank and file?  In many cases, they are victims of little more than Bloomberg's school-closing policies.

To add to further divisions, there will be a new class of teachers called "peer validators" (M.O.A., p. 24) who will help sit in judgement of all teachers in trouble.  They will receive $15,000 per year.  I can already smell the corruption coming.  Some A.T.R.s may decide to bail out, opting for a voluntary severance benefit (M.O.A, p. 36).

The new contract further divides the rank and file by creating a class of super teachers.  They will be called several things, including ambassador ($7,500/year more), model ($7,500/year more) and master ($20,000/year more).  The process for determining these new classes of super teacher is spelled out, but without much detail.  How, for example, will they decide the number of teachers to be designated as such? (M.O.A, pp.  25-31).  Again, I fear corruption entering into the process.  Could not this money be better spent on reducing class size and hiring more teachers???

The whole idea of a class of super teachers cuts to the heart of union solidarity.  Does Unity mean to buy off the approval of these chosen, "superior" few, perhaps with leadership skills, and further split the rank and file?  I do not like the idea.  David Coleman and his cronies of C.C.S.S. fame may feel uncomfortable with feelings, but feelings have proven invaluable in my life.  I have a very bad feeling about this "merit pay" disguised as something else.

The divisions cut deeper.  An older tier of teachers will be encouraged to take their experience and, perhaps, rancor and retire, leaving the rest of the rank and file behind.  If the contract goes through, these people must decide in June this year whether to retire or not.  If they do, of course, they will get their back pay in one huge lump sum.  It will be as if they hit the jackpot.  This is probably just the modern-day form of a buy-out with the exception that they probably should have already had this money coming to them.

Under the new contract, the U.F.T. will also create P.R.O.S.E. schools to further divide the union.  In these schools, the U.F.T. will encourage teachers to foster new practices, but at a cost.  The teachers will still pay their union dues, but they will be freed from some points of the contract.  Since our union is basically meant to protect workers' rights, I am somewhat worried.  These union-backed schools are supposed to mimic charters without using the word "charter" in their names.  Charters have a history of walking over the rights of their workers.  One hopes for more from a union-backed charter.   

Why does Unity seek to create disunity?  Does it fear a union emboldened and unified?  Unity may feel safe so long as only 17% of its active rank and file vote (as in the 2013 union elections) and so long as its retirees stay loyal.  

The more I think about Unity, the more I am sure it wants its membership to remain inactive.  So many protests occur in which teachers might unite with parents in the name of protecting our children.  Unity turns a blind eye.  I was told Unity even forbid fliers related to such a protest to be handed out around its halls when Diane Ravitch came to speak there.  

Unity seems to fear our power unharnessed, lest it go in directions it cannot control.  We might actually become the new Karen-Lewis-like C.O.R.E. and thrust aside "business unionism" in the name of "social movement unionism," as in Chicago.  Unity might go the way of the U.P.C.

Unity's  own members are discouraged from thinking independently outside of the caucus.   I am sure that such an attitude dissuades independent thought even within the caucus.  Unity members must abide by a loyalty oath.  If they have a blog of their own, and the name is not Edwize, they are advised to cease and desist.  God forbid anyone should have an independent idea of his or her own.  

The scope of issues facing unions in the United States today demand active participation from every member.  Yet, sadly, Unity fears this very thing.  It buys out its own members with handsomely-paid jobs in union offices, trips to conferences, promises of power and prestige.  The purse strings are secure.  

Can we be bought off with a $1,000 signing bonus and the promise that we might, ourselves, become a "master teacher" some day and rake in $20,000 more.  This contract further divides us from the other City unions who find it less than favorable as a pattern for bargaining.  Money buys a lot, but will it buy our solidarity and, if so, at what future cost to our rights?
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