Archives For Francesco Portelos

In this UFT election there is finally an ALTERNATIVE to the union leadership (UNITY) that has dominated UFT politics for decades. Finally there is an opening to begin to fight for what our students, parents, and we as teachers deserve, a union that fights for the schools our children deserve!

A Unity Chapter Leader, the caucus of current President Michael Mulgrew,  sent an email out to the UFT members at his school. Our own Fred Arcoleo answered by making a case for MORE and explaining why we are running against the current leadership as a positive alternative.

The lines in bold were sent by the Unity chapter leader, the follow-up for each is MORE’s  response to each point by Mr. Arcoleo:

In the Last Three Years  a lot of UFT Victories were achieved because of Michael Mulgrew

Fighting endlessly for a Fair Contract with no give backs and without giving up the Contract we have to get a new Contract (Taylor Law allows us work under an expired contract until we get a new Contract)

UNITY allowed our contract to expire in 2009 without ANY mobilization of the membership and have allowed us to work without a new contract for FOUR YEARS! They have refused countless times to mobilize the membership to fight for a new contract, claiming they couldn’t work with Bloomberg, but it was UNITY who 1) REFUSED to criticize Bloomberg when he CHANGED THE LAW to run for a third term and REFUSED to endorse his opponent William Thompson in the 2009 election (that Bloomberg didn’t win by much). Furthermore, UNITY REFUSES to publicly attack the Taylor Law. It is the Taylor Law that expressly forbids job actions (or even threats of job actions). If UNITY would have led a campaign against the Taylor Law, in effect since 1967, all these years—especially in light of a 2011 decision by the International Labor Organization (ILO) that says the Taylor Law violates international labor law—we then could threaten labor actions like strikes when under attack, like the Chicago teachers did. Their strike won them numerous improvements for teachers and students and served notice that the teachers were a force to be reckoned with.

Ask yourself this: Have we ever been mobilized to fight for a new contract? Have we ever even been asked what we would want in a new contract? Think of it this way: our working conditions and wages have not improved since at least 2006 when the last contract was approved. Most of us weren’t even teaching then! And in that same time, our budget has been cut almost 20%. That is the contract situation.

Preserving the Collective Bargaining Agreement by working strategically to fight DOE using Legal means and winning those battles

Again, UNITY Caucus routinely defends the Taylor Law, a law that has made virtually all job actions illegal. They claim that the Taylor Law protects our (expired) contract, but in practice, it has led time and time again to NYC public employees working FOR YEARS without a new contract.

Consider this startling fact: there are NO public employees working under a contract right now in NYC—that’s 152 bargaining units and 300,000 workers!!!

 Listen to The Wall Street Journal: “The lack of contracts presents Mr. Bloomberg’s successor with a set of thorny problems: Roughly 300,000 public workers and their labor leaders seeking raises and benefit sweeteners, as the city faces an estimated $4 billion budget deficit in 2014…. The major Democratic hopefuls have all said they would make deals only in the city’s best interest.”

Where to you think that will realistically leave us? By not mobilizing UFT members BEFORE our contract expired to FIGHT collectively—85,000 strong—for what we need, UNITY has betrayed us, built dangerous illusions, and fattened us up for slaughter with the new mayor.

Chicago CORE teachers, on the other hand, built strong, active chapters that educated and involved their members in decision-making. It was exciting! They did not rely primarily on legal means, but on the strength of the masses of teachers, mobilizing in the streets, and in the end, refusing to work until (some of) their and their students’ needs were met. They have a contract now, and defeated Mayor Emanuel on many of his most stubborn plans, by FIGHTING BACK for the good of our students we love so much and our careers.

