Archives For Michael Mulgrew
In 2014, UFT leadership watched the Friedrichs case come at them (and all of us) like dinosaurs watching the extinction-causing comet hurtling towards earth. They stared slack-jawed, and did nothing outside of introducing a hashtag or two and a tepid social media campaign. That extinction-level event was dodged (through no effort of their own), and, like clockwork, a new comet appeared called Janus vs. AFSCME.
Janus is a court case designed to deal a grievous blow to the labor movement in the U.S. By mandating that workers in union-represented workplaces be allowed to “free ride”, or receive the benefits of union representation without paying dues, the right wing forces using the plaintiff, Mark Janus, as a marionette, mean to deny unions the money they need to function. If the outcome of the case is as expected, it will make the public sector in the whole country “right-to-work”, an arrangement that is deeply dangerous for American workers, but perhaps more so for the already decaying business unionism model of which the UFT is a prime example, since unions operating in this way rely heavily on paid staff and financial contributions to Democratic elected officials, tools that may become more scarce if, as expected, a large number of current members choose to withhold their dues post-Janus.This is doubly dangerous for the UFT and similar unions which have a large number of disaffected rank-and-file members with no perceived stake in or support for their unions; the UFT is thought by many of its members to be ineffective regarding even core responsibilities like protecting members from abusive supervisors and filing grievances against violations of our contract. All of this is a formula for massive post-Janus defections.
The response of Unity Caucus (the invite-only clique that has run the UFT since its founding and includes Michael Mulgrew, Randi Weingarten, and anyone else who has ever held any power within the union) can best be described as sclerotic, and too little too late. Chapter Leaders have been hearing a lot about Janus during the 2017-2018 school year, and the door-knocking campaign, in which UFT activists are trained to go door-to-door having face to face conversations with members in their homes about the importance of sticking with the union, seems like a step in the right direction. I’m concerned in this case, though, that the horse is already out of the barn. The UFT has done little to no real organizing among its core NYC educator constituency in decades, and it may be too late to mobilize a profoundly disconnected membership to save the union; a disconcerting number don’t seem to care whether it lives or dies.
It is that sense of alienation that brings us to the Membership Teams. Each UFT chapter is supposed to have a group of activists whose responsibility it is to speak one on one with all the UFT members in the building, make sure the the union has up to date data, and ultimately ask each member whether they plan to continue supporting the union once it becomes legal to receive most or all of the benefits of union membership for free. There is an app, MiniVAN, which is to be used to guide the conversation, but more so to provide data to the union about their membership. The app provides a script for the team member, with pauses to input the answers to various questions into the database, and a dramatic handing of the smartphone over to the member at the end, who presses a button pledging to stick with the union.
This kind of member-to-member organizing is exactly the sort of thing that the UFT should have been doing all along, so I’m encouraged to see my union creaking into action. But even now, when UFT leadership is more or less trying to do the right thing, the lumbering, inflexible, bureaucratic way it is being executed highlights the degree to which they have become indistinguishable from the corporate/bureaucratic hierarchies they are meant to be protecting us from. Rather than using an online dashboard to add and edit people’s responses and info as you add them, as is standard in this, the year 2018, to use the app, you need to manually enter which member of the team is meant to speak to each UFT member in your building into a spreadsheet that the captain passes along to the District Rep, who then passes it along to Central for data entry. That UFT member is then linked with that particular team member, and only those people will show up in each team member’s app. Somebody drop off your team for whatever reason? Too bad. Did someone on the team get into a passionate conversation about the union with someone with whom their team leader has not linked them in the app? Too bad, there’s no way to adjust those lists, at least as far as the UFT Special Rep that ran the training for the membership teams in my district was aware. That’s somehow even LESS user friendly and flexible than the online portal for the ADVANCE teacher evaluation system that UNITY caucus collaborated in the development of and loves very, very much… if a kid on your roster leaves or changes classes or schools, at least you can make an alteration to reflect that reality.
If the DOE was asking me to do inane, redundant data gathering/paperwork like this, I’d be speaking my UFT District Representative and pondering a paperwork complaint. I understand why the union wants this data, but the only part of this that means anything is the part at the end when people tap something to agree to stick with the union, and that can be accomplished quite ably with a signature on a piece of paper after a real face to face conversation, so why all the extra steps?
