Archives For unions

by: Mike Schirtzer
Teacher/UFT Delegate (Leon M. Goldstein H.S.)
2013 MORE/UFT Vice Presidential Candidate

“The ones I pity are the ones who never stick out their neck for something they believe, never know the taste of moral struggle, and never have the thrill of victory.” -Jonathan Kozol

This quote by the great writer and public education advocate Mr. Kozol leads one to infer that without a struggle there cannot be victory. One may also assert that there is victory in the struggle itself. The question of how an opposition caucus within a union can gain power and victory is one that must be answered in order for that caucus to progress.

Without power, there can never be victory. Power in any group is obtained when the individuals that make up the group feel empowered. Empowerment comes when each member is able to stand up and fight back against the corporate and political forces that seek to destroy public education and bust our unions. We empower our members by assuring them that their voices count, and by asking them for their input on all major decisions. An organization that allows for true democracy is one that empowers its members. We also empower our members by having a space where dissent and debate are welcomed, not suppressed. Empowerment comes when we stand together at delegate assemblies , rallies and school closing hearings, when we cheer each other on, and offer words of encouragement. Empowerment is when new activists who join our caucus realize their ideas are as valuable as  those of our founding members. Our caucus has power when each and every member feels as though they can stand up and speak even when they are the minority in the room, because they are empowered by the vocal and moral support of their brothers and sisters. Our members become empowered because each one is given a responsibility and they know the only way our caucus can be a success is by them fulfilling those responsibilities.

The caucus empowers our members by asking them to appear on panels, facilitate meetings, or join expert forums. We realize that the true experts are not paid off politicians, billionaire reformers, nor professors who have never stepped foot in a public education classroom. The real experts are the educators and parents whose lives are devoted to public education.

Power leads to victory when each of our members walks through the doors of their school, community center, union hall, or legislative building feeling as they have as much power as anyone in that place. Then we know we can achieve victory.

Victory is achieved when new members walk through our doors and say “thank God you exist,” having heard those very words out in the open that they hear in their head each day. They are feeling the very spirit that they wished they felt from their union and government leaders. But the real victory is when the members of the caucus turn to that new member and say, “No, thank God you’re here, because we need you.” That is real empowerment.  That is victory!

Victory is achieved when our members take what they learn at our caucus meetings and bring it back to their school, share it with their colleagues, and speak at Parent Association meetings. This is victory because the message is not being delivered by an out of touch media or an elitist politician, but it’s being delivered by someone who has a stake in the public education system.

We know we have won something when our members go back to their schools and organize a fund to help undocumented students attend the college of their choice, or when a member organizes a club for African-Americans and other students of color at their school where students teach their peers to respect one another and even organize multicultural fairs. When our parents opt their children out of the tests, we have won. They have done this because they realize social justice is more than just a slogan.

When our union brothers and sisters are offered a choice in a union election, an alternative to the current leadership, this is a victory for democracy. MORE’s very existence offers a beacon of hope to those who feel as though they are disenfranchised. Every time we stand up and voice our discontent that union leaders sell out public education for a seat at the table, we ensure that democracy thrives.

Victory is when the bonds of the members of our caucus become so strong that when one of us feels hurt we all feel that pain. We win every time we’re able to look past our political differences to advocate for public education, because we realize that what brings us together is stronger than what separates us.

We have won when we are able to look to each other for the moral and vocal support that is supposed to come from our union leadership, yet only comes from those in our caucus.

Victory is being the largest and loudest contingent at the rare march or rally called by our union leadership, leading the chants as we march across the Brooklyn Bridge. We win when the leadership has no clue how to organize an action and all union members look to us for what to say or do.

We have achieved victory when the media and the general public know that when they want to hear the voice of rank and file educators, they call you, read your blogs, look for your press statements. We win when our social media has as many readers, if not more, than the corporate reformers who pretend to be interested in our children, but only care about profits.

MORE has yet to achieve victory. When our entire union is organized and mobilized to lead the fight for a fair education for all, we will declare victory. When our leadership is responsive, transparent, and truly democratic, we will declare victory. When educators, parents, and students are treated with the dignity they deserve, we will declare victory. When every child is offered equal opportunity and equality of conditions in their education, we will declare victory. When the “new Jim Crow” policies of privatization and closing schools ends and proper funding for public education is restored, we will know we have won.

Until then, we continue our struggles together. We will succeed because when we stand united, we can never be defeated!

alt="Resolute Quokka fights for social justice and union democracy"

Adorable marsupials want more relevant, responsive teacher unions too!

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

A plea for union democracy

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.

Rally flier

WE MAKE THE CITY RUN!

ARE WE FED UP YET? There is not one unionized city worker working with a contract right now. Over 300,000 workers in 152 bargaining units have been working without contracts for four, even five years. Now city leaders threaten us with more years of wage freezes and loss of benefits.

Yet we do it all. City workers keep the city clean, we keep it safe, we care for the city’s health, we transport people, we educate its children. WE ARE THE WORKERS WHO MAKE THE CITY RUN!