Worked endlessly for a fair State Mandated Evaluation, and refused to settle one that would worsen our working conditions

UNITY has REFUSED to oppose the new evaluation system that will make it much easier to fire teachers and will effectively end tenure protections. The new system is the opposite of fair: it will allow administrators to rate teachers from a complex list in 4 domains, 22 categories, and 76 elements, making it far easier than before to point to alleged “deficiencies” in teachers who make too much money, or who they don’t like, or who challenge educational policies or conditions. The DOE plan to conduct 10 unannounced observations a year will make it impossible to have thoughtful pre- and post-observation conferences (as UNITY claims). Furthermore, teachers who don’t follow this litany of qualities will now be able to be fired much more easily. The founder of this rubric herself, Charlotte Danielson, has denounced the plan as UNFAIR (!) and contrary to her intentions in developing it. She recognizes that her instructional aid is being transformed into an instrument for the wielding of power.

UNITY’s opportunistic appeal to and defense of Governor Cuomo over Bloomberg is just Republican/Democratic party politics: it was Democrat Cuomo who took away the $250 million in funds from NYC schools this past January, punishing NYC students and teachers for the DOE’s failing to make a deal. Cuomo and Bloomberg’s aims are much more similar than different. UNITY would have us choose the lesser of two evils.

By signing onto this evaluation plan, UNITY is actually playing into the DOE’s plans to drastically increase teachers’ workloads, pressure teachers to enforce a more narrow, lock-step curriculum, and force out thousands of experienced (i.e., higher-paid) teachers, as well as teachers who speak up about deplorable conditions in the schools. All without doing a single thing to IMPROVE CONDITIONS that would make learning and teaching easier. Who is criticizing them for this? Not UNITY. They’re making a deal and going along with the plan.

The new evaluation system will ABSOLUTELY worsen teacher working conditions in NYC. Tying teacher evaluation to student test scores will create much more stress for our students and as well as ourselves; divide teachers against students and pit teachers against each other; and essentially blame students and teachers for the inadequate education system both parties are forced to endure. Not to mention the fact that it’s scientifically unsound on its face. This kind of draconian pedagogy will not lead to improved learning.

Bloomberg himself has said he wants to use the new evaluation system to get rid of half the teaching force. How could that be fair? How could that not worsen conditions for the rest of us?

Won the PERB Case ensuring that Danielson is not included in Teachers files until an agreement is reached regarding the Evaluation

By making such a big deal now about the Danielson rubric not being used in formal evaluations “yet,” UNITY is distracting us from the fact that they have been instrumental in ALLOWING the framework to become the standard measurement tool in NYC by refusing to oppose it in the first place. It’s insulting to our intelligence, not to mention demoralizing, when we know that the day an agreement is reached (with UNITY’s blessing), Danielson will be the standard tool. Principals are already training us in its implementation!

In fact, instead of denouncing it, UNITY has organized its own UFT TRAININGS in the Danielson framework (!), sealing its legitimization. Again, Danielson herself has said on multiple occasions that the DOE is distorting the reasons she created the rubric in the first place and does not support it.

Passed a Resolution to end Mayoral Dictatorship

UNITY has consistently FAILED to oppose Mayoral Control, going back to when it was first proposed in 2002. (I was one of the many chapter leaders and delegates who fought UNITY to oppose it.) The UFT could have denounced it and mobilized its full 185,000 membership to expose its dictatorial nature then. UNITY could have united teachers with the thousands of parents and others who also actively opposed Mayoral Control, which wiped out whatever voice parents had in their children’s education. Instead, UNITY ALLOWED Bloomberg to impose it without any fight whatsoever. Since then, UNITY has over and over REFUSED to oppose it or lead any campaign against it.

Notice the nuance: they call it Mayoral “Dictatorship.” JUST LAST MONTH UNITY released a major governance report that explicitly SUPPORTS Mayoral Control, arguing only for a few minor adjustments that give no direct voice to over a million parents, teachers, or students. Lastly, you can’t oppose major government policies with a resolution! You need to educate the members and mobilize them to take action in their/our interest, and mobilize the public to understand the important issues at stake.

