Archives For Michael Mulgrew

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Better Late Than Never

"A say in the priorites of our Union? (UFT) Sure, we'd like MORE."

A plea for union democracy

Dictionary definition of debate:

To discuss a question by considering opposed arguments.

UFT Delegate Assemblies are awash in a sea of undemocratic procedures. One of the most egregious has been the abuse of the rules that govern debate. The leadership and its UNITY Caucus supporters have 100 minutes to present their case plus a 10-minute question period, with the President’s report taking up a good chunk of the time. Alternate voices have a 10 minute “new motion” period. But even those 10 minutes are encroached upon when the leadership uses the pretense of presenting its own “new” motions despite the fact they have the power to add them to the regular agenda. But they go even further by restricting or shutting down debate.

President Mulgrew is violating Robert’s Rules of Order overtly when he calls exclusively on supporters of motions. His argument that he doesn’t know where people stand when he calls on them holds little water given that most of the speakers are members of his own Unity Caucus and are often, in fact, UFT officials on the UFT payroll. His job as president is to alternate between those who are in favor and those who are against a motion. Therefore, after a Unity person motivates a motion, Mulgrew’s obligation is to call on someone opposed as long as someone rises and demands the floor at the same time as a friend of a motion. The Rules call, for not just one speaker on the other side, but half of them in every debate.

Delegates have seen this basic principle of democratic debate routinely ignored, often with only a one-sided point of view being aired. There can be no “union” without a democratic union. In the interests of having a democratic union that follows the rule of law and welcomes vigorous, open debate, we urge all union members to support a movement for a more democratic union. Let us begin this movement at the Delegate Assembly.

Question for UFT’s leadership at the Delegate Assembly:

Randi Weingarten recently wrote in an article titled “Time to End Failed Policies of NCLB & RTTT.” Will the UFT refuse to sign on to any renewals of RTTT in NYC?

Now that we passed a resolution to end high stakes associated with Common Core tests, what is our political follow up?

Are there plans for childcare at DA meetings?

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Jan. 18th, 2014, 12pm-3pm
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The Commons, 388 Atlantic Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11217

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Super Shibe is a Union Doge

October 20, 2013 — 1 Comment
" wow union so rank n file MORE lol@unitee best caucus wow such justice boo Mulgroo ready 4 tha DA"

Super Shibe is a Union Doge

Too Little, Too Late

October 16, 2013 — 3 Comments
"Too Late, Mike. NYC educators trust MORE"

but, it’s just the way the city is implementing the plan, right?

[MORE's statement on the UFT leadership's change of position on testing is followed by James Eterno's full report on the Delegate Assembly]

Yesterday the Unity and New Action caucuses put forth a resolution that was passed at the Delegate Assembly calling for a moratorium on high stakes decisions for the state tests this year. While we applaud the effort to stop teachers from having their evaluations tied to flawed exams as well as a curriculum and evaluation system that has been poorly implemented and largely unsupported, we have serious reservations about the resolution as it stands.

The resolution accepts Common Core Standards and the structure of the teacher evaluation system, including the use of Danielson. These current policies are harmful to our students and our teachers.

Further, the resolution offers no plan in terms of member-driven input and action to fight the destructive policies we face nor regarding the effort to stop these policies’ high stakes impact.

MORE stands firmly in calling for a moratorium on the current teacher evaluation system until an alternative that is rooted in research and what teachers, parents, and students know results in effective teaching and learning is thoroughly negotiated, vetted, and voted on by our members. Positive alternatives exist.  We need our union to stand firm in demanding a system that benefits students and supports teachers.
Continue Reading…

Support of Union Leaders is Sought in Call for Moratorium on New NYS ‘Test-Prep’ Teacher Evaluation Scheme

MORE and Change the Stakes Team Up for “Win Back Wednesday” Rally at UFT Delegate Assembly, UFT Headquarters, Oct. 9

 For Immediate Release

NEW YORK — On October 9th at 4:00 p.m, activists from all over the city will gather at UFT headquarters to protest the emphasis on high-stakes testing that education advocates denounce for harming students, educators, and public schools. This action will be led by two grassroots organizations: the Movement of Rank and File Educators (MORE), known as ‘the social justice caucus’ of the UFT, and Change the Stakes, a group of parents who oppose reducing education to the pursuit of higher standardized test scores.

