Archive for January, 2022

Dear Michael Mulgrew, We’re Overworked!

Dear Michael Mulgrew,

Unity Caucus claims “[they] do the work.” But over the last several decades, they’ve allowed the DOE to pile on extra responsibilities for all UFT members. In essence, under Unity, we’re overworked.

Let’s take a look at an example. The other day, I was logged in for some mandatory per session. After a long day, I was ready to go home. But, this year, whenever a student quarantines, teachers are obligated to do remote office hours. In many schools, COVID rates are so high that teachers find themselves doing these office hours many times a month if not every week. Yes, teachers can pick which days they work the extra hours or forego their lunch breaks. But this extra work is compulsory. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize what’s happened here – our work days have been extended, and undemocratically at that. Had I had a seat at the table, I would have argued to replace Monday PD time with this new task. (After all, there’s precedent for this – we did something similar last year with ‘office hours’ and ‘coplanning time’ in lieu of long weekly PDs). I also would have pushed for better remote infrastructure in the first place. But, I didn’t get a vote. You’d think the DA would have been consulted, but we weren’t. As usual, you and the rest of the Unity leadership pushed the forced overtime on teachers without consulting us.

So, inspired by Norm Scott’s excellent piece detailing the ways that Unity has ‘not done the work,’ I decided to put together an incomplete list of the ways they’ve also pushed more work onto the rank and file. 

We are overworked, because Unity Caucus:

  • Negotiated endless PD Mondays and OPW time on Tuesdays in exchange for one-time wage increases. Years later, our wages have not kept up with inflation, but the extended days remain.
  • Let the DOE enforce mandatory per session for office hours (as well as special education recovery services) rather than repurpose already existing extended days. 
  • Is committed to healthcare givebacks, making us work harder to find providers or get affordable necessary care. 
  • Gave the greenlight for tenure to be extended from three to four years minimum, which is now routinely denied or extended by principals and superintendents, even after teachers put in the work to create expansive portfolios that were never required previously. 
  • Has failed to reduce class sizes or caseload caps in 60 years, even as the instructional techniques mandated by the Danielson rubric (e.g. differentiation, collaborative learning strategies) essentially require small class sizes.
  • Stripped us of many of our protections against abusive administrators, such as the PINI program, and the right to grieve letters in the file. 
  • Allowed the discipline code to deteriorate, without building up the functioning restorative justice programs we were promised would fill the void. Without any disciplinary infrastructure, teachers have significantly more draining experiences managing their classrooms, and to the detriment of all students (many of whom are traumatized by witnessing fight after fight). 
  • Let schools reopen at full capacity, without a remote option, during Omicron, leading to thousands of student and teacher infections. As misinterpretations of the new CDC guidance flourish, many of these teachers have been harassed by administrators to come back only five days after testing positive, despite maintaining symptoms. Many others have contracted long-COVID in the unsafe classrooms that Unity rubber stamped, and now must grapple with whether they even have the energy left to continue their teaching careers.

I for one am sick of being over-worked because Unity fails to deliver. Next election, I’ll be voting United for Change. They’ll actually do the work.


-A teacher who votes


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.

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January 2022