MORE, on the other hand, unequivocally opposes Mayoral Control as inherently dictatorial and anti-student and is fighting RIGHT NOW in many public forums and inside parent groups to mobilize people to condemn it (we have been active organizers at Bloomberg’s rubber stamp Panel for Educational Policy [PEP] hearings, while UNITY has been NOWHERE TO BE FOUND). We fight for a united movement of teachers, parents, and students to have a direct voice in making decisions about education.

Won Arbitration stopping the DOE from shutting down 24 schools in 2012

UNITY has consistently FAILED TO MOBILIZE its membership to oppose rampant and frankly racist school closings, most taking place in the poorest neighborhoods with the largest percentages of Black and Latino students (some of the City’s best school buildings then taken over or co-located with middle class students and charter schools). Again, UNITY is ALMOST NEVER at the PEP hearings, leaving teachers, parents, and students from closing schools to fend for themselves. MORE, on the other hand, has been active in the Occupy the DOE movement and a consistent presence at PEP hearings, denouncing these draconian anti-student, anti-community attacks. We are (see above) absolutely opposed to Mayoral Control, advocating a direct voice for parents, teachers, and students in their education.

Stopped the city from Laying off Teachers

Though it’s true that NYC currently has no layoffs, thousands of ATRs wallow in limbo without permanent positions because UNITY refuses to make a cause célèbre out of the DOE’s deliberate attempts to isolate these mostly more experienced (and higher paid) teachers. One look at them and you can see they are disproportionately older (a discrimination suit BEGGING for action, but UNITY will not touch it) with a disproportionate percentage of them black and latino.

Thousands of these ATRs have essentially been forced out of their career or have become so cynical they have lost interest in the profession they dedicated their lives to.

Saved ATR’s from layoffs

UNITY CREATED THE ATR CRISIS by negotiating an end to seniority transfers in 2005. It used to be that more senior teachers were guaranteed positions when they were excessed from their schools. Now, when a veteran teacher is excessed, they are dumped into an ATR pool and must try to find a job on their own. Because they earn a higher salary, principals are choosing cheaper teachers and reducing the most experienced to function as day-to-day subs. Many of them languish for years before they quit or are (for now) lucky enough to be able to retire.

In addition, UNITY agreed last year in a side agreement never discussed with the membership that ATRs now rotate to a DIFFERENT SCHOOL EVERY WEEK, virtually ensuring that they can’t prove themselves with a particular school and earn a permanent position, as sometimes happened in the past. Uprooted and marginalized, ATRs are more disillusioned and bitter than ever.

Won the SESSIS Arbitration which will result is paying Special Education Teachers back for money owed due to SESSIS

UNITY has ALLOWED SESSIS to create mountains of more paperwork and stress, primarily for guidance counselors and special education teachers, with NO pay increase or added staff. Instead of sounding the alarm and FIGHTING for added staff or a contract that guarantees rights for teachers and counselors (like Chicago CORE teachers did), UNITY merely went to court to get back pay for teachers and counselors who have ALREADY sacrificed hours and hours of extra time and stress to conform to these new regulations.

Who is exposing this attack on teachers and counselors? Who is fighting for the needs of students? It’s always less money and more work, and UNITY REFUSING to fight back. As usual too, it’ll be students who suffer most.This court case is actually allowing principals to pressure counselors and teachers into working overtime to complete their work or face sanctions and letters in the file for not doing their jobs!

MORE wants to take the lead of the Chicago CORE teachers, who actually fought for and won a SIGNIFICANT INCREASE in guidance counselors and support staff (as well as a significant raise and many other concessions that are improving the lives of students and teachers).

Restored Teachers Choice

Ridiculous! For years teachers received $250 a year for teachers’ choice. Then, because UNITY FAILED to win a contract for its members that included teachers’ choice, the DOE canceled it altogether. This year we got only $45. To call this a victory is to turn reality upside down and insult the intelligence of our members. Our members spend hundreds and in some cases thousands of dollars. Many educators, especially those in Elementary schools, are routinely evaluated on their class room environment and bulletin boards, thus they feel mandated to spend this type of money. Teachers have had to make up for budget short falls due to years of budget cuts, by bringing in; markers, pens, pencils, copy paper, posters, tissues, books, calculators, staples, toilet paper, just to name a few. Let’s remember this is on top of NO Contract!

