In the election that ended last week, New Action lost to MORE in every division except retirees. I knew we would lose high schools, and win retirees. That did happen. I thought we would win functionals, and that the races in middle school and elementary school would be close. That did not happen.
Look at those numbers. MORE would seem to have won a substantial victory. (I/T/M refers to any and all of ICE, TJC, and MORE)
Looking at the numbers from 2010 and today, it seems that MORE flipped a chunk of votes from New Action.
Looking at the numbers going back two elections, a different pattern seems to emerge. New Action flips votes from ICE/TJC in 2010, but they come back to MORE in 2013.
MORE’s 2013 numbers under Cavanaugh fall short of ICE’s 2007 numbers under Wainer (except retirees)
Pushing the returns back to 2004, it now looks like the anomalous year was 2010. And 2013 is neither the worst year for New Action, nor the best for ICE/TJC/MORE. That’s actually bad news for New Action – this election was, in relation to the other opposition caucus, fairly normal.
But back to 2010, what might explain the shift? It was, I believe, a more optimistic year. Mulgrew was new, and we preferred his style, and when Weingarten proposed a lousy teacher evaluation system, he said she didn’t get it. He didn’t agree to the outline of the NY State teacher evaluation law until after the election. New Action’s 2010 vote total may have been swelled by voters who wanted to support Mulgrew, but refused to do so on the Unity line.
The ICE/TJC/MORE vote seems to match up most closely between 2007 and 2013, as does the New Action vote, though slightly depressed in 2013 for both caucuses. The Retiree category is an exception, with both groups stronger among retirees in 2013 than they were in 2007.
This is a time series of charts, showing UFT membership and votes by division for the 2004, 2007, 2010, and 2013 elections. I created the charts from the numbers of ballots mailed and the number of ballots returned, which has been part of the reported election results, including this year.
Raw numbers, by division, by year, with turnout percentages are included at the bottom of this post.
Members by Division, by year
Voters by Division, by Year
It is also worth noting that the areas represent different numbers of members, and of voters.
2004 – 154 thousand
2007 – 164 thousand
2010 – 170 thousand
2013 – 176 thousand
2004 – 56 thousand
2007 – 49 thousand
2010 – 56 thousand
2013 – 45 thousand
The jump in the percentage of votes cast by retirees is a direct result of the constitutional amendments raising the cap on how much retiree votes count. New Action strongly opposed those amendments. Retirees cast 53% of the votes, an absolute majority, in this election.
The special decline in middle school votes may be due to how teachers in in K-8 or 6-12 schools are categorized. I do not know if this is the correct explanation.
In the course of a decade, the number (not percent) of teachers voting has fallen from 21 thousand to under 13 thousand, and whereas teachers cast just under 40% of the vote nine years ago, they cast exactly 30% today.
See turnout analysis here.
I arrived. Hotel meeting room, for a large meeting, set up with rows of tables with ballot counters doing something… sorting? flattening? stacking? In front were some more important looking tables. I missed the scanners and monitors – I was looking for something else.
(Click here for Part I of this piece)
In the back, right, were the observers. I found Joel Berger, then found Mike Shulman. They were not wearing their concern on their faces, but I felt it. Before walking out with Mike I said hi to some of the Unity people and some of the MORE people. The Unity people looked bored, and perhaps a bit tired. The MORE people were relaxed.
Mike and I found a quiet place to sit around the corner. We looked through the participation numbers… down 30% across the board. We talked about what that means… not good. And Mike talked about MORE outpolling us 2:1 and 3:1… let me explain.
No results had yet been announced. But one (time consuming) stage in the vote takes each ballot and scans it. An image appears on a monitor for a second, and the next ballot scans. By watching the monitor it is possible to count a number of consecutive votes. Now, as Unity dominates most divisions, it is tempting to count MORE vs New Action for a while (easy to do, as there are breaks when Unity ballots are on screen), and extrapolate.
But that ratio (which is easy to exaggerate – take several samples, worry about the most alarming) does not tell whether there were any breakthrough type numbers. Were there numbers of votes that significantly exceeded what ICE and TJC had done previously? Had New Action’s totals shrunk beyond previous lows in any significant ways? The answer to both, at 1 PM, was we did not know. When the day was done we learned that the answers were “No” and “No.”
Back in the room I graded, paced. Jack Miller took some posed photos. I chatted with Amy and Eileen and Leroy, and with James (and a bit Ellen. really just a hello with Joan). People say what they are supposed to say, more or less, when discussing politics and elections. Which made a brief discussion with a guy from Unity and a guy from MORE about their children’s schools a welcome break. I wandered up to the monitors, and tried to sample ballots.
And then the American Arbitration Association guy announced the first results – high school and middle school. He only announced slate votes – split ballots would not be added in until Friday. And in high school Unity had 1592, MORE had 1430, and New Action had 452. The seven endorsed by New Action and Unity (including me) outpolled their MORE opponents 2042 to 1430. And the only race where there was any doubt was now decided.