City leaders and the media have been conducting an organized attack on unionized labor, saying we cost too much money. That’s because they want to lower the standard of living for ALL workers. They target and scapegoat unionized workers because they know that where large groups of workers’ organize, all workers benefit. They want us workers to pay for their unending economic crisis.

A key ingredient in any fight back is workers’ unity. We need to unite across unions and our fight needs to be anti-­‐racist and anti-­‐sexist. That means uniting Black, [email protected], Asian & White, and female & male workers. By targeting mostly Black & [email protected] unionized bus drivers last winter, for example, the city bosses attempted to establish a pattern to drive down wages and benefits for all and put us all on the defensive. Racism & sexism work as a wedge to attack all workers and we can’t allow that! AN INJURY TO ONE IS AN INJURY TO ALL.

We in organized labor determine what happens with other workers, both here in NYC and nationwide. If we fight back, ALL WORKERS GAIN.

Wednesday JUNE 12th

4 pm, City Hall FAIR CONTRACTS NOW!

MORE Meet-up Info

4:00-4:30 Gather at 52 Chambers St. Tweed/DOE HQ one block north of City Hall Park

4:30 We march together  to meet UFT contingent at City Hall Rally

6:15 Post Rally Happy Hour  Maxwell’s, 59 Reade St. between Broadway and Church. One block north of Chambers St. (http://www.maxwellsnyc.com). Near City Hall rally

Our Event Facebook Link

Follow Us on Twitter during rally for updates and to find us

Here is the Flier to share out wide

All Out For Fair Contract Rally

Raun J. Rasmussen, Executive Director

Joseph S. Genova, Chair, Board of Directors

Legal Services NYC

 

Dear Mr. Rasmussen:

The Movement of Rank and File Educators (MORE), the Social Justice

Caucus of the United Federation of Teachers, stands with the members

of Legal Services Staff Association (LSSA), our brothers and sisters

of UAW Local 2320, who were forced to strike on May 15th for the first

time in nearly 20 years.  We urge the management of Legal Services NYC

to immediately negotiate a fair contract with its staff, so they can

return to the work they hold dear of providing critical legal

protections to New York’s low-income families, many of whom are our

fellow school workers, students and their families.

We stand with the LSSA as colleagues in providing vital services to

New York’s working families. Just as we fight for our members’

professional dignity and respect, we support the LSSNY workers’ stand

for dignity and respect. Just as we insist on a better educational

environment for ourselves and for the students whose lives we touch,

we want to ensure the LSSA have the resources and support they need

to continue to be the best advocates possible.

We support the strikers’ fight for their rights to family sustaining

wages and benefits.  The current offer demands significant,

financially unnecessary cuts to health care coverage and retirement

benefits, and freezes salaries at current levels, despite a steadily

rising cost of living in New York.

MORE strongly urges you to avoid a prolonged strike by offering your

staff a contract that reflects the value they bring to your

organization and to the ongoing fight to protect New York’s most

vulnerable workers.  We stand in solidarity with our union brothers and sisters in

their struggle.

 

 

TMLOGO.NORTHLAND

 

 

Our friends at Labor Notes are having the premier union conference and workshops in NYC this Saturday.
Labor Notes is an organization that is dedicated to rank-and-file members, local union leaders, and labor activists who know the labor movement is worth fighting for. They encourage connections between workers in different unions, workers centers, communities, industries, and countries to strengthen the movement—from the bottom up. MORE’s own Julie Cavanagh will be in attendance and making a brief speech, as well as many other members of MORE. We encourage you to register for this great chance to learn union and community organizing from experienced activists.

Register Today: New York City Troublemakers School, May 18 

Join us for a day of skill-building workshops, education, and strategydiscussions to put some movement back in the labor movement. 

Click here for details and registration (just $25, with lunch included.)

With Cablevision technician Lawrence Hendrickson on CWA’s struggle for a first contract, intensive care nurse Julie Semente on her union’s effort to stop the closure of Brooklyn’s Long Island College Hospital, and Chicago Teachers Union member Nate Rasmussen on their strike last fall and the continuing effort to rescue public education in Chicago.

Also with Josh Freeman on Lessons from New York Labor History; Dave Newman of NYCOSH on an Organizing Approach to Health and Safety; Labor law expert Robert Schwartz on Just Cause: How to Win Discipline Cases; and a discussion of After Bloomberg: A Union Agenda for New York City.

Plus workshops and panels on:

  • Beating Apathy
  • Dealing with Difficult Supervisors
  • Secrets of a Successful Organizer
  • Roots of the Public Sector Budget Crisis
  • Raising Wages for Low-Wage Workers 
  • Labor-Community Alliances Done Right
  • Using Direct Action to Get Results   

 

When: Saturday, May 18,  9 a.m. – 4 p.m.

Where: The High School for Health Professions and Human Services, 345 E 15th St, Manhattan (between 1st and 2nd Aves.)

 

For more info or to register, click here. 

 

Questions? Suggestions? Need child care? Contact Samantha Winslow,718-284-4144[email protected] 

What Is a Troublemaker’s School?
  
Wondering what a Troublemakers School is?  They just had one in Portland, Oregon, and here’s a report.TMLOGO.NORTHLAND