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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10 Responses to “Organizing against a stacked deck: analyzing the UFT ‘Grade-Ins’ today”


  1. 1 Mike D. March 30, 2023 at 7:48 am

    Nobody is going to give a crap about seeing a few teachers grading papers in a public place. However, I see a slight, very slight, glimmer of hope here. It seems that the UFT leadership is promoting this event due to the large amount of work that we have to do on our own time. Maybe, just maybe, UFT leadership is quietly pushing for more liberal use of the extended time in our contract. DC37 is allowing more remote options for its members starting in September. Mulgrew/Unity should be stepping up efforts to allow us to have more remote options as well. (Parent engagement, clerical days, and lots of PD could be done remotely) Allowing more remote options for our extended day would not cost the city a dime and parents won’t care since it does not effect their schedule. If we are getting a below inflation raise and there are no remote options, I sure as hell will be voting no when it comes to ratifying our contract. I know you are on the 500 Member Contract Committee and I really hope this issue is being seriously discussed because it is the number one item that I and teachers at my school are pissed off about. (Besides the shitty raises that we are gonna get)

    • 2 Todd March 30, 2023 at 11:37 am

      I would go further and lobby to just kill the extended time tbh. Doubly so if CTLE hours are going to continue to be a required thing.

      • 3 baconuft March 30, 2023 at 3:39 pm

        I agree, but the City isn’t going to get rid of that kind of control over us without a fight. And our union leadership has no intention of fighting.

    • 4 baconuft March 30, 2023 at 3:38 pm

      I’m with you. My take is the City only has an incentive to do anything if it’s mutually beneficial. Some principals like the control they have over us during extended time and find it’s easier to exert that control in person. Therefore, what you raise is not necessarily mutually beneficial to us and the City. Without a leadership willing to strike, they don’t fear us. Therefore, they have no reason to concede anything to us. It’s not just the financial stuff. It’s everything.

      • 5 Mike D. March 30, 2023 at 3:55 pm

        I am not gonna vote on any contract that does not give us something back, especially since we are essentially getting a pay cut disguised as a 3% raise. (Not to mention soon to be watered down healthcare) Is anybody on the 500 Member Committee even discussing the extended time? If not, it proves my point that the committee is a total sham.

      • 6 baconuft March 30, 2023 at 4:04 pm

        Not saying it isn’t being discussed, just that the discussion isn’t likely to go all that far. When you discuss something with someone in power who doesn’t fear you, things tend to end on their terms. The City has no reason at all to fear us. Why would they agree to anything beyond the bare minimum Mulgrew would need to sell the contract? But no official news on that yet. It’s possible. Nevertheless, if we get a bad deal, there’s always a no vote campaign. No votes wake the City and UFT leadership up that they need to do better by us.

  2. 7 Mike D. March 30, 2023 at 4:53 pm

    I can tell you right now that Mulgrew is going to have a very hard time selling a 3% raise contract without the city throwing us a bone. Sure, a big sign on bonus will ensure a lot of newer teachers will vote yes, but even the young teachers in my building are very skeptical of what kind of a shitty contract might be thrown at us. I think Mulgrew is underestimating the massive anger that the rank and file are feeling right now. Either that, or he just does not care. My guess is it is the latter.

    • 8 baconuft March 30, 2023 at 5:14 pm

      I agree, though that was the feeling during the election too, and it turned out the majority still voted for him. Still trying to figure out what sorts of chapters are actually ok with what Unity is doing – I’ve never come across one.


  1. 1 A Glimpse into a Day of Organizing: Grade-Ins and Healthcare Petitions | New Action - UFT Trackback on March 31, 2023 at 7:09 am
  2. 2 Privatization of UFT Positions; Political Endorsements: UFT Executive Board Minutes 4-3-2023   | New Action - UFT Trackback on April 3, 2023 at 10:06 pm

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