According to organizers, the rally is being called “Win Back Wednesday” because public education must be “won back” from the profit-driven entities behind high-stakes testing and school privatization schemes and returned to actual stakeholders: parents, students, and educators. Wednesday is the monthly UFT Delegate Assembly, when representatives elected by rank and file educators from every school in the city traditionally meet to vote on key decisions.

Organizers are hopeful that union leadership will change course, breaking alliances formed in recent years with self-described education “reformers,” whose agenda typically focuses on increased high-stakes testing and privatization of public schools. To highlight growing opposition to these policies, UFT members throughout NYC will wear anti-high-stakes testing stickers and buttons in their own schools on October 9th, and then gather for a united rally at UFT headquarters downtown after school.

“Our children’s education should never be thought of as ‘common’ or ‘standardized,’” said Mike Schirtzer, UFT delegate and MORE member, referring to the new Common Core State Standards and teacher evaluation system. “Recent educational policies have put a dangerous emphasis on high-stakes testing. The results? A narrowed curriculum. A climate of fear and competition in our classrooms. Students learning to bubble in the right answer, not how to think critically.”

“All too often, our leadership has been complicit in this assault on educational quality and equality,” Schirtzer said. “As the nation’s largest, most powerful union local, the UFT can and should lead the charge for real innovation in schools. Rank and file teachers and public school parents want leadership to say loudly and unambiguously what we all know to be true: the testing regime has run amok. We have chosen the UFT headquarters for the rally because we believe they can be a leading voice for real reform.”

Rally organizers will call on union leadership to demand a “real path to better public schools,” including reduced class sizes; a renewed focus on the arts, music, civics, and physical education; and funding for afterschool programs and wrap-around programs.

Jia Lee, NYC public school teacher and parent worries that, “Standardized testing only gives my son’s teacher this information: if he answered an item correctly or incorrectly. In my son’s school, mistakes are viewed as opportunities for learning; it’s never punitive as in these new high stakes tests. He doesn’t need the burden of thinking that his incorrect answers will cost his teacher her job.”

“While millions of dollars are being wasted on implementing these new ‘reform’ policies,” Schirtzer added, “our children lack the services they deserve and our educators enter their fifth year without a contract. The UFT leadership must use its power to say ‘enough is enough’! We are calling on them to join us in telling the public, politicians, and those that say they care about education that our children, teachers, and public schools are more than a test score!

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By Kit Wainer

Teacher/Chapter Leader Leon M. Goldstein High School

2007 TJC/ICE UFT Presidential Candidate

The UFT leadership’s strategy for winning us a fair contract crashed and burned on September 10. Although we have been working under an expired contract since October 2009 UFT President Michael Mulgrew has refused to lead us in the kind of movement that could have pressured the Bloomberg administration to negotiate in good faith. Instead, the president and the ruling Unity caucus banked everything on the 2013 mayor’s race. They calculated that by backing a winning candidate they could get us a friendly mayor from whom they could expect a fair contract. No union or community mobilization would be necessary. It was a naive strategy from the beginning. But when Democratic primary voters rejected Bill Thompson, the UFT’s choice, they also foiled the entire UFT strategy.

Mulgrew’s strategy

From his presentation to the September 12 Chapter Leaders meeting, one never would have guessed that Mulgrew’s electoral strategy had failed. There was no reflection on the strategic choice UFT leaders made in early 2013. Nor was there consideration of the implications of Thompson’s defeat for UFT strategy in the future.

Yet throughout the spring of 2013 the Mulgrew/Unity leadership imbued the Democratic primary with historic importance. Insisting that it would be impossible to negotiate with City Hall until Bloomberg left office, Mulgrew gradually built dramatic tension over whether to participate in the mayoral race and whom to endorse. UFT Political Action Director Paul Egan gave scientific-sounding presentations to the Delegate Assembly outlining the metrics the union would use to evaluate the race, judge the viability of each candidate, and determine the UFT’s potential impact. After deciding to enter the race the union hosted candidate forums in each borough office, fueling speculation about whom the UFT would ultimately pick. The drama culminated in the Thompson endorsement at the June Delegate Assembly. June’s dull-crescendo was well orchestrated, if somewhat insulting. The delegates were allowed to democratically vote on the endorsement. Yet the choice of Thompson had already been leaked to the press before the delegates arrived. There were already Thompson yard signs printed with the UFT’s name on it. And Thompson himself was in attendance at the Delegate Assembly before the vote had been taken.

