UFT Staffers and Union Democracy

We at New Action and in United for Change value our UFT staffers. The vast majority of them are highly competent individuals who do important work for our membership. Yes, because Unity Caucus almost exclusively hires their own people, we are critical of the apparent patronage system that exists to hire said staffers. But, if we win this election, we have no plans to ‘clean house.’ We owe it to our members to keep good unionists on the payroll, helping our educators. And when future staffers are hired, we’ll hire them based on their competency to do the jobs at hand–not their caucus affiliation. For some positions that are currently appointed (e.g. District Representatives), we will also let members decide who gets the gig directly through elections. This is all in our platform.

Indeed, what we really care about is restoring our union democracy. Recently, United for Change Chapter Leaders and Delegates have noticed that people on UFT payroll can sometimes disrupt the democratic process during the Delegate Assembly (DA). Specifically: (1) Staff without voting privileges sometimes take up seats that could be made available for volunteer delegates and chapter leaders with voting privileges. Remember, space is limited due to the pandemic, and you can only motivate a resolution if you are there in person. (2) At times, it has appeared that staff without voting privileges have vocalized support or applauded Mulgrew (and done the opposite for opposition), which sways the appearance of support for both sides. (3) Many paid staffers with voting privileges are repeatedly called on by Mulgrew to raise motions or other points on the floor. Opposition, on the other hand, is rarely called upon. Clearly, Mulgrew knows who he is calling on–the staffers literally work for him. (4) When a paid staffer is called upon by their boss to make a point or motion, there is a possible conflict of interest, so other delegates should have a right to know their UFT employment status – just as we already announce our school and title (Chapter Leader or Delegate).

To this end, we at United for Change worked on a resolution to improve the democratic conditions at our Delegate Assembly. Below is the text of that resolution, which we passed out at the December DA, but were never called on to motivate:

Resolution concerning the presence of paid staffers with and without voting privileges on the DA floor

Whereas safety during the ongoing pandemic requires social distancing, which has reduced indoor seating availability to a fraction of the usual number of in-person delegates at Delegate Assemblies, and

Whereas elected delegates should not be turned away to make space for paid UFT staffers without voting privileges, and

Whereas elected delegates to the Delegate Assembly volunteer their time in service to the members they were elected to represent and deserve to exercise their democratic duties in the union hall, free from outside influence from un-elected, non-voting, UFT employees, and

Whereas delegates who hold hourly, part-time PM Staff positions at the UFT are, rightfully, not permitted to cast votes at Delegate Assemblies if they are on-the-clock while the DA is taking place, and

Whereas some full-time UFT employees, District and Special Representatives among them, do enjoy voting privileges at Delegate Assemblies though they are salaried, non-hourly employees, and

Whereas some full-time UFT employees, District and Special Representatives among them, are not delegates and do not have voting privileges at Delegate Assemblies, yet sit among the voting delegates, and

Whereas paid UFT staffers, with and without voting privileges, have been recognized to speak or otherwise vocalize/gesture both for and against various resolutions and motions, potentially influencing the subsequent vote, and

Whereas there is adequate space and adequate options outside of the union hall for UFT staff to greet, direct, and help credentialed delegates, and as there is also space (19th floor) – and remote options – for UFT members and staff to listen to Delegate Assemblies, be it

Resolved, that non-voting UFT employees, except those engaged in the business of running the Delegate Assemblies or special invitees of the union (i.e., safety staff, technical staff, and speakers making special addresses from the podium) shall not remain in the voting room during assemblies, nor be recognized to move motions, speak for or against motions, resolutions or amendments, nor be recognized to raise points of order, information, or privilege, and be it further

Resolved, that salaried, full-time UFT employees who do enjoy voting privileges at Delegate Assemblies shall identify themselves as salaried employees of the union when they are called on by the Chair to identify themselves pursuant to questioning the Chair, moving motions, introducing resolutions or amendments, or speaking for or against motions, resolutions, or amendments.

This is Not What We Meant by a Remote Option…

We need a remote option. The new deal worked out by the UFT and DOE isn’t one.

Why we need a Remote Option

As COVID-19 spirals out of control in our schools, infecting students, teachers, and their families, our Mayor and Chancellor refuse to temporarily make schooling remote. If we’re going to have schools open amidst record high positivity rates, the least we can do is give the option for students to work remotely. This way:

  1. Students with personal or familial health concerns could learn from the comfort of their own homes without fear of contracting COVID-19 and/or spreading the illness to their loved ones.  
  2. Students who want to learn in-person would have access to classrooms that aren’t overcrowded during a pandemic. With a remote option, it would be possible in many schools to maintain 6+ feet of social distancing rather than the current 3- feet of social distancing. 
  3. In-person teachers would also have reduced exposure to COVID-19, and with many classes meeting remotely, we could potentially renegotiate telecommuting options for teachers with personal or familial health concerns. 

