Archive for December, 2021

The Crisis in the UFT Explained with a Bit of Help from Joe Hill

The Crisis in the UFT Explained with a Bit of Help from Joe Hill

It is often said that our union, the UFT, is the strongest union local in the country. It wields influence in Albany, Washington and beyond. Due to its large numbers it plays an outsize role within the AFT and by extension within the AFL-CIO.  The Presidents of our union go on to become big-time political players and this gives the impression of strength and massive influence. We can see our leaders breaking bread with billionaires and high-ranking legislators, having the ear of power, having a seat at the great tables where the decisions are made which affect the lives of millions of workers. Our union controls huge pension funds on Wall Street, our union bails the city out of financial hardship, our union manages health care for huge numbers of people and so on.

“Poor Block, he died one evening, I’m very glad to state;

He climbed the golden ladder up to the pearly gate.

He said, “Oh, Mr. Peter, one word I’d like to tell,

I’d like to meet the Astorbilts and John D. Rockefell.”

Old Pete said, “Is that so? You’ll meet them down below.”

  At the same time, on the job, it feels like the UFT is among the weakest unions in the city. When a worker encounters an abusive administrator or a gross violation of the contract, they are told to ‘obey and grieve’ (which has become something of a mantra for the UFT in recent years). We are supposed to follow the directives and contact the union office afterwards. We are then told that there is a “loophole” in the contract that allows said administrator to do as they like and so on. With each new contract negotiated by the UFT we see more time added to the workday, we see more givebacks and concessions, we see more rights stripped more pressure added and so on. This type of ‘pragmatism’ from the Unity Caucus may appear shrewd in the short run, but it is eroding the fabric of the union from within. Every day we can hear members saying: “Why can’t our union be more like the cops or the firemen? why are we so weak? why is the city always taking advantage of us? “

“Block hiked back to the city, but wasn’t doing well.
He said, I’ll join the union, the great A. F. of L.”
He got a job next morning, got fired in the night,
He said, “I’ll see Sam Gompers and he’ll fix that foreman right.”
Sam Gompers said, “You see,
You’ve got our sympathy.”

     The contradiction between the rumor and reputation of strength and the experience of weakness provokes strong feelings among the workers which are by turns repressed, accommodated, or ignored by the Unity Caucus leadership. It seems like their job is to manage our discontent instead of solving the problems that trouble us. The leadership presents itself as ‘insiders’ privy to secret information that invalidates our concerns, as ‘responsible parties’ aware of the complex machinations of city governance that the rest of us cannot and do not understand. Unfortunately for them reality was not written by Aaron Sorkin, and actions like this have serious consequences. This approach is insulting and alienating for the majority of the membership and empowering for the select few who are appointed to play West Wing while the rest of us suffer. For many outrage turns to cynicism, disengagement, apathy and even outright hostility as the recent campaign to withhold dues has demonstrated.  This approach where the union acts like another administrative body over the workers, despite all of Unity’s protestations to the contrary and false accusations against reform movements, plays directly into the hands of our enemies. When we have 25% of people voting in elections and we have a movement to withhold dues from the union for non-representation we have a crisis. 

When rank-and-file initiative is so stifled that it is forced to take the form of a self-destructive secession drive this should raise the alarm for all of us who value our union. This tendency will only grow if the leadership of the union buries its head in the sand. We need to democratize this union substantially if it is to survive. We need to shift from a union that filters member demands down to what is palatable to the employers and the donor class to a union that turns member demands into a necessity that the employer must learn to cope with. 

Those of us who have watched the decline of the UFT under Unity Caucus mismanagement and who are determined to save the union and empower the membership have United for Change in the upcoming election.  Our platform addresses many of the issues that are currently vexing the rank and file and opens the union up to the membership in a way that is responsive to 21st century problems.  

-Ed Calamia

United for Change Statement on COVID and ‘Top’ Candidate List

New Action is proud to be part of the United for Change slate this year, a coalition of opposition caucuses running against Unity. Please see the attached link for our response to Mulgrew’s failure to act on Omicron. Oh yeah, and the candidate list for ‘top’ positions!

UFT Silent on COVID 19

Yesterday, New Action chapter leaders and delegates (along with our other friends from United for Change) showed up at the DA ready to ask questions about COVID-safety and motivate a resolution about healthcare (among other things). We weren’t given the chance to speak there, so see our literature below. (Don’t worry, we’ll be back next month).

New Action/UFT

…a caucus of the United Federation of Teachers

615 77th Street, Brooklyn, New York 11209

September 2021

UFT Silent on COVID 19

This year the UFT membership already faces another difficult year with the spread of COVID in the schools. The response to the COVID 19 virus showed the lack of leadership in our Union. At the beginning of the pandemic our in-service members were forced to go into unsafe schools for 3 days putting themselves and their families at risk. Today our union is going along with Mayor de Blasio’s claim that our schools are safe. The DOE’s own statistics give the lie to this claim. On the first day of school, 83 positive cases of COVID were reported (33 students and 50 staff members). By September 19 there were 976 cases with over 440 classroom closures. One public school has already gone back to remote learning. All of this with only 10% in the schools being tested. This is not meant to panic the public or UFT staff. But our union president should not be sitting silently. Schools that are unsafe should demand that the union step in and safeguard the safety of students and staff. And only then consider staying out of unsafe schools.

The Health Care of In-Service Members Is at Risk

The attack on our health care is yet another example of the lack of leadership that currently exists because of one party (Unity Caucus) control of our Union. NYC retirees on Medicare only discovered in mid-May that the administration of their Medicare benefits was being privatized and would be changed to Medicare Advantage. At no time during the past year of negotiations between the City (Office of Labor Relations) and Municipal Labor Committee, were the 250,000 NYC retirees ever informed about impending changes. At a recent town hall meeting to discuss the changes for retirees, UFT President Michael Mulgrew, announced that in 2022 the health care plans of all in-service members will be renegotiated. These negotiations have still not been publicized. New Action/UFT adamantly insists that our UFT notify and inform all in-service members of just what changes are being negotiated. Unlike the recent experience of NYC retirees, no plan should be implemented without at least 6 months of public debate among our in-service members. We need your help! If you are an in-service member we need you to distribute New Action literature in your school. You have the right to do so. Please contact either:

Michael Shulman, Chair New Action/UFT 718 238-8030 or

Greg Di Stefano, Head of Organizing 718 757-4552

VISIT us on Facebook at: UFT/ New Action Caucus

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December 2021