I stayed for two more rounds of announcements covering Elementary, and Functionals, then Retirees. Mike stayed with me. Joel left. The MORE people looked less relaxed as they realized that they had not been so far from winning the high schools. I wonder if they were doubting their decision not to meet with New Action to discuss this election back last summer. Unlikely. They were more likely annoyed that New Action’s high school candidates had, with Unity votes, beaten MORE’s candidates.
As the results came in, a batch at a time, I tabulated them. And I worked them over. And I began to look for patterns. New Action ended down from 11% to 9%, which was disappointing, but no disaster. MORE was at 13%, up from ICE/TJC’s 8%, good, but no breakthrough. Unity’s total fell from 81% to 77%, which does not sound so bad, but in fact, is (I’ll discuss that in a follow up post). And the total vote fell from 53 thousand to 43 thousand, which is a problem for our union.
In any case, I ran back to school (after five now) to pick up the completed work my coverages had left in my box.
Reviewing data since 2004, participation in UFT elections is down across the board. In 2007 there was a drop, an uptick in 2010, and a big drop in 2010. This trend was stronger than any variation among the divisions, including retirees. Here are the percents by division, followed by the divisional data displayed as a line graph…
The same data, graphed:
The drop from 2004 to 2013 in each teacher division is between 35% and 39%. The drop for retirees over that same time period is 22%, and among functionals 44%.
The big trend is clear. But what of the bigger drops in 2007 and 2013, and the uptick in 2010? My working assumption is that the blow from the 2005 contract was demoralizing, and is reflected in 2007. In 2010 Mulgrew was new, and had just publicly opposed Weingarten on using test scores to rate teachers. And today? Danielson, teacher evaluation looming, how many years of Bloomberg, etc. The overall trend is less voting, but that trend is magnified by demoralizing events and conditions.
So why the overall trend? TFA, NYCTF, low retention…? But there are not so many TFAers as there once were, and that number has not been increasing. Anecdotally I believe that NYCTF retention is getting a little better. And those categories don’t effect retiree vote, which has dropped a little slower than the rest, but moves the same direction in each election.
Could the delayed vote (April instead of March) made a difference? I think not. And that would just be 2013. And it would not affect retirees.
Could the influx of functionals (home care workers) make a difference? Not really. Our addition of charter school teachers, home care workers, nurses, etc, account for making the purple line in the graph change places with the red line, nothing more. Discounting the growth of the division, turnout for 2013 would have been 18%.
I think there are two major factors. First, there is an overall mood of demoralization. There is a sense that no matter what we do, things will go badly. And second, too many new teachers are indifferent to the UFT (and we do too little to address this).
It certainly had been the case nationally under 8 years of Bush, but despite several important improvements (health care jumps out), four and a half years of Obama have not improved the lot of teachers or the conditions in the schools. Retirees earned benefits over years in the workforce, and are watching renewed targeting of Social Security and Medicare. Few of us can answer the “Are you better off…” question in the affirmative.
And certainly in our schools, the demands of the current system are utterly demoralizing and frustrating: punishing quantities of paperwork, impossible requirements, colocations and school closings, the ongoing ATR pool, endless testing and test prep, maltreatment at the hands of abusive administrators. The union has pushed back in some places, and we have prevailed in several instances, (we won twice on school closings, that was huge), but those are the exceptions.
The second major factor contributing to the decline in turnout, I think, is that newer teachers don’t vote. And this is a system that is bottom-heavy with newer teachers. Even after the partial hiring freezes of the last few years, it seems clear that the proportion of senior teachers has dropped, and of newer (maybe not brand new) teachers has risen. And the UFT enrolls, but does not induct, new teachers. There is a difference between making people members on paper (sign this card, and then the Health and Welfare form), and making them feel like, think like they are part of an organization that unites them with their colleagues.
When I started blogging, in 2006, before I joined New Action, I knew that retention was one of the biggest challenges facing our school system and our union. I knew that weak chapters were tied to the retention crisis. And I knew failing to recognize the crisis makes things worse. I’ve learned a lot since then. I would add other factors, I would add nuance. And while I knew that rebuilding/repairing chapters was a big job, it is far bigger than I understood, and with the loss of 7 years it has become far, far harder. But I believe that addressing new teacher induction would directly address voter turnout (among other things).
Organize. Build. Involve. From the chapter up, with support from the top. There needs to be a strong, two-way link, from member to chapter leader to district rep to officers and vice versa. Communication must move in both directions. There need to be strong relationships in the chapters. And this need, this lack, should inform much of what we do. This this is not sufficient to solve our turnout problems (demoralization and new teacher indifference to the UFT), but it is necessary.
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The full data set shows the same trend, but also reveals the relative size of each division, and changes in the relative size of each division. The next post will analyze those numbers.
Last Thursday noon-ish I left school. I had been offered release for a full day, but chose to stay for all but my last two classes.
The UFT vote count was underway. I was on my way to the 57th Street Holiday Inn, to watch the American Arbitration Association process the UFT votes.
I texted Mike Shulman, New Action cochair, to get a sense of how things were going, before I got on the train. I was concerned going in. I thought New Action’s vote would fall, and Unity’s would fall, and MORE’s would probably finish ahead of New Action. But I thought we had a chance to edge them. I also was worried that we might lose our 3 high school seats, including mine, on the executive board (we were safe to hold our 7 at-large). Mike’s reply text was not positive: turnout was down about 20% across the board, and MORE was beating New Action 3:1 everywhere.
