With the New York City 2021 election season in full swing and countless mayoral candidates in the running, the UFT (under the leadership of the UNITY caucus) is currently in the process of vetting and endorsing candidates running for political office. The UFT claims to be using a transparent, equitable, and democratic process but for rank and file members, the process has felt opaque, undemocratic, and exclusive.
In the last few months, community organizations, activists, and local area residents have spoken out in outrage as the UFT endorsed city council candidates with a history of union busting and candidates like Robert Holden who have track records of causing harm to school communities. Many activists community organizations reached out to us to ask, how could the UFT endorse such candidates and are these the views of the UFT?
So how were these city council endorsements made?
During the January Delegate Assembly the UFT leadership held a vote to endorse city council candidates using a block vote, meaning, delegates voted on candidates all at once rather than candidate by candidate. Prior to voting rank and file members were not asked for their input on candidates. Instead the UNITY caucus used their top down approach of choosing only a select few delegates and chapter leaders to participate in the process.
In terms of their mayoral endorsement process, the UFT has hosted several virtual mayoral town halls. At each of these events UFT leadership spoke with candidates and questioned them about their plans for education. Access to these candidates for rank and file members, however, has been largely closed off. There hasn’t been a question and answer time, the chat was turned off, and there was no ability for those who couldn’t attend the forum to watch a recording of the full event. Each event concluded with a feedback form but the feedback or polling data has never been shared with the union membership.
Recently, the UFT also decided to no longer consider mayoral candidate, Dianne Morales, who is the only candidate with NYC DOE teaching experience. The UFT has narrowed down potential candidates to Eric Adams, Scott Stringer, Maya Wiley, and Andrew Yang. Yang’s inclusion was particularly problematic given that he recently made egregious and uninformed statements about teachers and our union.
But what were the determining factors that the UFT used to make the decision to exclude the only former teacher in the race? What message does this send to the Rank and File and the entire city? Why weren’t members informed of what went into this decision making process? And why are these the final four to be considered? How are we supposed to build a strong and democratic union when rank and file members don’t even know how our union makes endorsement decisions?
Throughout surviving and working through the covid-19 pandemic there has been one major element at play – the negotiations between the UFT, and city, state, and federal elected officials. As we have seen nearly every week during this challenging year, the UFT under UNITY does not involve members in any of their decision making processes but rather they make decisions for us and without us. These decisions and negotiations have not only impacted the working and learning conditions of students and school based staff but also the health and safety of the surrounding communities.
We, the rank and file members of the UFT, are the members working through the pandemic. We are the members who work in school districts directly impacted by the decision making processes of federal, state, and local government. We are the members who have parent and student allies within our communities who support our work, we are the members who are connected to the needs, wants, and dreams of our students, their families, and our school communities. It matters that we are included in the endorsement process because endorsements are not only about candidates but also about communicating policies and visions for the future of education in our city under mayoral control. Rank and file members must be informed, have access to participate in the process, and be included in the results of ongoing polls and surveys.
The good news is that regardless of the UFT’s endorsement process we have ranked choice voting this year. That means that we and all rank and file UFT members can actually follow our hearts and vote for candidates we love and not just candidates we must endure.