Archives For Unity Caucus
I’m a special education teacher at a Brooklyn high school, so I spend lots of time in meetings: meetings with co-teachers, meetings with parents, IEP meetings, meetings with paraprofessionals and speech therapists, department meetings, meetings with guidance counselors and social workers. I spend my lunch periods meeting with 12th graders to help them with their research papers and I spend my preps meeting with 9th graders to help them with…all the things 9th graders need help with. Running for union office means even more meetings, and if I’m elected to the UFT Executive Board, there will be meetings, meetings, meetings. Oh, and I forgot to mention: I kind of hate meetings. So, why am I running?
Our union’s leadership, the Unity Caucus, says that New York City teachers are doing well. In some ways, they’re right. We get paid pretty well. Our benefits are very solid. Our union contract is incredibly valuable and every teacher, paraprofessional, service provider, and other school employee needs to make sure that (especially after the Supreme Court’s terrible Janus decision), we keep our membership up to date and we work together to keep the union strong.
But if things are so good, why do so many veteran teachers say that things in our schools are worse than they’ve ever seen? They’re not talking abut pay and benefits. They’re talking about the fact that teachers are under attack and our UFT contract is not enough. It doesn’t protect us from the absurd, arbitrary humiliations that we’re subjected to daily under the Danielson rubric. Actually, Unity Caucus loves Danielson. UFT President Michael Mulgrew has called the Kafkaesque experience of having our teaching subjected to Danielson “a model” that should be used “statewide.”
Teacher evaluation isn’t the only problem. Our students with disabilities are woefully under-supported and the union’s mechanisms for enforcing compliance are a joke. Teachers who fight for our special ed students are routinely harassed and intimidated by administrators who threaten our livelihoods because we fight for our students. I know. It happened to me back at my first Brooklyn high school.
Teacher pay and benefits might be okay, but they’re not enough. The UFT doesn’t just represent teachers. Our union sisters and brothers who work as occupational and physical therapists are paid tens of thousands of dollars less than other school workers with comparable workloads and responsibilities, and they recently voted down the contract that Unity tried to force on them. And they’re not just frustrated about their low salaries: their working conditions are often abysmal. Many of them don’t even have designated workspaces. They deserve MORE.
We all deserve MORE. We work in a city that just gave Amazon — one of the richest corporations in the world — a $3 billion tax break, while our schools run out of paper and other basic supplies. Unity keeps telling us how great we’re doing, they keep telling us we’re winning, but every teacher I know is overworked, overtired, and overstressed. Veteran teachers keep saying things are the worst they’ve ever seen.
The Mayor’s not going to fix our schools. Unity won’t fix them either; they seem to think that all we care about is the size of our paychecks, but teachers care about MORE. Our union leaders should fight for more; vote for MORE-UFT and that’s what we’ll do! We’ll fight for smaller classes, for time to plan lessons, for clean buildings with adequate workspace, for an end to Danielson and abusive supervision, for a commitment to equity at every level. We may not win every fight right away, but we’ll never tell hard-working teachers that we should be grateful that we can (barely) cover the rent.
I don’t want more meetings, but I’m running for union office for MORE-UFT because I believe our schools should be better. And I believe the only thing that can fix our schools is teachers, OTs, PTs, and paraprofessionals coming together to demand what we deserve: We deserve MORE.
by: Will Johnson
Special Education/English Teacher
Why does the UFT leadership negotiate contracts that don’t respond to our or our students’ needs?
The explanation most often given by the opposition in the UFT has been: the UFT leadership is out of touch, they’ve been out of the classroom too long, so they make the wrong demands, and are willing to accept givebacks. This is a good start for an explanation, but there are important parts missing in this.
For one thing, this explanation implies DOE would give us what we need if our leaders would only ask for it, and if our leaders merely said, “No,” would withdraw demands for givebacks. Clearly, that’s not true.
The DOE and the City Administration will resist any demands that spend more revenue on needs of working families and poor families, whether its own employees or most of city’s students: raises, benefits, class size, workloads, supplies and so on. For complex political reasons, as well as fiscal concerns, it will resist giving employees more control over work.
So, the union needs a strategy to overcome this resistance to win enough to keep the union and its current leadership viable.
The strategy the UFT has adopted for over forty years has been to cultivate relationships with “friendly politicians,” mayor, state legislators, governor, city council, and so forth. Mainly these relationships are with Democrats, but sometimes also Republicans.
UFT leaders make “friends” with politicians most obviously by giving them support in election campaigns support: the UFT’s default policy is to support incumbents. This is especially true of legislators. UFT leaders also lobby on behalf of political leaders, supporting legislation the latter want, such as funding for projects they want, or mayoral control.