The undertone of all of Mulgrew’s and Egan’s presentations last spring was that then-front-runner Christine Quinn would continue Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s agenda, but if the UFT could swing the primary to a different candidate, that candidate would owe us something after the election. The assessment proved to be wrong in every respect: Quinn’s front-runner status was short-lived for reasons that had nothing to do with the UFT, the UFT’s candidate lost by a substantial margin, and there is simply no evidence that the UFT had any meaningful impact on the race.

What went wrong?

The Mulgrew/Unity strategy was flawed from the beginning. UFT leaders fundamentally misunderstood where our union’s strength lies and gambled the union’s energies and resources in a game that is rigged against us.

Underlying the UFT’s approach to the 2013 elections is the assumption that the union’s strength comes from its treasury, its phone banks, its staff, and its political connections. The UFT is, after all, a substantial institution with a large full-time staff, millions of dollars in monthly dues income, and hundreds of millions worth of New York real estate assets. But no labor organization will ever have the financial or bureaucratic resources to compete with hedge fund billionaires, corporate networks, or political machines that are more than a century old and have a significant stake in influencing the next mayor. Those elite forces can outspend, out advertise, and out phone-bank any union. No wonder the UFT has not picked a winning mayoral candidate since 1989.

What’s a union to do?

October 2013 will mark our fourth year working under an expired contract. Yet the UFT has not yet begun to organize union members for the kind of fight that would be necessary to win us a good deal. Nor has it begun to build grass roots community movements against school closings, test-driven curricula, and school privatization that could change the political climate in the city. Instead of staking our futures on the union’s ability to influence the mayor’s race, the UFT should have followed the example of the Chicago Teachers Union. In fact, it is not too late for our union to do so now.

In 2012 the Chicago Teachers Union launched a series of escalating mobilizations — pickets, rallies, marches — culminating in a strike last September. At the same time they built alliances with parent and community organizations against corporate “education reform” and against the destruction of neighborhood schools. The CTU exposed the racist nature of the broad attacks on public education by pointing out that schools in low-income, non-white neighborhoods were among the first to be closed. The UFT should follow the Chicago example and begin a city-wide fightback involving union members and parent and community activists.

We also need to democratize our union. At no point last spring did members ever have a forum in which they could discuss strategy, or even provide input on whom the UFT should endorse or whether a mayoral endorsement was the best tool to win a good contract. Ironically, the undemocratic nature of UFT decision-making probably hampered the leadership’s ability to influence the Democratic primary. Few union members seemed to know or care whom their leaders had endorsed. So far there is no evidence to suggest that the UFT endorsement even influenced how union members voted. We need a leadership that can win back the confidence of a membership that is becoming increasingly discouraged and tuning the union out.

On September 18 the UFT Delegate Assembly voted to endorse Democratic nominee Bill DeBlasio. Once again Mulgrew had already held a media event with the DeBlasio before the DA had a chance to vote. No delegate was allowed to speak against the motion to endorse the Democratic candidate and DeBlasio arrived just as the vote was being taken.

Regardless of what happens in the general election the union should start now to mobilize us and our communities against the horrors of the new evaluation system, school closings and privatization, and test-driven curricula. If we do that we have a chance to turn this union around, pressure the next mayor, and  win a decent a contract. But simply waiting for a new mayor is not viable strategy. Nor is any course of action that relies exclusively on union staff, dues income, and political connections. The UFT now has 170,000 members. We need to remember that word: “members.”

