Archive for March, 2023

A Glimpse into a Day of Organizing: Grade-Ins and Healthcare Petitions

Writing can only be one small piece of unionism. Directly after publishing my piece yesterday analyzing the grade-ins (which was blatantly and maliciously misrepresented by Unity), I organized. Like many others in New Action and across the union’s progressive opposition, I did my part and shot over to a contract event near my school, where I participated in a morning protest asking the City to do right by our educators. Dozens of teachers and other UFT members from several schools on the Lower East Side / Chinatown came together to ask for better pay and working conditions. Members of the community cheered us on and joined in. Here I am, along with fellow H.S. Executive Board member, Alex Jallot (MORE) – one of the successful event’s primary organizers. (Hopefully UFT leadership doesn’t sue over the sign).

After the event, I walked the ten minutes to my school and worked a full day, teaching the kids of our city in exchange for normal teacher wages. I’m not paid a UFT central salary to organize full-time. But, I do organize. Plenty of teachers in the opposition do, but not necessarily in the ways that Unity wants us to. During my duty-free breaks, I spread the healthcare petition around my chapter. Despite reports that Unity Caucus members are using their titles/positions as paid UFT staffers to try and dissuade our membership from signing the petition, teachers in my school are signing it in droves, seeking to stop the City (and our complicit Unity-elected leaders) from making major changes to our healthcare without democratic member input. Petitions, by the way, are a great way to have 1:1 conversations about union issues with members of your chapter – members who you may not have a chance to regularly speak with throughout a busy school week. So don’t just sign today, take it to your chapters and get other members to sign as well.


Organizing against a stacked deck: analyzing the UFT ‘Grade-Ins’ today

Today, we’ll witness phase 2 of UFT’s official contract actions. The flagship of this phase is the ‘grade in,’ where members will choose a public place near their schools and perform paperwork, planning, grading, or other administrative duties. Here is the idea from UFT’s official materials, put succinctly: “

  • Meet up, bring your work, stack it up, and get to work.
    • Idea: stacks of grading, planning.
    • Idea: One pile of important work you would like to do, one pile of paperwork/other work that you are being forced to do that is taking up your time.”

Many in our union’s progressive opposition, including a number of members affiliated with New Action, are pursuing grade-ins and related activities. Some are enthusiastic, others are more pessimistic, but dutifully going through the motions. New Action hasn’t taken an official stance on the grade-ins, but here are some thoughts going in:


  • Organizing with fellow members on contract-related activities can be a very good thing. It increases a sense of intra- and inter-chapter solidarity. I’m looking forward to meeting up with fellow UFT members near my own work-site today for an informational picket for that reason.  
  • This can be a very good moment to demonstrate to the broader public just how much work teachers do.


  • Many members now see contract actions as pointless. With the pattern set below inflation, and with teachers going in already knowing that we’re getting a pay cut that our leadership did nothing to stop, a lot of members no longer see the point in organizing at all.
  • There’s something that feels insincere and performative about doing ‘contract actions’ with the most important parts already set. We also know that the City is unlikely to take any of this seriously.  UFT leadership has proclaimed that they are against members even having the right to strike, so I think Adams has pretty good idea that these ‘grade ins’ are about as far as we’re going to go as a union.  
  • The idea itself of a grade-in is arguably flawed from the get-go. Do we really want to normalize to the City that we do extra work at home after our contractual hours? And is this contract-action really inclusive for the diverse range of titles held by our membership or is it too teacher-focused?
  • With members having been threatened with legal action by the UFT’s own law firm for organizing even slightly outside of the box the last time around, many unionists feel turned off from official CAT actions this time. Members are also worried that they’ll be sued themselves for making some sort of error here. This feeling is compounded by the fact that UFT leadership admitted that they encouraged members to modify previous contract materials and sent their lawyers after us anyways.