Now that we are finally organizing, they want us to be staring at, or at least repeatedly going back and forth to our smartphones to do data entry as we talk to people about why supporting the union is so important. These are some of the most important organizing conversations we will ever have. I understand the desire for the UFT to have relevant data about their membership, their feelings about the union, what they think about Janus, updated contact info, and, most importantly, whether people plan on maintaining their UFT memberships or begin freeriding. But this is way too much to cram into a single 1:1 conversation; you can’t make up for 20 or 30 years of being a remote top-down business model union in one conversation. Not to mention that we reconfirm member contact info every September, and that the union sent out a fairly extensive survey to all members only a few months ago.
This is a grotesque approximation of the 1:1 organizing conversations most of the true UFT activist have all the time, but filtered through the most hide-bound, bureaucratic lens possible. They are finally trying to do the right thing, sort of, but it has been so long since anyone in a real position of authority at the UFT has done any organizing that they have no idea what it looks like anymore. The membership team at PS 58 was formed in the fall, but lay dormant until May waiting for UFT leadership to creak into action to train and equip us and transmit unified marching orders. I now regret the lost time we spent waiting on our putative leaders to do their jobs. I now realize I had not fully assimilated the lessons of West Virginia or of Arizona: the seas of rank-and-file educators in the streets and in the capitol buildings has been the power terrifying the enemies of public education and winning real victories for public education, NOT the AFT/NEA officers desperately trying to keep up, in some cases collaborating with districts to send educators back to work with their goals unmet. Despite years of seeing the dysfunction of our union leadership, part of me still held out hope that, on the brink of their own annihilation, they would prove worthy of the name; if not for their members, then at least for themselves. But no more. I’m not waiting for support or, God forbid, initiative, from the top. We ARE the union; if the current educator revolt across the country has taught us anything, it’s that the rank and file don’t need their ineffectual leadership to get results. Our membership committee, our UFT chapter, and our colleagues across the city are sick of waiting for leadership to catch up. The time to act is now. If, instead of waiting for our ostensible leadership, we take our cues from our rank-and-file colleagues rising up across the country, we may even succeed in saving the UFT in spite of itself.
Teacher/UFT Chapter Leader
PS 58, The Carroll School
Mr. Jason Agosto
UFT Chapter Leader
High School of Art and Design
Mr. Michael Mulgrew
United Federation of Teachers
New York, NY, 10004
March 29, 2018
Dear President Mulgrew and UFT Leadership,
The UFT chapter at the High School of Art and Design has been living under distress and oppression for the past two years. On January 25, 2016, Principal Manuel Urena arrived at the High School of Art and Design and his tenure as principal has produced record faculty turnover, constant violations of the UFT contract agreed to by the UFT and the DOE, violations of state and federal labor law, blatant retaliation against leaders of our chapter, and a hostile and unhealthy work environment. It is difficult enough to teach and conduct union activity under the above outlined circumstances, but what has made the situation more challenging is the silence, aloofness, and non-response of the UFT leadership in addressing these matters. Alice O’Neil, our UFT District Representative, is well aware of the issues plaguing our school and has even been a firsthand witness to some of them and yet no meaningful action has been taken by Mrs. O’Neil or UFT leadership to remedy these issues.
The Art and Design chapter presence has been silenced in our school. The threat of swift and brutal retaliation at the hands of Mr. Urena and his administration has made chapter members fearful and hesitant to engage in any union related activity. Jason Agosto, our UFT chapter chair, has been subject to the most blatant retaliation from Mr. Urena in the form of negative observation reports, spurious disciplinary letters based on unfounded accusations, as well as the maligning of his reputation amongst parents on our School Leadership Team. What’s more disheartening, is that the UFT leadership has allowed this treatment of Mr. Agosto to go unchecked as the above mentioned actions have continued to occur on a regular basis for two years. The UFT’s non-response to the abuse and blatant retaliation of Mr. Agosto has emboldened Mr. Urena and he has used the UFT leadership’s silence to further retaliate against other vocal chapter members.