These views may or may not represent the official position of the MORE caucus

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By James Eterno

Teacher/Chapter Leader- Jamaica High School

ICE/TJC 2010 UFT Presidential Candidate

UFT DELEGATES ENTHUSIASTICALLY ENDORSE DE BLASIO FOR MAYOR BUT MULGREW ONCE AGAIN STIFLES ANY DISSENT

On Wednesday there was a special Delegate Assembly meeting called to endorse Bill de Blasio for Mayor. UFT President Michael Mulgrew used a major part of his report to talk about how he brought Democratic mayoral candidates Bill deBlasio and Bill Thompson together last weekend for a meeting at UFT HQ.  His unity meeting obviously succeeded as it was one of the reasons Thompson was persuaded to drop out of the race for mayor on Monday even though all of the votes in the primary were not yet counted.

While Mulgrew appeared magnanimous with the mayoral candidates, he did not treat his Delegates the same way as he cut off debate on the deBlasio endorsement resolution before anyone was allowed to speak against the motion. Instead, to kill time he spent several minutes telling jokes while Delegates waited for deBlasio to show up to address them.

I raised a point of order and read the following line from Robert’s Rules of Order (the parliamentary procedural rule book), “Ending debate.  Debate of a question is not ended by the chair’s rising to put the question to vote until both the affirmative and the negative are put;” It goes on by saying that “a member can claim the floor and thus reopen debate.” That is clear language.

Now look up the meaning of the word debate from Webster’s Dictionary: “Debate-1: To discuss a question by considering opposing arguments.”  The leadership of our union does not understand the words opposing arguments as in this so called debate, two Delegates from the majority Unity Caucus spoke in favor of supporting de Blasio and then a third, a retired teacher, rose to call for the end of the debate.

Since members of Unity Caucus sign a pledge that they will support decisions of the caucus in union and public forums (the so called Unity loyalty oath), Mulgrew knew how the Delegates from his party would stand on the issue and the only Delegate who wanted to oppose the de Blasio endorsement was Marjorie Stamberg, a person whose call for an American working class party is known throughout the DA.  She should have been permitted to address the body so we could hear an opposing viewpoint.  That is the whole purpose of debate.

Mulgrew not only ignored my point of order, instead he erroneously stated that a point of order is a question. What was he talking about? A point of order according to Robert’s Rules is “an assertion that a rule is being violated and a request that the rule be enforced by the chair. It takes precedence over any pending motion out of which it arises.”

At this point, the UFT’s parliamentarian just fumbled through a book that looked from a distance like Roberts’ Rules but said nothing.  Mulgrew, as previously mentioned, had nothing to say so he told jokes while waiting for de Blasio to arrive and then as soon as he had word that the Public Advocate was in the house, he called on Delegates to vote on the endorsement.  The vote was nearly unanimous (I voted for the endorsement as readers of this blog know I endorsed de Blasio prior to the primary) but I was once again disgusted by the lack of democracy at the DA and I wish that all of the people who complain about the DA would vocally show support when someone attempts to see that democratic protocol is followed.  Delegates came to me after the meeting and said I was right but during the meetings there needs to be a movement for real democracy.

