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Was Buffalo “unexpected context”?

May 26, 2022 pm31 11:22 pm

The US History Regents – a New York State graduation requirement, was cancelled this week. A question was somehow likely to upset students just confronted with the white supremacist massacre in Buffalo. The New York State Education Department wrote “the tragedy in Buffalo has created an unexpected and unintended context” as they announced the cancellation. They are also starting the process to exempt students who would have taken this exam from this graduation requirement.

The exam was written two years ago, and shelved during the pandemic. There was apparently a question which invoked, in part, the Second Amendment.

Challenge:  The New York State Education Department, in the person of Commissioner Betty Rosa, wrote that Buffalo created an “unexpected… context.”  I am calling out their questionable honesty. Mass shootings are not an “unexpected context” in the United States, not anymore.

Challenge:  The New York State Education Department, in the person of Commissioner Betty Rosa, wrote that Buffalo created an “unexpected… context.”  I am calling out their questionable honesty. White supremacist violence against others is not an “unexpected context” in the United States. It has, tragically and sadly and infuriatingly never been unexpected here.

All history is the story of struggle and conflict. But unlike whatever was wrong in Ancient Rome or the Indus Valley, US History is with us today. The Ottoman Empire kidnapped children to become janissaries which was awful, but the practice, and then the Empire, ended. This is history. But discrimination, loss of freedom, and violence are realities that many Black people and other groups face on an ongoing basis in the United States today.

United States History is not traumatizing because someone was going to ask a bad question. It is traumatizing, for many, because someone asked a good question.

And the only way to make the study of United States history not be traumatizing is to teach the next generation not just what happened in the past, but how to change it in the future.

But how do we teach young people to change history, if we have been lousy at changing it ourselves? I’m a step ahead. The beginning is to recognize that the – we can’t call it “unexpected context” – the beginning is to recognize that the “uncomfortable context” is United States history, current politics, and conditions, themselves.

 

 

 

Protect our health care?

May 24, 2022 pm31 11:19 pm

I like emails that open with “Protect our health care.” Retirees have recently engaged in a massive struggle to protect their health care – all of our future health care. They fought against New York City, the Municipal Labor Coalition, predatory insurance companies, and Michael Mulgrew.

So I liked this morning’s email from NYSUT

But NYSUT? Andy Pallotta? Works with Mulgrew and the UFT? What do they mean by “Protecting Retiree Health Insurance?

Well, the note says

“a recent court decision potentially limits unions’ ability to protect access to health care for retired public employees across the state.”

Now, if he is referring to the recent decision that made it harder for Mulgrew to force retirees off of Medicare… But is he?

Is there another case that NYSUT is asking us to lobby to fix? Or is NYSUT asking us to lobby on behalf of the MLC, the insurance companies, and Michael Mulgrew?

Protecting Retiree Health Insurance

Unions have — for decades — fought for retiree health coverage in our courts. However, a recent court decision potentially limits unions’ ability to protect access to health care for retired public employees across the state. Our retirees need a legislative fix.

We’re simply asking for the return of the same level playing field that existed prior to this court ruling. Both unions and employers must retain their right to argue their positions around a retiree health care dispute before a court. Our state legislators can guarantee this right and reduce the risk of unnecessary disputes over retiree health insurance benefits. Everyone wins.

Our retirees depend on unions’ ability to fight for them in court. Protecting retirees means protecting this ability.

Take action now!

In solidarity,

Andrew Pallotta, NYSUT President

I am suspicious – but I do not know. This could be unrelated to our struggle to protect Medicare from Mulgrew.

Can we dig up some details?

Why do I look at total votes in UFT elections?

May 23, 2022 pm31 11:05 pm

It seems obvious that we should be focused on percents. What did Unity win by? 66% to 34%. What happened in high schools? United for Change won with 56%. Unity’s 67% was a record low for them in Elementary Schools. Yet in my analysis, I have focused on total votes, not percents. Why?

See analysis at:

If Unity and the opposition were competing for the same votes, then when Unity’s votes went up, non-Unity votes would go down, and vice versa. I claim that we are fishing for votes mostly in separate ponds – and that an opposition increase and a Unity increase can happen at the same time.

