Archives For UFT

“What happens if we vote it down?”
“What will happen if we don’t approve the contract?”

People ask and want to know the answer.  Whatever happens, experience says it won’t be the “doom and gloom” scenario that UFT leaders threaten it will be.

In fall, 1995, UFT leaders unveiled a tentative agreement with no raises in the first two years, and givebacks in pay, benefits and working conditions.  As the membership ratification vote proceeded, it was obviously in danger of rejection. Then-president Feldman wrote in a letter to the membership dated November 12, 1995:

“What would happen if the members reject this agreement and send us back to the bargaining table?  I believe we would be faced with chaos and crisis. Job security would be gone and massive layoffs could begin as early as February.  By next year, between the city, state and federal cuts, the layoffs of teachers and paraprofessionals could reach into the thousands.

“In addition, if we reject this settlement, we probably would lose some of the very positive gains we won in the agreement such as longevity on eligibility date and electronic deposit.  And all those givebacks we successfully fought off such as loss of prep times, sabbaticals and the mid-winter recess – would go back on the bargaining table. Nor is there much of chance that a rejection of this contract would result in a better agreement . . .”

These scare tactics failed, and the contract was voted down.  How did the results compare with Feldman’s fearmongering?

  1. There was no chaos.  There was no crisis.
  2. Not a single UFT member was laid off.
  3. A new proposed pact was negotiated before the end of the same school year.  
  4. It retained all of the modest gains in the rejected pact.
  5. It didn’t have any new givebacks.  Prep times, sabbaticals and the February recess stayed.
  6. It was a better agreement, if only slightly.  The worst givebacks were axed: a provision to hold back 5% of the salary of new teachers was removed.  Instead of 25 years to top pay, it was reduced to 22 years. A few small sweeteners were added.

The takeaway is that union leaders will use threats to get a contract approved, but in the one case where a contract was rejected, all those threats proved baseless.

But the second proposal, which the membership accepted, still had no raises in the first two years. Although the union went back to the negotiating table, it did not organize the members to fight and pressure the city for a better deal.  So, it takes more than just voting “no” to get a significant improvement in a contract. It takes a struggle by the rank and file and allies.

-Marian Swerdlow,
Retired 
Chapter Leader, FDR High School, Brooklyn

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DC37 members were able to join the state’s family leave plan, which is an important benefit for those taking care of aging parents or sick children. But the new benefit is paid for exclusively through employee contributions, and only provides for partial pay up to 55% of the employee’s salary. So paid family leave ended up being a free sweetener to the contract for the de Blasio administration.

New York City workers help to set a pattern for employment wages and benefits across the metro area. We are among the few workers who do not have to pay any part of their health care premiums — an important legacy of the strength of previous union bargaining efforts that we have worked hard to protect.

But the continuation of concessions that threaten those benefits sets a dangerous precedent that will, over time, weaken health care to all those in the region.

In an era where universal single-payer health care been re-legitimized, it is foolish for city unions to concede ground on the benefits that protect working families. Instead we should be campaigning to expand protections for all.

This piece was originally published in the NY Daily News.

Lamphere and Myrie are teachers in the New York City public schools and members of the Movement of Rank and File Educators, the social justice caucus of the United Federation of Teachers.

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.

Dan Lupkin
Teacher/UFT Chapter Leader
PS 58, The Carroll School

Mindy at the Women's Strike this year where she can always be found holding up the MORE Banner!

Mindy, left, at the Women’s Strike this year where she can always be found: holding up the MORE Banner!

To our own Mindy Rosier:

We  appreciate your work as an unrelenting  union activist and social justice advocate but also as a member of MORE.
Today, the UFT will be recognizing you with a #PublicSchoolProud award – Congratulations and enjoy the celebration at Teacher Union Day!
Keep on Keeping on.

Please take a look at the latest MORE Newsletter – with reportbacks from your High School reps at the UFT Executive Board, advice for new teachers in your schools, and a letter about teacher diversity…

Download, copy and distribute to your schools! If you need copies – please email us at more@morecaucusnyc.org – we have lots!

We are also looking for people to help coordinate distribution in your district – please email if you can help.

Are you a chapter leader? Take a stack to get to other CL’s in your district.

 

 

 

Dan Lupkin
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.

Continue Reading…

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.