PRESIDENT’S REPORT
Since this was a special Delegate Assembly, there was only a report from President Michael Mulgrew and the resolution to support deBlasio. The President covered much of the same ground he touched on last week in the Chapter Leader meeting.  However, before he began there was a moment of silence for Florence Wilpon, a UFT activist from PS 137 who recently passed away.
Concerning the opening of school, Mulgrew reported that the problems were the evaluation system and the lack of curriculum. He stated that the parents were upset with the recent test results and we need to be there to support them.  He talked about the desperate situation for teachers nationally.  He then took a poke at Bloomberg calling him the worst education mayor in history.
He followed by speaking about evaluations and said we would not go back to the old system even though the current process is not that great.  The biggest concern is the Measures of Student Learning portion of the system. He said we had an agreement with the Department of Education in March that fell apart that was much better than the system State Education Department Commissioner John King imposed in his arbitration.
He added that there are contradictions in the arbitration and that it isn’t going to work but that the point of the new evaluation system is supposed to be to support and develop the work that teachers do.  He told us he can’t understand how a teacher who does not teach English can be held accountable for English test results.  He then stated that this is not the evaluation system we would want a year from now and said it would be fixed in contract negotiations.
The remainder of the report concerned politics.  Mulgrew said that our candidates won the vast majority of the 54 campaigns we were involved in this year.  He then spent time saying how Republican Joe Lhota wants to continue the Bloomberg education policies so we must defeat him and elect a Democrat as mayor.
On Thompson he pointed out that it is unconscionable that 10% of the primary votes are still not counted as of today and as a Thompson supporter, he respected the wishes of the candidate.  Then he talked about the meeting that was held last Saturday between Mulgrew, Thompson and deBlasio where they all agreed to do what is best for the city that they love by electing a Democratic mayor in November. Then, there was the aforementioned motion and the usual one sided debate.  Mulgrew then stalled and finally deBlasio came in and addressed the crowd.
DE BLASIO SPEECH
De Blasio told the Delegates that we must fix what has been broken.  He thanked Mulgrew for handling a delicate situation well.  He said there was now a danger of complacency.  He stated that he saw the poll showing him way ahead but he wasn’t fooled because vicious attacks against him would soon be coming because of his proposal to tax the wealthy to pay for universal pre-kindergarten as well as after school programs for middle schools.  He said they would throw the kitchen sink at him because of his alliance with the teacher’s union.
He then declared that we can have a safe city and a strong city.  He spoke about his “Tale of Two Cities” theme noting that it is a patriotic act to acknowledge it and fix it. He said it is not anti-business to build affordable housing or for people like car wash workers and fast food workers to organize into unions.  He complimented the UFT for organizing the child care workers and said that he was honored to be a part of that campaign.
He pointed out that he is trying to be the first mayor to have a child in the public schools.  (Someone in the crowd yelled the name of his son Dante and received a warm reaction from the candidate.)
He then concluded his remarks by saying that he thinks of teachers as heroes and that in the next seven weeks we will need to give it our all as we must fight back against the brutal attacks that are coming and we must achieve a strong victory on November 5.  He received a thunderous standing ovation and the meeting ended.
Note- James Eterno will be filing reports for MORE after each UFT Delegate Assembly during the 2013/14 school year. These are his thoughts and may/may not represent the official position of the caucus.

By Kit Wainer- Teacher & UFT Chapter Leader at Leon M. Goldstein High School

2007 TJC/ICE UFT Presidential Candidate

2013 MORE UFT Executive Board Candidate

The results of the 2013 UFT election revealed a startling fact: Just 18% of eligible active employees (20,728 of 115,050)  decided to vote.  On June 19th the UFT Delegate Assembly will entertain a motion to charge the election committee with the task of analyzing the problem of low voter turnout in the 2013 union elections. While it is easy to focus on the organizational minutiae of whether the election committee is the correct body to consider this question, or whether it is representative enough, it is important to keep an eye on the broader issue of the origins of low voter participation and its significance for the union as a whole. The declining participation is both a product and a symptom of our union’s weakness. More importantly, it poses an existential threat to the future of the UFT.

Low voter turnout is part of a long-term trend of increasing voter apathy over the last several union elections. It is also part of a larger and equally disturbing trend within the UFT as a whole. When I was first elected chapter leader in 1996 several of the oppositional high school chapter leaders would sit together at high school meetings and complain about the low attendance rates at monthly divisional meetings. At that time there were slightly more than 200 high schools but rarely would more than 40 chapter leaders show up at the monthly meetings. Over the past two years the number of high schools has increased to more than 400 and the turnout of chapter leaders at monthly meetings has declined to fewer than 20. At some meetings participation has been in the single digits if we count only those chapter leaders without part-time staff positions.

Although attendance at Delegate Assemblies has been steady over the past 20 years, it has been very low. The UFT’s meeting hall is large enough to seat no more than 30% of the delegates and there is only slight spillover into the secondary meeting room upstairs. Consider that a delegate’s only job is to show up at the monthly meetings. A delegate who is not coming to DAs is, therefore, not performing any aspect of his/her responsibilities. The fact that thousands of delegates have behaved the same way over decades indicates that this isn’t a problem of individual behavior. It is a larger trend. Inactive delegates are replaced by other inactive delegates.