The New Agreement is Not a Remote Option

However, the announced plans to support students to work remotely– a ‘livestreaming option’ that hasn’t even been negotiated with the UFT, and another option for non-quaranting students to get access to asynchronous work and remote office hours–fall far from constituting a ‘remote option.’ Let’s take a look at each:

Livestreaming doesn’t work. There’s a reason that last year classes were either remote or in-person. Teaching two different types of classes at once means the teacher inevitably becomes exhausted and teaches both classes less effectively. As many of us are already having APPR weaponized against us in the context of a pandemic, now is not the time to teach less effectively to make up for the DOE’s failure to provide a real remote option. We especially shouldn’t livestream, because it’s not a good solution for the students. Students who join in-person classes from a Zoom account at home often find it to be an alienating experience. In-person assignments don’t always translate well remotely, and teachers are generally too busy managing their in-person students to devote much attention to students at home. Remote students deserve actual remote classes tailored to their needs, not badly broadcasted in-person classes.

The Updated Remote Agreement on the other hand is a joke of an attempt at a remote option. Teachers already have a mandated responsibility to conduct remote office hours for students who are quarantining (which sets a terrible precedent of forced overtime for teachers who have many conflicting after-school responsibilities, and is essentially an extension of the work-day that should have been subject to a vote, but I digress). What the new agreement does is allow teachers the option of also providing said office hours (and asynchronous work) to students who aren’t on the quarantine list. However, there’s no mandate here, and both principals and teachers have to agree to it. Some principals might not necessarily have the funding to implement the plan, whereas other principals might allow it but find that teachers are unable to devote their time to the extra work. Therefore, depending on a student’s principal and teacher(s), they might not get anything under this agreement. And even if they do get the office hours and asynchronous work, that’s a far cry from a full week of remote instruction. 

We need to implement a real remote option now. Students at home deserve quality remote instruction, and teachers can only provide that if they’re given the right tools/space to do so. That doesn’t look like livestreaming, and it doesn’t look like optional and occasional office hours. It looks like dedicated remote classes. Because Unity Caucus and the DOE didn’t ‘do the work’ to negotiate a remote option at the beginning of the year, time is not on our side. Reprogramming students to make this happen would be an astronomical task, and with the new semester approaching at the end of this month, we need to act fast. But, the time is now to implement a true remote option. We owe it to our students, teachers, and communities.

Why New Action is running with United for Change, not Unity

United for Change is the rational progressive choice in the next UFT election. New Action’s participation with this unprecedented alliance of caucuses should signal just that.

New Action is the oldest existing opposition caucus in the United Federation for Teachers (UFT). We have a long history of both opposing and supporting UFT leadership, and have often been seen as a more ‘moderate’ progressive opposition caucus for this reason (an attribution we don’t necessarily agree with, but understand). Indeed, we work with Unity when we feel it’s the right thing to do. In 2002, we formed a 14-year long bipartisan alliance with Unity to help withstand Bloomberg’s attacks on our teachers and schools. That alliance lasted until 2016, and led to myriad accomplishments such as an organizing committee that helped Chapter Leaders and staff in over 230 schools, the establishment of the Principals in Need of Improvement Program (PINI) to expose and help get rid of abusive administrators, and the establishment of a UFT Social and Economic Justice Committee. 

While we stand by our original (2002) decision to ally ourselves with Unity, by 2016 we realized it was no longer the right thing to do. Unity reneged on many of its promises, canceled our shared programs, allowed our union to weaken, and swung way too far to the right on too many issues.  

Under the current leadership, our union is far weaker than it has to be. Without opposition voices to help guide them, UFT leadership has swung more to the right than ever.  Never before has Unity’s abject failure been more apparent. Never before has the need for new leadership been greater. This year, the various opposition caucuses: New Action, MORE, Solidarity, ICE, and Retiree Advocate have decided to run against Unity, as the United for Change Coalition. While we have our differences and span far across the political spectrum, we have agreed to a shared platform. This represents an alliance like no other in UFT history.

So if you’re union strong and want a better union, vote United for Change in this next election cycle. It’s the only progressive choice.

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January 2022