Sunday, March 31, 2019

Why I'm Voting for Unity Caucus, and Why You Should Too

For the last three years I've been on the UFT Executive Board. We worked very hard to win these seats, and I've been focused on trying to make things better for UFT members. We had a small group that worked together pretty well for the most part.

One thing we always knew was that to get anything done we needed to work with Unity. Unity is the overwhelming majority in the room, and without their votes, absolutely everything is DOA. That's not going to change, and a big reason for that is the state of the opposition. What exactly is that?

We have one caucus that wants nothing to do with any others. We have one caucus with which no other will associate. We have another, the one for which I have the most affinity, that finds itself dominated by retirees. There are good individuals in all these groups, but union is not about individuals. It's about our group, the United Federation of Teachers.

We have individuals who deem it's their life's work to oppose anything the UFT accomplishes, be it good, bad or otherwise. Though I really hope not, that may have been me at one time. I have always hated being characterized as someone who is reflexively contrary. It's not a good look, and certainly not who I am now. 

We have made important steps forward over the last year, and I'm proud to have played some small part in that. Getting parental leave was wonderful, and members in my school were jubilant hearing about it. I watched Emily James speak, I saw Michael Mulgrew promise to win it, and shortly thereafter I saw it happen.

I wish parental leave had been around when I needed it, but I'm glad to see my colleagues availing themselves of it, which they've now done multiple times. Like everything created by humans, it is not perfect, and it could be better. But most of the arguments against it are desperate and/ or idiotic. (Some are downright offensive, like the notion that I didn't have it, so you shouldn't either.)

We won fewer observations. This is significant for a whole lot of us. Having the observations hang over your head all the time is daunting, even if only 1% end up rated ineffective. Fixing it for 85% of tenured teachers is a quality of life improvement for many of the teachers with whom I speak, even the ones who aspire to be administrators. Of course many of the same people who loudly demanded it opposed the contract that won it, but that's how it goes

And then there is that contract. This contract contained no givebacks. You could argue that having first year city employees use HIP is a giveback, but they are getting full medical coverage, unlike a whole lot of Americans. If they last one year, they have access to other choices. This is not much of a hardship, and it beats the hell out of all of us paying premiums. Could they have negotiated something better? Perhaps. I wasn't there and I haven't got a time machine to fix it anyway.

This contract was pretty straightforward. We got the pattern, and we don't have to wait for it. Are we getting rich off of it? Certainly not. If that's your goal, you're in the wrong line of work. Also, if you've been following UFT history, there is one way to beat the pattern. The way to beat the pattern is via givebacks. I hate givebacks, and I'd argue we gave back so much in 2005 that we have nothing more to even offer.

Some of the same people who complain there isn't enough money in this contract also maintain it's unacceptable because we didn't get back what we lost in 2005. It's an odd contradiction. We want more money, but we don't want to give back anything. We also want to reverse all the things we got money for in 2005, but we don't want to accept less money. These positions are not productive in negotiation. Personally, I'd be happy to forgo raises to get back 2005 rights. I'd be happy to give back money to negotiate lower class sizes. I'm certain, though, that places me in a distinct minority.

There are those who say we can strike and win all of those things. Those people are wrong. I was just speaking to a teacher who told me he and his wife clear about a quarter million dollars a year. He was imagining their faces on the cover of a tabloid, along with their salaries. While NYC is expensive, we are not working three jobs to get by. We are not selling our blood to put food on the table, and we are not laying out tens of thousands annually for health insurance. There may be a time to strike, but now is not that time.

Then there is Unity. Anything I've been able to accomplish has been with Unity support. I've written at least three resolutions that were passed in some form or another. The first two were with the cooperation of UFT Academic HS VP Janella Hinds. Both times, I speedily wrote resolutions, sent them to her, and she sent them back much improved within fifteen minutes. I'm a little picky about writing, so it's no small thing for me to admit that. Janella is super smart, I'm honored to work with her, and I'm honored to be on the high school team with her.

I've also worked closely with Education VP Evelyn de Jesus. Evelyn will call me and say let's go to
picket in Long Island, let's go to the Puerto Rican Day parade and give free stuff to children, let's go to Albany and testify about Part 154, or let's go to the NYSABE meeting and talk to the Regents about the ELLs we serve. If she ever sleeps I don't know when. She will stay up all hours negotiating, not giving up until she's sure we get, for example, fewer observations. Evelyn is one of those people who you meet once and never forget. She is a force of nature. I pity the person in her way if she's intent on doing something.

The first person from Unity to reach out to me in a substantive way was Amy Arundell (who certainly doesn't want me writing about her, but it's too late now). Amy called me one morning out of the blue and demanded that I help an ATR teacher who was having trouble getting placed. I was impressed that she had no fear reaching out to a blogger (me) who was generally hostile to her caucus. I was able to help get this teacher placed, and I now work with this teacher (and several other former ATR teachers) every day. Amy's been my go-to for years now when teachers outside my school contact me for support. Sometimes she's been able to fix their problems, sometimes not, but she always tries.

If I can make one change in my career, I will push back on the cynical and hurful Part 154, the regulation that robs my students of much-needed instruction and threatens the jobs of my brother and sister ESL teachers. I've tried very hard to do this on my own. I've written about it on multiple forums, and I've even been on TV talking about it. If this is going to be fixed, it's going to be fixed with UFT cooperation. It's gonna be a long haul and it's gonna take more than teachers writing angry blogs.

Of course I've been that angry teacher-blogger. I'm still that, but I'm also chapter leader of a very large school. I see the value of working together for common goals. Opposition has been patently unable to do that, and that's precisely why there are three distinct opposition caucuses. It's hard, often impossible, for people to accomplish things on their own. Unity reached out to me and my brother Mike Schirtzer, saying they wanted to work with us. They didn't demand anything, and they specifically asked we continue to challenge them.

Who's going to affect change, in our union and out? That will be those of us who look at what's going on now and think of ways to make it better. That will be those of us willing to put aside petty squabbles and work toward common goals. That will be those of us who look to the future, who look at what our students and children need, who look at what we need, and work together to find ways to get there.

This is a new era for unionism. This is a time to battle for our future, for positive change. It makes absolute sense to work with people in a position to make that happen. On this astral plane, the people in that position are those in the Unity Caucus. I'm going to work with them to amplify teacher voice, to serve our students better, and help get what working Americans want and need.

So I'm running with Unity Caucus this year. I ask that you vote for not only me, not only Mike Schirtzer, but also for the people who are going to help us overcome all the nonsense that's going to be hurled against us in the wake of Janus. It's coming, and it will be a barrage of big money against us and all working people. That includes our students and children, because they'll soon be working people too.

We will fight them and we will win. Check the Unity Caucus box on your ballot and drop it in the mail right now.
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