An incredible letter is making its rounds. It was an email written by a District Representative of the United Federation of Teachers to the Chapter Leaders in his district. Here is the email in full, as posted on the ICE-UFT blog:
Subject: My Apologies
Date: Friday, January 4, 2013, 8:09 PM
I must apologize for today. Not for my behavior, but for not being able to present to you important information in the way that I had planned to.
My monthly Chapter Leader meetings are for me to give you important information, to teach you about different aspects of what we do as union representatives on a daily basis, to have presenters in specialty areas so that you get great information first hand from the experts in those areas and to have useful conversations about what is going on and what we are to be doing as a union representative.
It is not the place nor the time to get on a soap box and speak about what you want to speak about. The information that I present or any other presenter speaks about is information passed down from our leadership to you so that you can act as the conduit of information to the membership in your school. We present the information, not to be filtered by you or to be changed in any way, it is to be presented to your members as you have heard it from me or any of the leadership in this union. You might not personally agree with the information given you, however, you were elected as a representative to not only be the defender of our contract and to represent, support and guide our members, but also to pass down the information given as was presented to you.
I feel that our conversations can be good and useful to others if we are all on the same page in terms of who we are as representatives and what it is that we were elected to do. We are not there to preach about one caucus or another, we are not there to talk about how you personally feel about something, we can do that one on one anytime. I do support my union and the leadership of this union, however, I do not preach where I stand in terms of the caucus that I belong to or don’t belong to, I do not bad mouth the leadership even if I don’t agree with what is being done. I support them because they are the leadership of this union and trust that they have the best interest of our members in the forefront of every decision that is made.
I thank you for your time and for what you do everyday for our members. I truly do appreciate you,
This letter crystallizes very clearly and honestly the leadership philosophy practiced by the Unity caucus. We are being led by a group who believe our union is a top-down affair. This is what corporate unionism looks like.
The final sentence of the letter says “I support them (our union leaders) because they are the leadership of this union and trust that they have the best interest of our members in the forefront of every decision that is made.” MORE believes that our union needs to put the mechanisms in place to ensure that our union leaders have “our members in the forefront of every decision that is made.”
Unfortunately, when our union leadership describes the job of a chapter leader to be “the defender of our contract and to represent, support and guide our members, but also to pass down the information given as was presented to you.”, then it is obvious that we are a long way from having the tools as union members to hold our leaders accountable.
Not only do chapter leaders have to faithfully pass down all information from Unity to the members, they cannot “speak about what you want to speak about” at the monthly district meetings with their District Leaders. That means there is absolutely no way to meet with our DLs as a district to highlight common problems and ensure they take steps to address them. Combine this with the fact that members no longer can vote for their District Leaders, since they are now appointed by Unity, and you can see that our union leadership, from District Leaders on up, are totally insulated from the will of the membership.
All we have is faith that Unity is working on our behalf. They represent us in name only, since there is no way for us as members to ensure that their priorities are our priorities.
The first step is allowing membership to elect their District Leaders again. When that happens, district meetings will no longer be a one-way transmission of information and orders from the top-down. Chapters will be allowed and even encouraged to bring up the issues that matter to them so our leaders can act upon them.
But district meetings are not the only places priorities are set. The main forum for this is the monthly Delegate Assembly. As of now, Unity keeps a tight rein on the parliamentary workings of the DA. Everyone knows how Unity wants members to vote and they usually get their way. Some District Leaders have gone as far as to pressure all of their chapter leaders to sit with them at the DA as a way to monitor which way they vote.
MORE believes that any organized UFT meeting should be open and democratic with chapter leaders, delegates, and all members given the opportunity to raise issues of their constituents’ concerns.
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