Connecticut

Just take a look at this pretty chart:

Those are Connecticut votes for president 1952 – 1988.

See the longterm upward trend? It’s there. Imagine halfway between the red and the blue. It starts around 550,000, and climbs pretty steadily to about 700,000.

Also see how the red and blue dance? When red rises, blue falls. When blue rises, red falls.

Do you see the one year that doesn’t fit? 1980. John Anderson siphoned off a bunch of votes. Raise the red dot to 810,000 and the blue to 600,000 – and there’s our pattern, clear as day:

NOT REAL

That chart is not real, but only 1980 has been altered. And there it is, gentle up slope, and red goes up when blue goes down and blue goes down when red goes up. The electorate is growing, slowly, and the Democrats and Republicans are competing for the same votes.

Notice, by the way, that Connecticut used to vote pretty differently from how it votes today.

United Federation of Teachers

Do the numbers dance? Do Unity numbers rise when non-Unity numbers fall, and vice versa, or do they move independently?

Where to begin?

The blue line drops sharply in 2007, 2013, and 2022, but only in 2022 is there a corresponding rise in the green line. The lines rise together in 2016, fall together in 2019.

Unity and non-Unity draw votes from separate pools. This is not the Connecticut map – the lines are moving independently. They are expanding and shrinking their own bases. They are not drawing votes from each other.

The blue and the green move in the same direction in five of the six year after year comparisons. However, in two of those Unity has a sharp fall while the non-Unity votes hold steady. There is no indication that the two sides are trading votes. They are fishing in separate ponds.

First of all, these lines almost always move in the same direction.

Second, look at the last three cycles. The opposition loses a ton of votes in 2019. Where do they go? Not to Unity. The opposition gains back a ton in 2022. Where did they get them from? Not Unity. During the same time period Unity’s votes stayed the same.

See how the lines rise together in 2016? They are not poaching each other’s votes. The only year they seem to dance, this year, the Unity fall was far greater than the non-Unity rise. This does not break the pattern.

Conclusion

Unity and the non-Unity groups are, for the most part, not directly competing for votes.

Opposition votes may or may not be cast. The struggle is getting people to vote.

Unity votes may or may not be cast. They are nearing a crisis because they cannot get their own people to vote. But their coming crisis is not being caused by the non-Unity groups; it is their failure to energize their own folks.

Analysis of 2022

Limiting the discussion to in-service, we now ask two questions: How did Unity do? How did United for Change do? We will answer each, without referring to the other.

How did Unity do?

Unity continued to lose voters across every in-service division. They may be leveling out in high schools. We would need more evidence to support that. But it is possible that they have hit rock bottom in this division.

How did United for Change do?

United for Change recovered from the separate caucus’ very weak showing in 2019 – but not to the level of 2016. It is not a bad election, but nor is it a major breakthrough.

Next up: analysis of retiree voting.

UFT Elections: Voting For Unity?

May 22, 2022 pm31 12:10 pm

Unity won 66% of the total vote, just shy of two-thirds, and 58% among teachers. Those are, for Unity, not good numbers, maybe horrible numbers – the lowest since I’ve been paying attention, probably the lowest since the first decade of the UFT, and maybe the lowest in the history of the UFT. But Unity also breathed a sigh of relief – sure they lost the high schools, but they have lost the high schools many times before – and they avoided losing anywhere else.

Yesterday I looked at: Voting Against Unity?

What happens if we dig deeper into Unity’s numbers? What picture do we get? Weak performance, but they survived? Or something worse?

See also:

The 2022 United Federation of Teachers election needs a closer look.

Let’s start with the percentages (which is where the superficial analysis, above, comes from), then move on to the actual VOTES that Unity retained. Finally we will consider Unity voters as a segment of all eligible voters. I will use historical data from the last seven elections, going back to 2004. And for today I will only be looking at the four in-service divisions. The retiree vote requires a separate post.

In-service percents

And a general pattern does emerge:

  • Generally down
  • a small jump in 2019, but completely reversed in 2022
  • 2022 is the lowest, in every division, for the past seven election cycles

Is it possible to create trend lines from this data? Sure.