The threat of retaliation by Mr. Urena extends to all functions of the chapter within the school. Chapter members who serve on the School Leadership Team have been silenced because anyone who raises an issue that presents a problem or narrative which contradicts Mr. Urena’s is subject to retaliation in the form of negative observation reports and spurious letters to file. Mrs. O’Neil witnessed Mr. Urena in a threatening tone dismiss chapter concerns about Special Education compliance issues at a November 2, 2017 school leadership meeting but yet there was no follow up to the issue on the part of UFT leadership. The same is true for chapter members who serve on the school security team and the UFT consultation committee. This retaliation has been reported to Mrs. O’Neil and UFT leadership on a number of documented occasions but with no action taken to address it.
The Art and Design chapter’s suspicions of Mr. Urena’s anti-union animus were confirmed when in January 2017, it was revealed that Mr. Urena, through one of his Assistant Principals, attempted to recruit a probationary teacher to report information back to administration that was discussed in a December 2016 chapter meeting. Specifically, the teacher was asked to report who the vocal members of the chapter are, who was leading chapter meetings, and who would replace Mr. Agosto in the event of his removal from his position. This incident exposed Mr. Urena’s intent to retaliate against vocal chapter members and was reported directly to Mrs. O’Neil at one of her visits to our chapter on January 5, 2017 and a follow up letter was sent to President Mulgrew on February 1, 2017 describing the specifics of this ordeal. Even with all of this information being reported directly to UFT officers, no action was taken to address it. It is now the subject of a Public Employee Relations Board (PERB) complaint being litigated at the expense of the chapter leader when NYSUT lawyers refused to take on the case. The hearing this PERB complaint requires has been delayed three times since November 2017.
Mr. Urena has further sought to silence the voice of our chapter by refusing to honor School Based Option (SBO) votes on circular 6 (c6) assignments for teachers. In a consultation committee meeting on May 10, 2017, in the presence of UFT CTE Representative, Jeffrey Bernstein, Mr. Urena stated in a pointed and threatening tone, that he would not honor SBO votes and if we proceed with an SBO, he would put every teacher in meetings during c6 periods on a daily basis not allowing teachers time to plan and grade as the current split c6 assignment affords teachers the time to do. In addition, Mr. Urena further stated that if we were to pursue a grievance to force him to honor the SBO process, he would place teachers in meetings every day for their c6 assignments in response to any pursuit of a grievance. Mrs. O’Neil and Mr. Bernstein sent follow up emails to Mr. Urena on May 12, 2017 but he responded that his,“position was clear” and it was up to the Chapter to decide how we wanted to proceed. Mrs. O’Neil stated that she would address this issue with Superintendent Marisol Rosales. However, there was no follow up and the split c6 menu was enacted with no contractually mandated School Based Option vote to reflect the chapter’s participation and voice in the matter.
Our contractual rights have been been further subverted by Mr. Urena’s refusal to meet with our Chapter’s consultation committee without assistant principals present to serve as his witnesses. The contract makes clear that these meetings are to take place with only the principal and the chapter committee in attendance. District Representative Alice O’Neil advised that if Mr. Urena entered any consultation committee meeting with Assistant Principals joining him, we present Mr. Urena with an agenda and respectfully exit the meeting. We did exactly as Mrs. O’Neil directed us to do in September, October, and November of 2017. Mr. Urena, in turn, responds to our exit from these meetings with snarky quips and feigned ignorance as to why we are exiting the meeting all the while knowingly violating the contractual process for consultation. Mrs. O’Neil stated that she would address this issue with Mr. Urena’s supervisor, Superintendent Marisol Rosales and that monthly consultation committee meetings would resume after that. To date, the UFT has not received any update from these meetings that supposedly addressed this issue with the Superintendent.
Adding insult to injury, Mrs. O’Neil reached out to Chapter leadership in December 2017 stating that she was able to secure a consultation committee meeting with our chapter committee and Mr. Urena without the intrusion of Assistant Principal observers on December 21, 2017 at 2:50pm. On the day of the meeting, Mrs. O’Neil abruptly cancelled the meeting with no explanation. Mrs. O’Neil did send Chapter Leader Jason Agosto a cryptic and vague text message with no explanation for the consultation committee meeting cancellation. These events have further silenced chapter voices as the absence of monthly consultation committee meetings all year has deprived the chapter of our voice on issues such as fiscal and budgetary matters, instructional goals, programming, and how to best serve students while honoring the contract. What’s further disheartening is that Mr. Urena has done all of this because he knows UFT leadership will never hold him accountable for it.