The train ride I was trying to imagine the worst. Losing the seat would at least lift the responsibility that comes with it. And New Action has a core of support, a few percent, that is unshakeable. We would have seven seats, and we would do work. But there could be no spin, no self-delusion, nothing to make the drop in turnout into anything but trouble. And if MORE had an electoral breakthrough, New Action’s safe 4-5% would not necessarily mean much.
It turned out, New Action’s result was disappointing, but not a disaster. MORE had a stronger than expected showing, but no breakthrough. The biggest losers were Unity and the UFT as a whole (not for the same reason).
(Story continues here)
I’ll talk about the count, and analyze the vote in the coming days. I may even look back at the campaign… but it’s a bit early.
New Action campaign literature was distributed in schools across New York City. The UFT ballots were mailed last Wednesday, and Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday last week were our most intense days. We also used the two weeks before vacation.
Now is late. Many people mailed in their ballots when they arrived, Friday or Saturday. Others may have tossed them. Too many. Honestly, even if you vote for one of the wrong slates (Unity or MORE), it is better to vote… But that’s a different post.
So, now is late. But we had bypassed some Bronx high schools, and today a team covered some. And this afternoon I went into one: Grace Dodge.
What good can it do, handing out literature after so many have already voted? I was thinking that, as I was thinking of ditching my assignment.
But as I arrived, and met one person after another who knew me, or who knew who I was… I met the chapter leader, good guy, running with the wrong slate. I met a woman from my first school – we hadn’t seen each other in years. We worked in the same “house” when I started, back in 97. I met a guy from another school, coming for per session… we worked with the Columbus people last year, to help get the UFT involved in organizing the “Chase Chase” rally against a sexually harassing principal. I met teachers in the school, with questions about their working conditions. I heard a paperwork issue. I got questions about being in a phase out school, which I never have been, but the Grace Dodge people are.
I put flyers in the boxes in the two mini-schools. In one I recognized a name on a box, the daughter of a scoundrel who has intentionally done incalculable harm to students, teachers, and communities in the Bronx. But the daughter? she is our colleague, and a teacher, and I hope she develops good union consciousness and ends up nothing like her father. (I had to take a minute and convince myself of this, having cringed in horror, on seeing his name on her box).
But the best? By the Grace Dodge mail boxes. Schmoozing and talking. Trying to have three conversations at once. A young guy says “Mr. Halabi” (no question mark at the end) “Mr. Halabi, do you remember me?” He’s mid-20s, big shoulders, but not tall, beard. I don’t recognize him. “It’s me,” and he said his name, and I still didn’t know.
The young man had been my student for five weeks in a summer bridge program, in 2000. The kid, who I now recall, but barely, looked nothing like the man who spoke to me this afternoon. One was 13, from West Africa. Today’s was 25, graduate of a college in the midwest. He was subbing, and wanted pointers on landing a regular job. I may have been more helpful today than 13 years ago… but I must have done something good that he remembered me all these years later… I smiled.
I also found a few people who said they hadn’t voted, and I may have picked up a couple votes.
For distribution, covering a lot of schools is important. But today I had the chance to go slow, listen to people, share ideas and experiences. And see a former student. I walked out smiling.
New Action approached MORE in August to discuss, among other things, the upcoming UFT elections. MORE set its slate two months later, and only then agreed to meet New Action, making discussion of an electoral bloc or alliance impossible.
On July 31 of last summer, the New Action executive board met. We were discussing one item only: the 2013 UFT elections and our relations with Unity. For a number of reasons, some obvious (impending teacher evaluation which we oppose) some less obvious, there was significant doubt about maintaining our relationship with Unity.
Four proposals went in: (1) maintain our relationship with Unity, (2) do not participate in the elections, (3) run an independent slate in the election, and (4) approach MORE.
By the end of that day we had eliminated only the second option. And we had designated members to make initial, informal approaches to Unity and to MORE.
The decision to approach MORE was not easy, there was some real support, and some solid opposition. We chose to frame the approach to be about both election and non-election issues, to avoid giving the impression we were about to begin negotiations. By late August we had reached out, informally, to two leading members of MORE. And we waited. They asked for a formal request, which we were not inclined to make (in the spirit of the direction our Exec Board had given us.)
Do MORE’s members know that MORE essentially rebuffed an approach by New Action, from before last Labor Day?
And we waited. And waited. September came and went. We put off our decision, waiting for feedback. October came. MORE announced their slate. We got the message. At the next New Action meeting we reduced our choices to running with Unity or running alone. And then, at Halloween, MORE suggested we meet.
And we did meet. Late November. New Action was already making election arrangements with Unity. Which left the six of us (3 New Action, 3 MORE) with a slightly strange conversation. It seemed slightly productive at the time, and certainly cordial. For an account see New Action and MORE representatives met in November.
By delaying a meeting with New Action until after it had set its slate, MORE made clear that they had no interest in pursuing a joint slate.