I just don’t think this is very meaningful. The end of those trend lines, by the way, are around 2040.

Could we omit 2019 to smooth the lines? Sure, but now we are forcing data to fit the story we want it to tell. This is even less meaningful, though slightly entertaining.

Those trendlines end in 2040 – but this is now pure fantasy. These graphs are for amusement, not for serious analysis.

For serious analysis, let’s leave out the percents, and look at actual vote totals.

In-service votes

I will demonstrate later this week that Unity and “not Unity” mostly activate or fail to activate our own votes. We generally do not trade votes back and forth (though it is quite heartening/disappointing to learn of someone who has changed sides).

(There was a significant exception in 2022 – a number of former Unity voters among the retirees did switch – but this was due to specific circumstances: the colossal Unity miscalculation around Medicare Advantage.)

This means that it makes sense to look at Unity vote totals. And these totals are more meaningful, by a lot, than looking at the percents (what we did in the section above).

In the lower two lines, Middle and High School, they seem to have hit bottom in 2013, and more or less stayed there. But in Elementary School and among Functional, Unity continues to bleed votes.

Of particular interest is Unity’s steady decline among Elementary School teachers. This election they seem to have received their fewest votes, ever, in that division. The decline in two decades is 50%. I expected the pandemic to make all of Unity’s lines drop from 2019, but the two lower lines barely slipped, and Elementary and Functional were more dramatic than I expected.

Is this due to the DoE, seemingly with Mulgrew’s acquiescence, sending Elementary staff back sooner than the older grades – with instructional lunch and no vaccines? Is this a product of what seemed to be scary-inadequate protections for staff in D75? Or is this part of Unity’s long term loss of their core voting blocs?

Here’s the same data, in table form.

And here it is, expressed as percentage of Unity’s 2004 vote totals:

Go back to the graph. Look at what is happening. Look at the table. Look at those declines. And notice, the biggest declines are not necessarily when there are big votes for other caucuses. Unity is ailing, just fine, without any help.

Among all voters

A third look might be to consider what percent of members actually voted for Unity. We know participation (turnout) is generally lousy, and getting worse. What portion of our members actually vote for the leadership? When they claim a mandate, how deep is that mandate?

This is devastating. Unity’s longterm loss of support is consistent across the divisions. It has been around 50% over the last seven election cycles. There is no sign of any pause. And unlike 2016, when in the face of a unified MORE/New Action slate Unity actually managed to stall their decline, there is no such sign in 2022.

(Side note: the middle school numbers here are more consistent with the other divisions than in the previous section, because a significant number of middle schools have been replaced with K-8, which vote elementary, and 6-12, which vote high school. When looking at total votes, that makes it look like Unity is suffering bigger losses among middle school. When looking at votes cast divided by votes mailed, it balances out.)

Here are the numbers in a table:

(note, these are slate numbers only. Once split ballots are added in, the totals go up, but just a bit.)

In my previous post I laid out a pretty clear case that United for Change did not have any big breakthrough among in-service members. But that seems to have had no impact on Unity – they continued their longterm decline.

That they managed to not lose more seats was unfortunate (or fortunate, for them). But that does not change the outlook – they are not doing well, and they have not been, not for a long time.

And what next?

I have been looking at vote totals, Unity and non-Unity, isolated from each other. I will lay out data that explains why this makes sense.

Something just happened among the retirees, very different from what is happening in the in-service divisions.

And then there will have to be some more digging into what is causing these changes, especially the longterm changes. There is a lot here, and that will take some time.

Finally, there needs to be a guide. Lessons learned. What steps to take next. But that part I will share privately.

UFT Elections: Voting Against Unity

May 21, 2022 pm31 6:20 pm

United for Change won 34% of the total vote, and 42% among teachers. Fairly impressive. But how many VOTES did United for Change win? In an environment of declining turnout, do those percentages represent real gains? Or something else?

See also:

Let’s look first at the percentages, and then at the vote totals. Finally we will consider non-voters. I will use historical data from the last seven elections, going back to 2004. And for today I will only be looking at the four in-service divisions. The retiree vote requires a separate post.

