By Kit Wainer
Chapter Leader- Leon M. Goldstein H.S
UFT members from around the city have contacted MORE, saying that they and their entire chapters are planning to vote no. They believe our union can do better. They are right. To win the kinds of changes we all really want, however, our union will have to lead a much bigger fight.
Peter Lamphere’s must read piece demonstrates that the money is there for a better deal and that if we reject the current offer, both UFT President Michael Mulgrew and Mayor Bill DeBlasio will be under political pressure to resolve this quickly and try to come up with an agreement the members are more likely to ratify. Furthermore, when members rejected a proposed contract in 1995, we wound up with a better deal in 1996. Voting down this contract proposal may be enough to get us some small improvements over what the UFT leadership just negotiated.
But that is setting our sights too low: we deserve fair raises, an end to test-driven education, and a fairer evaluation system. ATRs deserve full citizenship. To win these, our union will have to mobilize our members with street protests and job actions to put pressure on the city and force them to negotiate better terms.
So far, the Mulgrew leadership has been unwilling to do that. Instead, UFT leaders relied on a single strategy: from 2009 through 2013 they waited for Michael Bloomberg’s mayoralty to end. The hope was that a new mayor would be friendlier to public schools and to the UFT and would be willing to bargain in good faith. After four and one half years of waiting, New York City elected the most liberal, pro-labor mayor since the second world war. Yet the only payoff for us was a wage package that does not keep up with inflation and defers our raises and back pay for several years without interest. The sides could have agreed to lobby Albany to end the use of standardized tests to evaluate teachers. They could have chosen to place all ATRs in regular positions. They could have made some progress on class size. They could have guaranteed that all schools would have full support services. But they didn’t. Clearly, the strategy of waiting for a better mayor was a failure.
Admittedly, our union can’t transform itself over night. In many schools, administrative prerogative reigns and many union members either don’t know their rights or are afraid to enforce them. In a climate of fear and disorganization, it would be difficult for any union leadership to launch the kinds of mobilization that would be necessary to win a good contract. Members who are isolated and afraid are less likely have confidence in their union.
But, fortunately, it can be done. In 2012, after months of preparation and membership organizing the Chicago Teachers Union went on strike and successfully fought off some serious attacks on their members. They showed that when a union acts like a union it can win.
After this vote is over, the union needs to change course. Our union should lead us in rallies in each borough to mount a pressure campaign for a good contract. We also need organization at the school and district level. The UFT should help union activists organize each other to defend their rights within their schools. Beyond that we need an action plan that will bring members of different schools together so that we can learn from each other and find ways to help each other organize. That’s what a union does.
We hope the current UFT leaders will learn this. But we in MORE are not waiting. We have been meeting UFT activists in various neighborhoods to help strategize ways of rebuilding their chapter and reviving union solidarity. If you would like to meet with us, please contact us at [email protected] or through our website morecaucusnyc.org. Together we can build the kind of union that can win the contract we deserve.