Monday, January 21, 2019

Michael Schirtzer and Arthur Goldstein for UFT Executive Board 2019

 By Mike Schirtzer
Three years ago, I asked for your vote when I ran for UFT Executive Board, a 101 member group that meets every two weeks to set policies for our union, negotiate the contract, and bring reports from schools to the leadership. During the last union elections, I ran on the MORE/New Action slate in order to challenge the Unity Caucus. We ran on a promise that we would bring rank and file voice to the UFT with matters that are important to our members in the school. Along with six others on our slate, I won, and we have had the great privilege of representing high school teachers and all UFT members on this representative committee.

I am now running for reelection with Arthur Goldstein, longtime chapter leader/ELL teacher at Francis Lewis High School and a well published columnist who has written for the Daily News among other publications. In the upcoming union elections, we are running as independents on the Unity slate, which includes UFT President Michael Mulgrew. We ask you to vote for us by checking the “Unity” box on your ballot that will be mailed to your home.

This time around, we won’t be running with the opposition groups that we have been part of in the past. By working with members of Unity, we’ve been able to promote significant advances for the members of this union. Our former group, MORE, is refusing to run with other groups or open their slate to independent voices like ours, making it clear they do not want to win. Conversely, when the leadership of UFT asked us to run with them on the Unity slate, we insisted that we maintain our independent voices. We made it clear that we will still challenge them when there is reason to. They agreed that our dissent is valuable and that our only loyalty must be to the members of our union, the people working hard for our students every single day. Unity is providing us the opportunity to bring multiple perspectives to the Executive Board, which is the change this union needs.

It’s unprecedented that Unity/UFT leadership invites us to run with them, yet does not make us join their caucus. In the future, if there are legitimate reasons to form a group to oppose the union leadership, I would join a united group that welcomes everyone. As of now, Unity is welcoming our voices, even though we have had our share of disagreements. They want us to raise issues that our members find crucial and this is exactly why we have made this decision.

None of us joined this profession to become wealthy, but thankfully we’re able to provide decent lives for our families. With our new contract, teachers’ top salary will rise to over $128,000. The teachers that went on strike in West Virginia and Oklahoma teachers were on food stamps, welfare and working multiple jobs. The Los Angeles teachers union is on strike because the cost of living is higher than NYC, while top salary is only $85,000 and some classes have 50 students. Several teachers from our school who have graded AP exams out of state came back with horror stories from teachers they met. Their salaries are so low that they can’t even pay their bills without working several jobs Some reported being fired on a principal’s whim. This is not a situation we want, and UFT is the only force that stands in the way of such a future.

There is not an urban school district in this country that has the salary or benefits that we do, and this is because of our union. The Janus decision threatens all that we have. A strong UFT, with diverse voices, is more important than ever. We are running with Unity to strengthen our union and protect our rights in order to better the lives of the children we serve.

We Won 100% Paid Parental Leave

Nearly 200,000 UFT members now have 100% of their salary when they have or adopt a baby. This is an unheard of benefit around in this country. Even fathers can take the six weeks paid. Before this policy men could take only three days off for their child's’ birth or adoption. This was an absolute sin.  Emily James started a petition which was signed by 85,000 people demanding the mayor give us this long overdue benefit. I reached out to Emily, and brought her to the board to present it to our leadership. Emily and I joined with members of Unity and the UFT’s media department to plan actions all across the city. Thanks to our work, a membership that is over 75% women now has their full pay and can still take their banked  (CAR) days when they give birth or adopt.

We Brought Back Two Observations

Teachers in our schools and all across the city reached out to me and Arthur when we began contract negotiations. They all wanted the observation minimum of two per year, as per state law. Teachers who had been successful for decades often had administrators who taught for a few years visiting their classroom four times and being forced to provide far more “constructive” criticism than was merited. Even worse, teachers new to the DOE having all their observations in May and feedback in June. We fought for change and won. Arthur and I repeatedly brought to Executive Board and Contract Committee meetings member demand for less observations. When we met with DOE negotiators they said no, but we kept the pressure on and prevailed. Beginning next year, 85% of tenured teachers will have two observations and one will be in the fall semester.

We Fought Against Oversized Classes 

Those of us in Goldstein High School have had the unfortunate distinction of being named in the top 10 citywide worst offenders for class-size violations two years in a row. We’ve had 40 students in a class, which led to a failure to comply with special education mandates. By the time we won our grievance, it was already December. We faced massive program changes, crying children, teachers and paras juggling schedules. Arthur and I made class-size overages a centerpiece of our work at UFT Executive Board. We knew too well the process under the old contract did not work. Our new contract demands a quicker response in fighting back against the constant loopholes. Schools in repeated violation will have arbitrators make immediate solutions without an endless grievance process.

We Worked Together to Stop Abusive Administrators

UFT members from across the city reached out to us to bring them to our meetings so they could share stories of absolute craziness from their inexperienced, terrible administrators. Principals and APs pushing unproven policies from cookie-cutter lesson plans, rotating bulletin boards, to outright harassment. Because of their testimonies, UFT leadership took up these issues with the mayor, chancellor, and superintendents. We also negotiated an unprecedented anti-retaliation clause in our new contract that protects members who report these administrators. Some situations were resolved, while  some administrators were just shuffled to another school. This is an ongoing problem. Arthur and I, with your support, will continue to bring these situations to light. We will press UFT to take more aggressive actions in public to let our members know that an attack on one is an attack on us all.  We are asking for your vote on the Unity slate, so we can continue to fight these battles, and do what we do best: represent you.
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