The success of the June 12 rally is a hopeful sign. However, past membership turnout at union rallies has been uneven, at best. In spring 2005 the UFT did manage to pull off several successful protest events as a build-up to what should have been an activist contract fight. However, more recent results have been disappointing. On December 1, 2011, in the wake of the Occupy protests, the UFT participated in a city-wide union protest. Michael Mulgrew advertised the December 1 march as the one we were “building” — as opposed to other Occupy-inspired actions we were only “supporting.” Then-staff member Janella Hinds came to a high school meeting in November to impress upon us the importance of the march. She argued that if we show up with only 1000 members it will be a show of weakness. I marched in the UFT contingent that day along with the 300-400 other UFT members who heeded the President’s rallying cry.

Analyzing the causes of membership apathy requires some educated speculation. We have no polling data to indicate why people don’t vote or don’t show up. We know that we are in a larger historic climate of low levels of activism, at least compared to the decades of labor upsurges of the 1930s and 1940s, or compared to the growth of social movements in the 1950s and 1960s. However, that is only part of the explanation. Our members vote in U.S. elections at a much higher rate than they vote in UFT elections, despite the fact that going to the polls in November requires more effort than filling out and returning a mail ballot. (And despite the fact that, in my view, decisions of President Mulgrew have a greater impact on the daily lives of UFT members than do decisions of President Obama).

The low membership participation is an ironic — and dangerous — consequence of the UFT’s failures to defend the basic rights of our members.  The impact of the 2005 contract was disastrous. Our work day was lengthened. We lost the right to grieve letters in the file or transfer to other schools and the ATR crisis was born. Now we will be evaluated based on standardized test scores. And at 3020-a hearings the burden of proof will now be on us to convince a hearing officer that we should not be fired. The problem is not simply that we have lost ground. It is that the UFT leaders have spun each giveback as a victory and argued that we are better off than we used to be. Members may not analyze the causes of our decline but when bureaucrats tell them that steps backward are really strides forward, when they tell them things that contradict what they see and feel at work every day,  members simply tune the union out. UFT members have become acclimated to bureaucratic double-speak. We hear it from supervisors, from the Department of Education, from politicians. We have learned over the years to mentally change the channel. When our union representatives speak the same bureaucratic language we respond the same way.

Members respond to the union’s failures — and its refusal to admit failure — by tuning the entire union out. They don’t show up at meetings or rallies and they don’t vote. Ironically, this strengthens Unity’s hand as it frees them of the obligation of formulating coherent arguments that can convince independent delegates that they are right. Delegate Assemblies attract mostly Mulgrew’s Unity Caucus members and have become pro-leadership rallies in which the President speaks for most of the 2 hours and there is little room for serious conversation or debate. Nor does the leadership have to win over activist, critically-minded voters in order to prevail in union elections. Ironically, membership inactivity feeds the very forces that lead to more discouragement and more inaction. And an increasingly isolated union leadership is weaker, more prone to make concessions, and more likely to alienate members. The cycle is tragic but not illogical. Members who are disenchanted with the  union’s trajectory have thus far chosen apathy rather than than the project of building an alternative vision. Frustrating as it is, this decision makes sense for members who have no live experience of any other version of unionism. So many members infer from Unity’s failures that unions in general are bankrupt, or at least irrelevant.

The Unity leadership has turned off the membership and that may soon pose a serious crisis for the UFT as a whole. As some MORE members have pointed out, by acquiescing to the new evaluation procedure, Mulgrew has negotiated contractual concessions without anything in return — not even a contract. Invariably, the state and the city will want more in the very near future and the UFT leaders no longer have the ability (assuming they had the desire) to mobilize the membership to defend what rights we still have. Worse still, the 18% turnout among active members in the 2013 UFT election is a signal that the membership’s lack of investment in the UFT has now reached crisis proportions. This opens the possibility of a direct challenge to the very existence of the UFT. In the national climate of declining union membership and state legislatures moving to eliminate collective bargaining in historic union strongholds such as Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin, to ignore the possibility of an assault on our collective bargaining rights would be foolish. An attack from a Tea-Party dominated legislature is unlikely in blue New York. However, a decertification drive from “reform” groups such as Educators For Excellence or Children First is a possibility. Can we be certain that the 82% of active members who don’t care who our union president is will vote to continue paying $100 per month in union dues if given the choice not to? By failing to mobilize our members for the kind of fight we should be waging in this political climate the Mulgrew regime is endangering the very union it leads. That is nothing short of grotesque dereliction of duty.