But there is another “service” the UFT leadership offer in exchange for sufficient contract gains to remain viable, that is less obvious but equally, if not more, important. It manages the membership to limit its demands on the DOE and the state. It does this by lowering members’ expectations, by instilling fear of fighting or striking, or of even rejecting a contract, and channeling membership anger and demands into limited safe, and harmless, activities, such as fighting to save their own school instead of fighting against the policy of school closings. It sells “reforms” politicians want, like ratings based on student performance, to the membership. So, bad contracts are “baked into” this strategy: it can’t be used to get better contracts
The most important politician for the contract is the mayor. UFT has tried to develop this relationship with every Mayor from Dinkins in 1990. The UFT and Democratic mayors have publicly portrayed each other as “friends”. UFT has “helped out” these mayors at members’ expense: In 1991, the UFT managed a delay of raises negotiated the previous year when there was a shortfall in the city’s budget. The 2014 contract helped De Blasio by setting a low pattern for other city contracts, and giving up any real retro pay, postponing both receiving the supposed “retro” raises and the back pay to future times in the contract. The UFT and Republican Mayors have publicly treated each other as “foes.” But the UFT still managed the membership, seeking in return just enough to make that management successful by forestalling rank and file revolt.
This did not protect the members from a two year pay freeze under Giuliani, the worst giveback contract ever in 2005 and then a 5 year pay freeze from 2009 to 2014 under Bloomberg. So, members pay a price when the mayor is “friendly,” and do even worse when mayor is hostile.
To get better contracts, we need more than leaders recently in classroom, who are “in touch.” We need a different strategy.
It isn’t difficult to imagine a strategy that would be more successful than the one the UFT is currently pursuing. For the past half dozen years teachers around the United States have engaged in protests, job actions, and strikes. They have won victories in Chicago, West Virginia, Oklahoma, and in several school districts in the Pacific Northwest.
Unity/UFT leaders contend that our union members are unwilling to engage in that kind of activism. But that claim is hollow. UFT leaders have made no real effort to activate the membership or convince them that a confrontational strategy could work. They have no way of judging how far our members are willing to go.
The UFT can prepare our members for higher levels of activism. One or two years before the expiration of the new contract the union can launch a member-driven campaign to set contract goals and decide on a course of action to win those goals. The campaign could begin with multi-school membership meetings in which members can share experiences and determine what goals they have in common. The union could encourage joint actions such as color days, and “honor pickets” in which members rehearse for a strike by picketing outside school until a few minutes before start time and then entering the building together. Borough and city-wide protests can develop a sense of union solidarity and collective purpose. Finally, as a union we can appeal to various community organizations through joint actions which link our contract campaign to a collective effort to fund our schools and make our city livable again.
Even the Unity/UFT leadership has led activities like this in the past. For example, prior to the 2005 contract the union encouraged chapters to organize pickets to demand a fair contract. There were UFT rallies at borough offices, honor pickets, color days, all of which culminated in a 20,000-strong gathering at Madison Square Garden in June 2005. Members demonstrated that they could be responsive to a leadership that wanted to organize them. Unfortunately, the following fall the UFT dropped the mobilization campaign and instead settled for a contract loaded with givebacks. Since then the union has negotiated three contracts: one beginning in 2007, one in 2009, and one in 2019. But it did not prepare an active contract campaign for any of them, which is probably why we have not won back anything that we gave up in 2005.
Following the victories of teacher activism and teacher strikes in so many parts of the country it should be easier for a teacher union to point to successful strikes as examples to follow. So why won’t the Unity/UFT leadership do this? Why do they continue with a business-as-usual approach? Unfortunately, the answer is that the UFT, like most unions in the United States, is run by people whose principal interest is to maintain the stability of the union as an organization. Since its founding in 1962 the UFT has evolved into a massive institution which collects more than ten million dollars per month in dues. This revenue stream sustains a vast bureaucracy of hundreds of office staff, district and special representatives, and union officers. For the most part they are paid more than we rank and file members are and have better working conditions. They make and carry out policies whose purpose is to maintain the stability of the UFT as an organization because that is the best guarantor of their higher salaries, better working conditions and their jobs themselves. They have little interest in mobilizing for the best contract we can achieve. Strike preparation is risky activity. It raises members’ expectations, which makes us less likely to vote to approve contracts with givebacks and inadequate raises. It creates rank and file leaders, who could potentially effectively challenge incumbent UFT tops for office.
Strikes themselves are even riskier. In New York public sector unions can face financial penalties along with the loss of collaborative relationships with elected officials. Union leaders avoid those risks because they threaten the bureaucracy’s ability to maintain itself at present levels. Although as rank and file members we also face risks in a strike, it is also the only effective way for us to make significant gains. The union bureaucracy can raise dues and improve their conditions in safer and comfortable ways. And as long as the rank and file keep re-electing the bureaucracy’s candidates and approving their contracts by wide margins, they have no incentive to move outside their comfort zone.
The Unity caucus is the political arm of that bureaucracy. Caucus membership is a necessary qualification for anyone interested full-time or even part-time employment with the union. And caucus membership requires unconditional support for the union’s leaders, its policies, and whatever contract it negotiates.
