Unpacking the February DA

The February DA was a farce, but not for the reasons our leadership would have you think. 

United for Change has a problem: we haven’t been called on during a Delegate Assembly since November. The November DA was an unprecedented victory for the opposition, and a good sign that the many independents out there have views more in line with our version of the union than with Unity’s. It was no surprise when we weren’t even given a chance to speak during the following DA. But we realized the problem was more serious when we didn’t get a chance to speak during the questions or new motions period in January either. 

Clearly, Unity doesn’t want us to pass resolutions that they don’t like. But, given that we’ve shown that our resolutions can be popular to the wider public, surely they should give us a chance to raise them – just as they give their own caucus many chances to raise their own (mostly symbolic) resolutions. But they don’t, and they’re able to do so for two reasons:

  1. The President’s report is far too long. Generally it goes on for about 45+ minutes. In December, it was so long we didn’t even get to a motions period. That means, Michael Mulgrew spends so much time talking, that delegates who sacrifice their time (and parking money) to be there, don’t get a chance to deliberate motions for very long (if at all). And really –  in the age of email and UFT town halls (where basically the same presidential report is given as in the DAs), why are we spending so much time listening to Michael Mulgrew? Why is so little time given to democratic debate?
  2. When there is time for resolutions to be introduced, the rule is that opposite sides should alternate. The chair must be impartial, and during debate for instance “the chair should let the floor alternate, as far as possible, between those favoring and those opposing the measure.” But the minutes of previous meetings show that this is not happening. We aren’t being called to introduce resolutions, and often during the debate period for specific motions, only known Unity members are called on.

As a result, the only time most people hear from people affiliated with United for Change is when we make a simple ‘point of information’ or ‘point of parliamentary inquiry.’ As we’ve seen our union democracy crumble over the last several months, with Unity completely monopolizing the DA, we’ve started to make more of these requests or inquiries. 

In tonight’s DA, UFT Presidential, Candidate Camille Eterno made–or at least attempted to make–an important inquiry: why exactly is the presidential address so long? Why is so little time left for us to ask questions or introduce/debate motions? Why is it that Unity is allowed to monopolize the DA? But instead of allowing Camille to speak, Unity shut her down. Mike Sill made the absurd attack that Camille hasn’t been to prior union meetings, even though she has more union leadership experience than Michael Mulgrew (and not to mention that we have hybrid meetings now and Camille’s husband James live blogs the DA’s minutes on the ICE-UFT blog every single month). Mulgrew tried to paint Camille, and other UFC members, as trying to obstruct official business. He bordered on campaigning, continuously using the Unity slogan, saying things like ‘you’re keeping us from doing the work.’ But Camille–and the rest of us with UFC–were trying to point out that the DA is structured so as to keep non-Unity members from doing any of the work. And that’s bad news for our union democracy. 

Later, I raised a parliamentary inquiry regarding the rule of alternating sides. Indeed, opposing sides were not called on during the debate period that ensued after Camille raised her own inquiry. If you look at the minutes, you’ll see that Michael Mulgrew exclusively called on Unity members, mostly members of Adcom. There were dozens of UFC members with their hands up, but we weren’t called on. The rule of ‘alternating sides’ was clearly not respected. Rather than answer my inquiry, Michael Mulgrew ruled me out of order. 

In the end, the DA went by without a single resolution heard from UFC . We had more than one printed, among them motions we’ve been holding onto since December. To make our union democracy work, there’s really a simple solution: let delegates other than Unity members speak, Mr. Mulgrew. There’s an easy way to do this: (1) shorten the Presidential report (and/or post an extended version elsewhere); and (2) respect the rule of alternating sides. 

To hear author and New Action co-chair, Nick Bacon, speak more about the February DA, check out his interview on the “Professional Development” Podcast with Noah Teachey.

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