I’ll admit. Weighing the pros at cons, at this point, the design of the CAT actions may feel futile. Is all this really designed to convince the City of anything? When the City already knows we’ll accept a pay cut and fight against our right to strike, do they really have an incentive to change anything else? Is the real audience actually UFT members themselves – just infrastructure for a yes vote, as I worried from the get-go?

Perhaps. Nevertheless, I don’t want to discourage members from having them. These sorts of events can be great places to organize with our colleagues and build solidarity. Just make sure to bring copies of the healthcare petition We aren’t just organizing against the City at this point; we’re organizing to get our own UFT leadership to do the right thing about our healthcare.

Who is political? A Further Note on the 3-27-23 Executive Board Meeting (and its aftermath)

At the 3-27-23 executive board meeting, we heard from two working UFT mothers – Ibeth Mejia and Luli Rodriguez, who sought to put some teeth into a mostly symbolic resolution written by members of Unity Caucus. That resolution was about recognizing disproportionate maternal mortality rates. Ibeth and Luli’s amendment would have asked the UFT to do something to actually help reduce maternal mortality for women in our own union by fighting for living wages and keeping healthcare viable/affordable, among other things.

Immediately, Luli and Ibeth were attacked for (a) being political; (b) not being collaborative; and (c) raising an amendment that had nothing to do with the resolution at hand. So just a few thoughts.

  •  Political. The word that is always thrown at opposition. I wrote a detailed piece on this a few months back. And in this instance, I want to seriously ask – what political gain could Ibeth and Luli possibly have had by raising a resolution at executive board? This isn’t like the DA, where independents potentially hear from people with different viewpoints. At executive board, Unity cut off access for regular rank-and-file members to view our proceedings months ago, so it’s not like there was an audience. Other than the 7 members and a handful of colleagues who came to support us, there was no one there who wasn’t already tied to the Unity machine. Unlike Unity Caucus members, there’s no financial political gain that Luli and Ibeth could have from raising the resolution either. No one from opposition is ever going to be hired for a job with the UFT. When I left Unity, for instance, I was actually reducing my political standing in that sense of the word – ensuring that I’d never get a cushy union job. Luli and Ibeth, similarly, were de-politicizing themselves in order to fight for the general good of members. This irony shouldn’t be lost here, because most of the people I see attacking opposition for being political do have union jobs that they got in part from being loyal to the Unity machine.
  • Attacking opposition for not being collaborative is disingenuous. For one thing, we reached out to Unity with two resolutions for this executive board meeting. Both passed. For another, Unity never returns the favor. Unity never reached out to us about the amended resolution. They never sought our input. We only knew about it because it was in the adcom minutes. Yet, when Ibeth and Luli raised an amendment to a resolution that Unity wrote without collaborating with us, they were vilified, along with the rest of opposition, for not working with Unity. Unity can write their own resos, but it is a cardinal crime for anyone from opposition to do anything on their own.
  • The final complaint is that Luli and Ibeth’s amendment about healthcare/wages for working mothers had nothing to do with maternal mortality. But that’s patently absurd. For that, I can simply go to Michael Mulgrew. For the last few weeks, he’s been using the idea of a ‘committee with real teeth—arbitration/penalty power’ to help keep Aetna honest (as he pushes retirees off of traditional Medicare, where that sort of ‘teeth’ wouldn’t be needed).  Unity here put forward a symbolic resolution without teeth. Yes, maternal mortality is terrible, so what are we gonna do about it?  Luli and Ibeth found a way that we can do something about that as a teachers union – by fighting to make sure that mothers in our union have medical benefits and living wages. Yes, that’s not the whole story. But, that’s at least something our union can do to help working mothers. The argument from Unity that maternal mortality doesn’t have anything to do with mothers having good healthcare/wages is completely ridiculous. I suspect even they know that. And of course, they voted it down, and have been blowing up their social media with political attacks against two working mothers who tried to fight for more than symbolic help for our members.

Let’s call Unity’s highly public reaction to Luli and Ibeth what it is – a deflection from their losing battle on healthcare.

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March 2023