The good news is that our union’s decline is not inevitable. We can turn things around. The Chicago Teachers Union, which launched a successful strike in September 2012, has shown us that an activist, mobilized membership can fight back and win. The corporate reformers are still on the move in Chicago, but the strike checked at least part of their agenda and provided a living example that participating and organizing are worth the effort. We need that kind of change in mentality in New York.

The Unity leadership seems impervious to the lessons of our defeats in New York or the successes in Chicago. But the Movement of Rank and File Educators is committed to a unionism that is based on mobilized members in alliance with a broader social movement to save our schools from destructive reforms. We believe that a revitalized UFT can energize our members and fend off even Bloomberg-style attacks. We urge you to get involved. The future of your union may depend on it.

By Julie Cavanagh

Wow. While having breakfast with my husband and almost nine month old son (who is finally on the mend after more than a week of a fever ranging 102-104 every day, during the same time my best friend’s 18 month old daughter was in the hospital, who by the way, is also a teacher and a single mother of two young children), I picked up my phone to see a mention on Twitter from Arthur Goldstein (teacher and chapter leader in Queens). I frankly couldn’t believe what I was reading. Usually a mention from Arthur has me in stitches. Not this time.

Now instead of relaxing while my baby takes a nap, I am writing this in response to comments on the ICE and MORE blogs attacking my commitment as a unionist and chapter leader and questioning my worthiness as a candidate for UFT President. All of this because I, and the caucus I represent, had the nerve to insist that Michael Mulgrew engage in a forum or debate with me so that our members can be fully informed and engaged when it comes to their voting choices in the upcoming election.

First let me say that I do not feel I need to defend my role as a chapter leader. Nearly every UFT member in our school, signed my petition for UFT President, and many of my colleagues are actually running in this election with MORE.

Second, I certainly do not need to defend my attendance at Delegate Assemblies. While I do attend, often, DAs are not a democratic forum. As I am sure the commenters on the ICE and MORE blogs know, and as all Unity folks know, the room is not even large enough for all of the CLs and delegates to be seated and when you do go and sit, you listen to Mulgrew practice his stand up routine for an hour or so, after which you *might* have the chance to ask a question or bring a resolution to the floor if Mulgrew recognizes you. Regardless, it is an effort in futility because it really doesn’t matter what you say, ask or bring to the floor; the ruling Unity caucus will disagree with it or vote it down, since they control the DA. If the UFT leadership actually held Delegate Assemblies each month that were informative and provided fair and ample time for discourse and discussion, I would be there in a New York Minute. As this is not the case, I attend as many Delegate Assemblies as I can, but sometimes other events such as a childcare issue, my son being ill or an important meeting in my community to bring a new partner into Red Hook to service children and families with disabilities will take precedence. I do not need to go to the delegate assembly to prove who I am or that I am committed to my union; I act every day in a way that highlights why I should be president of the UFT.

I am a mother and a teacher. I have been a teacher for thirteen years, and have been working with children with special needs and their families for even longer. I have stayed in the same community and school since moving to NYC in 2001, because I am committed to the process of leading school change and improvement from the school level. I became chapter leader at the request of my colleagues a few years ago and have worked hard with them, our parents, and our principal to make sure our children and our teachers have the best learning and working conditions possible. I fought for my school during the dictatorship that my union handed to the mayor, during a co-location of a charter school in my building that my union didn’t adequately help fight (which is difficult since the UFT leadership chose to co-locate its own charter), while our class sizes rise steadily and our budgets are slashed, while teacher’s choice was eliminated and insultingly reinstated to cover no more than a few boxes of pencils, while ATR’s rotate in and out of my building- some of whom  have approached me on the brink of tears desperate for someone to listen to their struggle, during a time of a tidal wave of assaults on our children, our schools, and our profession.

