Wednesday, January 13, 2016

The Problem With Friedrichs and the UFT

My friend Harris emailed me the other day, saying when the transit workers lost their dues checkoff they had to run around asking people to pony up, and they succeeded about 75% of the time. Now that would be out of an activist union that had elected a new leader and gone on strike. The United Federation of Teachers is in a somewhat different place. What happens to chapter leaders when we lose Friedrichs?

Do we become vaccuum cleaner salesmen, like the ones on the old TV shows who throw dirt on the floor and then show how well we can clean it up? Will we be expected to cold call every single person in the school and beg them for money? After all, maintaining 52 Broadway has got to be expensive. There's the DA, and then there are those top-secret NYSUT meetings the loyalty oath signers go to. I wouldn't know, except by the end of the DA I'm usually starving, and some of them come down with sandwiches only for The Chosen Few. Naturally it's a great honor to pay for them.

And then someone has to pay for all 850 of them to stay at the Hilton and vote Any Damn Way Leroy Barr Says. And for the AFT Convention we have to send them to California to vote Any Damn Way Leroy Barr Says. And then there are the upstate NYSUT conventions where they vote Any Damn Way Leroy Barr Says. Then of course sometimes we have to rent the Hilton for contract votes so they can vote Any Damn Way Leroy Barr Says.

And that's not all. Sometimes, people are so good at voting Any Damn Way Leroy Barr Says that we have to give them jobs. Whether or not they are knowledgeable or competent is not always important. The important factor is to vote Any Damn Way Leroy Barr Says, or you'd have people like James Eterno giving you advice when you dialed UFT. Me, I have to call James Eterno at home when I need his advice. 

Now I'm not saying there aren't great people who work for the union. There are, but there are also obvious exceptions. You'd hope they had skill and smarts in common, but the only thing I'm sure all UFT employees do is vote Any Damn Way Leroy Barr Says. This appears to be the prime qualification. Otherwise, why would I have members telling me they got incorrect advice when they called? Why would I have to tell them, "Call UFT, but if you don't get good advice come back to me and I'll find you someone who will."

There are people in the union I go to for advice, and there are others I wouldn't call on a bet. You get to know pretty quickly who knows what they're talking about and who will just make stuff up when they don't. Now do you see the contrast here? Can today's UFT get 75% of membership to pay a thousand bucks a year to a leadership that appoints and keeps people for loyalty rather than competence? Can we support a system where incompetent chapter leaders are replaced by those they were supposed to serve but still keep their UFT gigs?

I'll pay. But I understand why others won't want to. There is a fix for this, but what with our heavily rigged election it's an uphill climb, to say the least.  I'm not at all convinced membership understands the implications of union, let alone the implications of Friedrichs.
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