Sunday, October 01, 2017

Nice Work If You Can Get It

For weeks I've been hearing rumors about Martin Messner, Secretary-Treasurer of NYSUT, and outstanding proponent of Met Life auto insurance. I've been hearing that his home district, which contains far fewer teachers than my Queens high school alone, would not grant him a leave to continue working at NYSUT.

In a small district, it must be tough to hire people as leave replacements. They're hired for a while, but they can't make a career. They can't get tenure. Maybe the district got tired of not being able to hire a permanent teacher. Thus, no leave and Messner had to choose between his 240K gig at NYSUT and his 60K gig as a teacher.

It didn't sound like a very tough decision to me. Messner campaigned for this NYSUT job and has been at it for over three years now. He ran for re-election, so I suppose he likes the job. It's hard to imagine that he'd choose to go back to a much lower-paying teaching job.

Here's what my sources tell me--Messner has, in fact, gone back to the teaching job. He is deducting the teaching salary from his NYSUT salary and working nights and weekends for NYSUT. So his district pays him 60K and we get him for the bargain basement one-time-only price of 180K. (That's a lot better than some of the gigs UFT doles out. I've met people who'd pretty much sell their souls for 30 bucks an hour.)

My sources tell me that Messner will continue with this work until August, 2018. Let me be the first to say, as someone with no voice or vote in NYSUT, that it's a great honor to pay not only his salary, but also those of his colleagues (none of whom the majority of rank and file New York City high school teachers had any say about). Here's the thing, though--my source tells me that by waiting until August 2018, Messner will be vested in the NYSUT pension system.  So if Messner worked for four years, he's made almost a million dollars. Pension on that could be payable years from now, but must be worth pursuing. I imagine NYSUT officers provide well for themselves.

But then you ask yourself--who the hell walks out on a 240K job, a job that certainly must be stimulating and interesting, to take one for a quarter of the salary? I mean sure, it's conceivable that someone could just really, really love the classroom and want to get back to it. But if that's the case, why did Messner apply for a leave to work at NYSUT in the first place?

Messner could certainly have resigned his teaching job and stayed on at NYSUT. That's what Lee Cutler did, years ago. Lee is a great person, and getting to know him was one of the great benefits of running a quixotic campaign for Executive Vice President of NYSUT a few years ago. Lee is now a school principal, of all things. But I digress.

I love being a teacher. But I also love being a chapter leader. I love representing and fighting for my colleagues. I don't fault Messner at all for seeking and taking the NYSUT job. I'd certainly have done the same.

What I kept asking myself, though, is what on earth would make me give up a quarter-million dollar job for a 60K job? Does that make sense to you? It's not like the NYSUT gig entails working a chain gang or going down into a coal mine or something.

Why would I take a 75% pay cut to leave an interesting and challenging job? You know why I would do it? I would do it if I believed that Janus was going to eviscerate NYSUT. I would do it if I thought my NYSUT gig was so risky it might disappear at any time, and that I'd be better off with a secure 60K job to take care of my family.

Nonetheless, if I were a NYSUT officer, that would be a very dangerous message to send. I wouldn't do that. I'd be saying I had no faith in my organization. And by the way, if my job were treasurer, I'd also be a little uneasy sending out the message that my nights and weekends, after working full time as a teacher, were worth 180K a year.

Of course I'm neither a NYSUT officer nor a treasurer, so what could I know?
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