Mrs. O’Neil also informed Mr. Agosto on December 7, 2017 that President Mulgrew would be meeting with Chancellor Farina in the days that followed and that the High School of Art and Design was the only high school on the agenda for that meeting. Mr. Agosto nor any member of Chapter leadership has been given any details on that meeting or even if it happened at all. This is yet another example of the UFT’s failure to advocate for its members and defend our chapter from the onslaught of anti-union animus perpetuated by Mr. Urena.
The inaction by the leadership of the United Federation of Teachers in response to the decimation of our chapter at the hands of Mr. Urena is outrageous and disappointing. It makes an already difficult situation that much worse when union officers who are charged with and paid with member dues to enforce the contract in every school have allowed and even tacitly encouraged these actions. Mrs. O’Neil’s actions on December 21, 2017 showed us that UFT leadership is either incompetent or working in collusion with Superintendent Rosales and Principal Urena to undermine our chapter’s position within our school. Further evidence is the recent photo proudly displayed on the UFT website of one of our teachers receiving the UFT’s CTE Award with Mr. Urena standing confidently among art and CTE teachers projecting a false narrative of a vibrant and active UFT chapter.
The legal ramifications of these actions have caused targeted chapter members to pursue outside legal counsel at our own expense to defend our rights and livelihoods since the UFT is not carrying out their duties to do so. Continued contractual violations occur on a daily basis at the High School of Art and Design and the UFT’s leadership has been complicit in allowing them to occur despite having a consistent documented papertrail attesting to them. We demand a meeting between our chapter’s consultation committee and President Mulgrew to address these issues directly to create the working environment that our chapter members deserve. If the UFT refuses a meeting with President Mulgrew and continues to ignore our plight, we will be forced to pursue a PERB complaint against the UFT for failing to enforce the contract and defend members from anti-union animus at the hands Mr. Urena and his abusive administration.
A copy of this letter is being sent to the Movement of Rank and File Educators (MORE) to be publicly posted on their website and other online platforms to inform members of your inaction and dereliction of your duties. This letter will also be sent to other labor related media outlets as well as to the other major municipal workers’ unions to express our outrage at the UFT’s ineptitude and corruption to our union brothers and sisters across New York City.
We look forward to your prompt response in addressing the above outlined concerns. If we do not receive a response, we will see you in court for the PERB complaint we will file against the UFT in response.
UFT Chapter Leader
PS 58 – Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn
What is a union for? Why do we belong to one? In these times of looming national “Right to Work” laws that are likely to impede or cripple the ability of labor unions to sustain themselves financially, it seems like a relevant question to ask ourselves. Is a union for Meet the President dinners? Patronage jobs in exchange for political loyalty? Social media campaigns? What are we getting in exchange for the hard-earned dues we pay to the UFT?
Protecting members from abuse by management is a core function, if not THE core function, of a labor union. If a chapter leader or delegate speaking out and organizing against an abusive administrator is subject to retaliation with impunity, what chance is there for a rank-and-file member to actually exercise their contractual rights? The abuse of staff, students, and parents that has been going on, unchecked, at Central Park East 1, an elementary school in East Harlem, is indicative of a union local decayed to the point of paralysis, and so out of touch with its membership and their concerns that it is approaching complete irrelevance.
Looking through the UFT’s guide to the new NYC teacher evaluation system, I find myself wondering how it’s being read by educators coming from schools that vary widely in terms of educator autonomy, pedagogical philosophy and levels of trust between administration and staff. We are being told that our evaluation system will require our full comprehension and maintenance of: measures of teacher practice observation option selection forms, evaluator forms, consistent update of class lists/rosters, observation options A, B, C, D, the Matrix, and MOSL options (project based learning assessments, student learning inventories, performance based assessments, and progress monitoring assessments), not to mention how this plays out for what people teach (elementary/middle/high school, alternative assessment, English as a New Language, content areas, etc).
