How Not to Fight the Friedrichs Case!

By Michael Shulman, Co-chair, New Action/UFT

By now most union members have heard of the Friedrichs case before the US Supreme Court. The threat is real and in the hands of this conservative court it is almost a given that the justices will rule against all unions and eliminate dues check-off . The drive behind this has nothing to do with the 10 teachers who brought this case forward. They are only tools in the hands of corporate forces that have set their sights on destroying unions and making our country union free.

Only an informed, mobilized labor force can impact on this decision. But in a move that is nothing short of incredulous, President Michael Mulgrew and the “leadership” of the UFT have chosen this exact moment to boot 27 UFT part-time organizers all retirees, from going into schools. The UFT Organizing Committee was a bipartisan effort, by New Action/UFT and then union president Randi Weingarten, brought about in 2004 to counter the Bloomberg attack on teachers and our union.

Things dramatically changed over the course of the past few years as New Action/UFT became increasingly critical of the union leadership over the teacher evaluation system. Mulgrew and Unity supported tying student standardized tests to teacher evaluations and New Action opposed it. Simply put, New Action’s principled opposition began to rankle Mulgrew/Unity. After the election of Mayor Bill de Blasio and the appointment of Carmen Farina the union, knowing the situation had changed dramatically, decided to work with the new Mayor (this was logical since we now faced a friendly Mayor). But then, without any pressure from the de Blasio administration, the UFT decided to drop the PINI campaign (Principals in Need of Improvement) against abusive administrators. New Action /UFT was indignant. By our calculations over 300 principals in the system fit this category. With mounting criticism from New Action/UFT, Unity decided to scuttle bipartisanship!

How does this relate to Friedrichs? As of October 2015 27 part-time organizers, consisting of Unity members, New Action/UFT, and independents, serving for years on the UFT organizing committee, were given the boot by Mulgrew and Unity Caucus (even though ironically 17 of them were Unity Caucus members themselves). How is that possible? Even Unity would not dare to let go only the New Action/UFT members serving as organizers. The others, including independents were axed without so much as a thank you for your service or an acknowledgment of their considerable achievements in building stronger chapters.. The result – over 220 schools serviced by this committee would not be receiving school visits to explain to members the stake we all have in fighting against the Friedrichs case and in informing our friends and families.

Short-sighted? Yes. Surprising? Guess not if we understand how Unity operates. If anything comes across clearly, we need a stronger, involved and activated union to counter this attack. But that only comes from informed, mobilized chapters. Despite the political blunder on the part of Mulgrew/Unity every member must stand together in solidarity and support the effort to collect dues should that be a consequence of the Friedrich case.

Michael is a former UFT, Vice President for Academic High Schools, a 36 year veteran of the classroom, a long time former Chapter Leader and Delegate, and current UFT Executive Board member. He intends to share his thoughts – about the past, about the present, and about the future, in this space.

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