We Will Not Surrender: Why UFT Officers are Wrong to Accept Business as Usual

Op-Ed by Will Johnson, MORE Steering Committee Member and Special Education Teacher

One of the most frightening things about the Covid-19 pandemic has been the way working people have been encouraged to see ourselves as expendable. Over and over again, workers — from nurses to food servers to teachers — have been dismissed for voicing concerns about risking our health and safety so that bosses and politicians can say things are back to normal. In New York, we continue to face this pressure as politicians and Department of Education officials dismiss our concerns about the city’s failure to take even the most basic health and safety precautions as the pandemic takes over our city once again.

At this point, I’ve come to expect this type of indifference from the Mayor and Schools Chancellor, but I’ve been really confused and disappointed by the failure of UFT President Mulgrew to organize in defense of school workers and our safety. Aside from a few tepid emails and press releases, the UFT leadership has been basically invisible, even as rank-and-file UFT members have organized pickets, protests, and sickouts at our schools to try to keep our schools safe.

While Mulgrew and his allies in UFT’s Unity caucus have been missing in action, they’ve taken to social media to express themselves. Twitter, in fact, has offered the only clues to Mulgrew’s strategy for supporting the UFT rank and file.

Unfortunately, based on the positions they’re taking on social media, Mulgrew and his allies appear to be supporting the same strategy as former Mayor de Blasio, newly inaugurated Mayor Eric Adams, and Governor Kathy Hochul: get everyone back to work, let the virus run its course, and hope for minimal casualties.

Brian Gibbons, Special Assistant to the President of the UFT, expressed this point of view clearly on Twitter this week, when he wrote: “We’re all going to get [Covid] (or get it again); just the nature of this thing, unfortunately.” In another tweet the same week, Gibbons approvingly quoted a scientist with the World Health Organization, stating: “‘Covid is here to stay and we must learn to live with it…Asking people to stay indoors or keeping schools and colleges locked aren’t ideal approaches any longer.’”

Statements like these from a top officer of our union are incredibly dangerous and concerning. If Gibbons is correct that we’re all going to get Covid, that’s largely because political leaders at every level have refused to prioritize public health and safety. When UFT leaders publicly approve of politicians who sacrifice working people and our communities rather than protect us, they undermine rank-and-file teachers who are fighting for safe schools.

By approving de Blasio, Adams, and Hochul’s reckless endangerment of our schools and our communities, Gibbons, Mulgrew, and the top officers of the UFT are endorsing the reckless endangerment of all working people. Whatever their motives, we don’t have time to wait for union officers to fight with us. Become a MORE member today to join the ongoing fight for the safe schools that our city deserves. And join us on Wednesday, January 5th at Barclay’s Center for a rally to demand safe schools.