Archive for March 30th, 2023

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:

Positives

  • 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.

Criticisms:

  • 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.

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Content of signed articles and comments represents the opinions of their authors. The views expressed in signed articles are not necessarily the views of New Action/UFT.
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