Throughout this time, I not only worked in my own school community, I worked with parents and union members across the city and the country to fight back. You can find links to some of my work here, but I will list a few highlights: I co-wrote/edited/produced/and narrated a film that stood up to corporate education reform, a film that has been seen by hundreds of thousands of people in every state and on every continent (except Antarctica); I have appeared on several TV and radio programs and written several articles where I have spoken out forcefully against corporate education reform and for the schools our children deserve – and I was invited or asked in every single case to participate, so while those in Unity caucus pretend to not know who I am or what I have done (but yet “know”, falsely, that I am not at DAs) apparently the national media does; I have also worked with other union members in the city and nationally  I helped organize a conference, and attended and facilitated, in Chicago in the summer of 2011 with other teacher union members; I helped lead the solidarity efforts with Verizon workers at the end of that same summer. I have sued, with a parent and a student, Mayor Bloomberg for the right to protest school closings and co-locations on his block and successfully organized and co-led that protest. I was the only teacher petitioner in the effort to stop and overturn the appointment of Cathy Black and also recently the only teacher on record to join with parents in sounding the alarm of student and teacher data privacy issues regarding SLC/inBloom data systems (Randi Weingarten, by the way, sits on inBloom’s advisory board). I say all of this not because I think anything that I am or that I do is so special, I share this information to highlight the outlandishness of the attacks from people whose usual line is there should be no attacks on union folks because we are under attack from outside forces and therefore need ‘unity’. I also share this because these are the things the president of a union should do.

Beyond of all of this, if Unity caucus can attack me for the number of times I went to the DA (this year I believe I have been to four DAs), the number of grievances I have filed (none), the number of UFT trainings or committees I have attended (none), then I wonder why they nominated Randi Weingarten as their presidential candidate, since she never attended a DA as a chapter leader, was never a chapter leader, and therefore never filed a grievance, attended the trainings, etc.

I personally do not think any of those things are what makes someone qualified to run our union. What matters is leadership. What matters is vision. What matters is the philosophy by which one will govern and represent the membership. I believe in a union that is member led and member driven. When I, or a candidate from MORE caucus, become president of the union, you will not have to attend a DA and sit idly and listen. The DA will be yours. When we take over leadership of our union, we will organize, support and build fighting chapters at the school level with elected district representatives who are trained organizers.  When we run the union, leadership and staffers will make salaries equivalent to the teachers we represent — there will be no extra perks, no double pensions.  When we lead our union, you will not go more than three years without a contract, at least not without organized job actions and a fight.

When Unity’s stranglehold of the leadership of our union ends, the members will have representation that believes in solidarity with other unions and in the power of our collective action. You will have a union that educates, mobilizes, and organizes our members and the public and who organically partners with parents and young people. You will have a leadership that truly understands that our working conditions are our students’ learning conditions, that a harm to one is a harm to us all, and that we must stand side by side with deep roots in the communities we serve to fight for social, racial and economic justice in our schools, in our city and across the country.

I am more than ready to share who I am with the members of the UFT and I am happy to answer their questions. In fact, that is precisely the reason I sent the email below to Michael Mulgrew. I believe a union membership with a less than 30% voter turnout needs to be engaged and exposed to open discourse and conversation between the two people who seek to represent them.

Mr. Mulgrew, I am still waiting for a response.

***

Sent: Mar 14, 2013 8:01 PM

Michael,

I hope this email finds you well.

While we have differences and disagreements concerning education policy and union democracy, we both are committed to our union and the children we serve. In that spirit, we should be able to engage in an open conversation during election season so we can ensure our fellow members are informed and engaged.

To this point you have ignored outreach regarding your participation in a debate or question and answer town hall with me. I would like to directly and formally ask you to participate in such an event.

I believe that our members deserve the opportunity to ask questions of their presidential candidates and I strongly believe this kind of open and honest discourse strengthens our union: an educated and engaged membership that is listened to and participates makes us stronger.

There is precedent for an event such as this between presidential candidates during election season.  As you know, Randi has participated in presidential debates in the past: one in 1999 and again in 2001.

I am open to a debate format with a third party moderator or a town hall question and answer event with the membership. My only specific asks are that the event be filmed and/or livestreamed so that we can maximize member participation, that the date, which I am open to any, be agreed to a few days in advance, so that I can secure child care and that the date be as close to April 3rd as possible, so that we provide a fair amount of time for members during the election timeframe.

I look forward to your response.

In solidarity,
Julie Cavanagh