It is easily overwhelming. We are still figuring out the last evaluation system and living through the most rapidly changing succession of teacher evaluations in history. The truth is, we are being led by our tails. There are only two things to know:
1) We should be upset, very upset. These were closed negotiations that, yet again, involved very little, if any, teacher input in the discussion of a system that is purporting to improve student achievement. It should not be considered normal for dues paying members to be handed a deal without having any democratic process for input. Any active teacher working with students could explain the complexities of the work we do, including factors that are not in our control and which cannot be measured and quantified. This lack of teacher voice leads to the continual and misguided reliance on the use of invalid metrics we know as the value added model.
2) Teacher evaluations based on metrics with any high stakes involvement is all about perpetuating a lean production model that narrows our teaching and students’ learning. The corporate education reform agenda initiated its systematic attack on public schools by casting its teachers as the source of the problem. Our union leadership, in an effort to placate this aggressive attack on our profession, used the only strategy it knows: attempting to throw its weight around the proverbial table. Pandering to the notion of teacher evaluation based on unfounded formulas of value added models, and doing this without acknowledging the casualties of the systemic attack thus far, is unacceptable.
The 240,000 opt outs across New York State triggered a move towards the current moratorium on the use of state standardized tests, not the negotiating of the UFT leadership as they often like to credit themselves with. The reason ENL teachers are still evaluated using the Common Core aligned NYSESLAT and teachers of students who get alternative assessments are evaluated by that is because there has not been a high percentage of opt outs for those tests.
In regard to the MoTP portion of our evaluation, please read James Eterno’s ICE Blog piece on the matter. We now have two more required observations in our agreement for tenured teachers beyond the two required by state law and practiced in most districts. In a climate of high stakes where many, if not most, of New York City’s teachers experience observations as “gotcha” opportunities for administrators to intimidate and demoralize, the increase does not promote space for continual growth in teaching practice.
It does not matter what MOSL option we choose- it becomes distorted when stakes are attached. Using performance based assessments or any tools we use to drive instruction for our students a huge problem! What kind of metric for teacher value will be attached to our authentic forms of assessment? How will they- those designated to make up the arbitrary percentages- determine the scores and how much value will be added?
As we already know, this evaluation deal has nothing to do with improving outcomes for our students but everything to do with creating a system that breaks us and our union to further the privatization agenda. It is political. This is not just a criticism of our leadership’s practices; this is a proposal to engage rank and file members in the process before it is truly too late.
The overarching theme at 52 Broadway on Wednesday was paperwork. There’s a lot of paperwork, too much paperwork, paperwork is the scourge of civilization, and the number one concern of UFT members is paperwork. Principals are evil, among other reasons, because they don’t hand teachers paperwork filled with curriculum, scope and sequence. Mulgrew goes off on tangents, makes in jokes with his BFFs, but every road leads back to paperwork.
I’m sure there are abuses of paperwork. I’m sure there are abuses in making teachers write curriculum. I’ve seen them, and I’ve moved to correct them. Now, though, there is a form for that. I certainly hope it’s more effective and less restrictive than the APPR complaint form.
In my job, I get complaints all the time, from all sorts of people. In my building, at least, paperwork is not a particularly pressing concern. Members are more concerned with ratings. Why did this AP walk in and see things that didn’t happen? How come when a dozen kids raise their hands, on video, my supervisor sees only two? Why does he always observe me last period on Friday before vacation in my worst class? Can Mulgrew really get rid of crazy supervisors? That would be something good for everyone, even remaining supervisors who aren’t crazy.
Mulgrew shared some interesting news. We’re going to replace the test-based junk science in the APPR system (the one Mulgrew himself had a hand in writing and creating) with authentic measures, or it’s no deal. What will they be? Who knows? Portfolios perhaps. You may recall them rearing their heads maybe twenty years ago. You needed a portfolio for every student. It needed to be in the classroom at all times. If you didn’t have one it was the end of the world. Until the next year, when portfolios were out, passe, utterly without value.
And with the new matrix, the portfolios, or whatever the hell there is, will count for half your rating. This, evidently, will reduce the principal’s input to 50, rather than 60 percent (or perhaps less, with the magical outside observers who know nothing about you, your school, what you do, or who you teach). Of course Mulgrew vehemently denies that the matrix makes the junk science/ authentic ratings or whatever they may end up being 50 percent. But with only two axes, it’s hard for mathematically-challenged individuals such as myself to fathom why they don’t count for half. On the other hand, if they actually do not count for half, won’t the principal still have the lion’s share of control in evaluation?