Posts Tagged 'Contract Action Teams'

UFT: Let’s Fight for the Contract We Deserve

On Wednesday, May 24th, our union will hold what is likely to be the UFT’s final organizing action for the 2023 contract. Members will assemble at five sites (one in each borough) to rally for a fair agreement. I am hopeful that attendance will be good – not just by staffers, but by regular rank-and-file teachers, paras, and related professionals. And yes, I plan to attend, and have encouraged members of my chapter to attend. I encourage you to attend too.

Sure, I have some reservations about whether the specifics of this event are good enough to get us the contract we deserve. I think it’s a mistake that our union’s leadership is so committed to keeping working teachers from having the right to strike. I think that their over-reliance on bureaucratic ‘Taylor Law’ tactics undermines the potency of our organizing. And, I worry that if UFT leadership is relying on the threat of PERB rather than the culmination of good organizing (i.e. the viable ‘strike’ threat), the City has little reason to react to the limited organizing it does see.

But strike threat or not, the more of us that show up to contract actions, the more of a reason the City has to listen to us. So, I’m showing up. I’m showing up, because, like it or not, this is the official organizing we have. It’s what we’ve put our entire union’s dues, staff efforts, and volunteer work into producing.

To that end, while Unity’s own communications (like this misrepresentative beaut of an Instagram post) may suggest otherwise, the May 24th contract action is not a Unity event. It is a UFT event. Yes, the contract actions fall short of LA’s and Chicago’s because of Unity’s failure to lead more than ‘soft’ union organizing in their dues-funded positions of power and influence. It falls short of what UFC would have done had we won more than just the high school executive board. But any non-voluntary labor that went into creating the contract actions was paid for not by Unity dues, but by UFT dues – by all of us. And, to the extent that the actions planned will work, it will be because of the strength of our entire union’s membership—which means all of us have to show up, not just Unity, and especially not just Unity-members who are paid staffers.

That’s why communications that suggest UFT-wide events are Unity Caucus property are a mistake. To the extent that our contract actions have any value at all, it is that they bring rank-and-file members out regardless of caucus affiliation. Unity propaganda that tries to reframe union-wide events as Unity events alienates non-Unity members. It reduces the numbers who show up. It reduces our union’s efficacy. And it exploits union resources for caucus gain.

So let’s not let Unity torpedo the union’s last 2023 contract organizing event by turning it into a caucus rally. Let’s go to our event. We owe it to ourselves and our families to participate in these last contract actions fully, in hopes that they might nudge the City—even a little bit—to get us closer to an agreement  worth voting yes on.

See you all on Wednesday.

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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:

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.


Content Policy

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.
June 2023
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