The ‘Dis-Unity’ Tactic: How UFT Leadership Took a No-Vote and Used it to tear apart a Chapter for Political Gain

Ratification votes have consequences. Yet, in the UFT, those consequences aren’t what serious unionists might expect. 

In most unions–unions with functioning democracies–a decisive 2:1 no-vote by membership would send a clear mandate for union leaders to go back to the bargaining table. That used to be how we did it too – and renegotiating quickly and in good faith led to affected bargaining units getting better deals, every time. But renegotiation is not how Unity-elected leadership is doing it this time. As Claudia Irizzary Aponte aptly titled her must- read article for the City, this morning, “School Therapists Want a Better Contract Deal. The UFT Wants Them to Give Up.” 

It’s no surprise, really, that Mulgrew and co. would rather the contract process be over already. It’s no surprise that they’d rather not have to ‘do the work’ of achieving a palatable deal for a grossly underpaid and underappreciated bargaining unit. What’s a surprise, though, even for me, is how Unity has chosen not only to not renegotiate, but to weaponize the moment for political gain. Indeed, recent actions show that the caucus of UFT leadership is willing to tear a chapter apart and undermine their ability to negotiate a better deal, if it means they might be able to regain Unity control.

‘Doing the work’ of tearing a chapter apart

In my op-ed for the Indypendent earlier this month, I closed by asking some questions of the OT/PT no-vote: “

  1. Is it possible that Mulgrew and his affiliates would use this moment as a political opportunity to sow dissent against non-Unity representation rather than work to achieve contract goals? 
  2. Is it possible that the Unity-controlled UFT might intentionally disrupt the second negotiations to achieve a result that could serve as a cautionary tale against other members voting “No” in the future?”

At that point, it was still early. The answers to these questions were not yet clear. But now, at the end of July, we know that Unity has, deplorably, done both of these things. 

  • Unity members, many of whom voted yes on the deal to begin with, pushed a revote campaign. By design, what was often explicit in this campaign, was the absurd and clearly political suggestion that OT/PTs had only voted down their original deal because they were ‘misled’ into doing so. A revote made sense now, specifically, because now they had all the facts. In addition, the ‘trouble makers’ who were ‘responsible’ for thousands voting no, should potentially be recalled. These campaigns, while perhaps not originally endorsed by UFT leadership, were given life by various official UFT communications suggesting that (a) OT/PTs were wrong to vote no; (b) they weren’t going to get a better deal anyways – it was simply a ‘fact’ that the city would not give into any demands. Moreover, once the revote idea was out there, Mulgrew and others publicly humored it. In a particularly egregious act of cowardice, they put OT/PT leadership in the impossible position of deciding whether or not to do a revote (politically, a lose-lose decision). When OT/PT leadership decided to respect the AAA-confirmed ‘no vote’ of their chapter, UFT leadership publicly threw them under the bus for doing so – in front of nearly 1,000 members.
  • On social media, scores of high-level Unity members, including generously paid full-time UFT staffers, began adding fuel to the fire. With tens of thousands of UFT members looking on, they furthered inter- and intra-chapter division by ‘liking’ and commenting approvingly on highly public posts deriding OT/PT leadership and pushing for a politicized revote. Many of these posts don’t just push reprehensibly undemocratic arguments, but border on libelous in their mischaracterization of non-Unity union activists. Outright lies and character assassinations have not stopped Unity members from actively disseminating and conferring legitimacy onto divisive, dis-unifying, text.
  • Unity Caucus officially published a hit-piece putting the blame for Mulgrew’s failure to negotiate a fair contract, somehow, onto current OT/PT leadership (OT/PTs for a Fair Contract and Melissa Williams). It’s a piece rife with conspiracy theories about (never named) political motives, humoring the false and divisive notion that Williams was somehow responsible for ‘misleading’ members into an overwhelming no vote (without specifying how this would even be possible). It also implies, falsely, that Williams and OT/PTs for a Fair Contract have the seemingly singular power to renegotiate the deal now, and are simply failing to do so. In fact, Mulgrew, who wrote disagreeable language into the TA without checking with therapists first, should take all the blame for why therapists, of their own free will, voted no on a lousy deal. He should also take the blame for not being able to get the City back to the table. It is he, and not them, who controls the negotiating calendar.

Unity, by channeling OT/PT organizing energy into divisive ‘no vote’ and ‘recall’ petitions (for the wrong person), rather than funneling it into getting the City back to the table, has derailed the chapter’s potential to successfully renegotiate. UFT leadership should be helping organize the chapter to get a better deal. Instead, by their actions, and by the actions of their ‘political party,’ they are doing everything they can to undermine grassroots efforts to get contractual improvements. Apparently, getting back a handful of executive board seats in this year’s chapter elections, and creating an artificial cautionary tale for the rest of UFT membership of why ‘you never vote no,’ is more important to Unity than a fair contract for UFT members. 

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