The Supreme Court’s Janus decision, which struck down state laws requiring all public employees to contribute at least agency fees to their union, could have been a wake-up call. In fact, in 2017 it appeared that the union intended to prepare for the eventual court ruling by activating its membership. It sent “door-knockers” to the homes of tens of thousands of UFT members with talking points that urged members both to stay union and to get more involved in their chapters. These doorway conversations often lasted fifteen minutes or more. However, by late spring the UFT changed the focus. The conversations were moved into the schools, and were cut to 30-60 seconds. Members were now only asked to commit to continue paying union dues. The UFT leadership showed that it is more committed to maintaining its income stream than in developing a more inspiring and activist vision of unionism.
Unity/UFT leaders believe they can sustain the union by maintaining close and collaborative relations with politicians. However, the 2019 contract shows the limits of that strategy. We just ratified a deal in which our wages will fail to keep pace with inflation and new teachers will receive an inferior health care plan. This deal was negotiated at a time in which New York had a Democratic governor and the most liberal Democratic mayor we have seen in decades. The 2019 contract, therefore, likely represents the upper limit of what our current union leadership can achieve.
Frighteningly, in the post-Janus world, a public sector union that cannot inspire members, risks losing them. In September 2018 UFT President Michael Mulgrew reported that no more than five active members had dropped out of the union so far. However, only 2600 out of 4000 new hires had joined the union. A union that mobilizes and energizes them can convince them that dues are worth paying. A union that cuts their health care benefits will have a tougher sell.
We can turn things around. Teachers around the United States are showing that another model of unionism is realistic and effective. We, the rank and file, must insist that, and pressure, our union to prepare for the next contract battle by engaging members to more actively protest around issues such as over-sized classes, abusive administrators, or unsafe and unsanitary building conditions. Concrete victories can demonstrate that union activism is worthwhile and prepare our members for bigger battles in the future.
-Kit Wainer, Chapter Leader Goldstein H.S., and Marian Swerdlow, former CL FDR H.S., retired
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.
During the week of February 5th-9th, in schools across the country, educators are taking part in a National Black Lives Matter Week of Action. The week of action has three central demands: 1) to end zero tolerance discipline policies and implement restorative justice, 2) to hire more Black teachers, and 3) to mandate Black history and ethnic studies be taught throughout the K-12 curriculum.
The Black Lives Matter Week of Action is part of a long history of teachers standing up for what is right, in our classrooms, in our schools, and in our communities. Most teacher unions agree: The Chicago Teachers Union, the New Jersey Education Association, the United Teachers Los Angeles, the Seattle Education Association and the Milwaukee Teachers Education Association are among the growing list of teachers unions that have voted to support this crucial and timely week of anti-racist action in schools. The National Education Association’s Human & Civil Rights Department has even developed a website for teachers to share stories and resources.
Yet at the United Federation of Teachers Delegates Assembly on January 17, 2018, the largest teachers’ local in the country, at the leadership’s suggestion and after only five minutes of debate, voted against supporting the NYC Black Lives Matter Week of Action. Delivering the union leadership’s rationale against the resolution, LeRoy Barr, the Assistant Secretary of the UFT and the chair of the ruling Unity caucus, called Black Lives Matter a “divisive” issue. He argued that with the anticipated Supreme Court ruling on Janus v. AFSCME, which will likely allow public sector workers to receive union representation and benefits without paying union dues, it is crucial to remain “united.”
But united in support of what? The Black Lives Matter week of action is about uniting to support students by implementing restorative justice, hiring Black teachers, and teaching Black history and ethnic studies. These are basic anti-racist demands that any organization of educators should get behind. Furthermore, most of the students we teach and the families we serve in NYC are Black and Latino. No doubt they can unite behind these demands. This week of action is just one of the ways educators can build greater solidarity with the communities we serve. Far from being divisive, this is about unifying and strengthening our union and the communities we serve.
If, in the face of the attack on collective bargaining that Janus represents, we are in fact divided, it is because we have failed to engage and organize the union’s membership. The privatization of schools has disproportionately hurt the careers of Black teachers. As a union, we should know that an injury to one is literally an injury to all. A union that can’t support a movement to make “Black Lives Matter” won’t be able to build the solidarity necessary to overcome Janus and other right-wing attacks on working people.
We have to rebuild our union from the bottom-up and educate ourselves and each other about the problems we face and the steps we can take together to confront them. Grassroots collective actions in our schools—such as the Black Lives Matter Week of Action—can be part of this process. We invite teachers across New York City to join us and other teachers around the country by taking part in February’s Black Lives Matter week of action as a first step to building a school system where Black Lives Matter.
NYC Black Lives Matter Week of Action Organizing Committee
Movement of Rank-and-File Educators (MORE) Steering Committee
New York Collective of Radical Educators (NYCORE)
We are asking UFT members and members of the community that support our statement to sign on as an individual. We will release the names of everyone who has signed on after February’s week of action to show the broad support this statement has and encourage UFT leaders and members to support the week of action in the future. If you’d like to sign on as an individual please fill out this form.
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.