Shut Down the Rubber Room

There continue to be rubber rooms scattered throughout the city where hundreds of teachers wallow for months and years, not allowed to return to teaching and often held without charges or any way to defend their reputations. UNITY allows this to continue while opportunistically and traitorously claiming victory.

Please see the story of MORE’s Francesco Portelos which proves that rubber rooms are still open

The new evaluation process WILL perhaps eliminate rubber rooms, but with a bitter irony: it will be much easier—for the first time in many years—to fire teachers altogether.

Para’s (sic) no longer have to clock in when they arrive to work

Working conditions for paraprofessionals have consistently deteriorated over the years due to our lack of a contract. Paras have suffered disproportionately from working without a new contract because their salaries and benefits were lower to begin with. The fact that non-UFT paras’ hours are being cut across the City this year has meant an increased workload for educational paras, without a peep from UNITY.

Passed a Resolution to support ATR’s in low needed (sic) areas to get certified in high needed areas so they can get back into the classroom

As noted above, UNITY has allowed thousands of ATRs to roam the city week by week, functioning as day-to-day substitutes. Many have thus become bitter, cynical, and isolated from their colleagues, giving up on a lifelong vocation of helping young people. Since the DOE has been targeting more experienced teachers (which, again, would make a POWERFUL CAMPAIGN AGAINST AGE DISCRIMINATION), many are counting the days until retirement. This plays beautifully into the DOE’s plans to get rid of more experienced teachers.

MORE wants to fight to reinstate all ATRs in permanent positions, expand the teaching pool citywide, and expose Bloomberg’s campaign against experienced teachers. We additionally want to force the City to hire more black and latino teachers, whose numbers have been dwindling for the last ten years for many reasons.

I will only mention one of the countless other attacks UNITY has either acquiesced to or even orchestrated: the major cut in pensions (you could call it Tier “IV½”) for new teachers UNITY agreed to in 2009—again, without any member input whatsoever—in return for two school days off in September that UNITY had themselves negotiated away in 2006 (how’s that for turning defeat into “victory”?). That further opened the door for Tier VI in 2012 for the newest teachers, which is even worse! Observe:

“Tier (“IV½”) Teacher”…………………………….“Tier VI Teacher”

34 year service……………………………………… 34 year service

Age Retires 57………………………………………. Age Retires 57

Final 3-year FAS $100,000……………… Final 5 year FAS $100,000

Pension = $66,000………………………………. Pension = $38,430

( . See also for a comparison between Tier IV and Tier VI. It’ll open your eyes, whether you’re new or a veteran.)

That’s what I mean by steady erosion of conditions. And I’ll bet many of you didn’t even know this. That’s because UNITY doesn’t advertise these “victories.”


MORE represents an alternative to a passive UFT membership.

MORE represents an end to “let’s make a deal” politics that deceptively label defeats as “victories.” There is no substitute for educating and mobilizing teachers to fight for what we need. In fact, it’s exciting to take some control of our destinies for once!

MORE represents activating UFT members.

MORE represents educating UFT members about the issues that are threatening teachers and students.

MORE represents fighting for what we need as teachers, students, and parents.

A teachers’ union should not be about “let’s make a deal.” It should be about fighting for what we need, for ourselves, and mostly for our students, who are suffering the most in any of these attacks.


Part one: Harri Lirtzman and Francesco Portelos share their stories

Part two: Lois Weiner’s comments and the Q&A after.

Read the Report here

Our forum on Dignity and Democracy in Education featuring Lois Weiner (find her book here), Francesco Portelos and Harris Lirtzman was a big success. Below is the collection of live-tweets from the event. Feel free to check it out.