In-service percents

Calling anything an “opposition total” would be at least a little controversial. New Action’s votes from 2004-2013 went to Unity’s presidential candidate. Yet those voters chose to vote for hundreds of New Action candidates, and were declining to check “Unity” on the front of the ballot. I was quite hostile to Solidarity in 2016 and 2019. Yet it makes sense to combine all the non-Unity votes to get an idea of what was going on. So I’m just lumping them together as “Non-Unity.”

And a general pattern does emerge:

  • relative stability 2004 – 2010
  • a small jump in 2013 (most impressive in high schools, least impressive in middle schools)
  • another, smaller jump in 2016 (actual dip in high schools, most impressive in middle schools, balancing out 2013)
  • big drop in 2019
  • return in 2022 to an increase on 2016.

Imagine that 2019 didn’t happen – do we have a straight line of increases from the averages of 2004-10, through 2013, 2016 (skipping 2019) to 2022? Take a look:

Is this a picture of steady progress? Is “the opposition” inexorably moving forward? Should we project the year “the opposition” overcomes Unity? (2025 in middle school? 2028 or 2031 among functionals and in elementary schools?) That looks very tempting. But this is the wrong graph.

In-service votes

Let’s look at in-service votes that went to opposition groups. I claim this is a better representation of how the opposition groups are doing. The percents measure us versus Unity, but that is not how voting in the low-turnout UFT works.

Do we struggle FOR the same votes? I would argue, mostly, no. Despite the bickering on Twitter and FaceBook, most of those who participate in those scrums have already made up their minds. We lose and gain relatively few votes by winning people over from the other side (as much as we are delighted when that happens. And it did happen a bit this election, but among retirees).

We might struggle to “get out the vote.” Unity does, too. But we are working in essentially separate universes. Most of our gains or losses involve people choosing to vote, or choosing not to vote.

There are still ups and downs when we look at the votes, rather than the percents. But the pattern is not so clear.

Let me narrow the data again, looking for a deeper trend. Same as above, imagine that 2019 didn’t happen – do we have a straight line of increases from the averages of 2004-10, through 2013, 2016 (skipping 2019) to 2022? Take a look:

There still is an upward trend, but shallower, less clear, and with more bumps. In Elementary, for example, instead of moving from 19% to 33% (almost doubling) and only rising, we now see motion only from 1800 to 2300, with ups and downs.

Looking at votes instead of per cents does not erase all of the sense of progress, but it scales it way, way back. We cannot use this to project when the opposition will pass Unity – there’s no such clear trend. In fact, we should note that non-Unity votes fell among in-service members from 2016 to 2022.

Among all voters

It’s fine to look at the raw number of votes, as we just did. That probably gives the best picture. But a third look might be to consider what percent of members actually voted for the opposition.

For context, I reported elsewhere that of every 34 teachers, 3 voted against Unity, 4 voted for Unity, and the other 27 did not vote. Ignore Unity for the moment – what are those historic numbers for voting non-Unity?

I should pause to note, these are slate votes only, actual votes are a bit higher. Good rule of thumb for a high estimate – add 10%. For example, middle school in 2013 says 5.2%. Add 0.5 to that and use 5.7% as your estimate. Elementary in 2016 says 7.1% – add 0.7 to that and work with 7.8% as your high estimate.

I can combine these numbers into one in-service number – we can see the Unity numbers, but it still does not look good:

This is bad for partisans of “the opposition.” But, quite obviously, it’s far worse for Unity. They may have breathed a sigh of relief over not losing more seats, but that’s the present. No relief for them as they look into the future.

Here’s the first table, now in graph form:

In 20 years, where’s the gain?

Even blending 2004-10 and omitting 2019, not a bright picture…

The only change that comes close to significance is in middle schools. That one requires more work/research.

And what next?

The next post in this series will be a look at what is happening to Unity’s vote. You think this was a downbeat post? it’s nothing compared to what’s happening to them.

After that? A deep look into what happened with the retiree vote – which is a very different discussion.

High-Water Mark of Freedom and Rights?

May 20, 2022 pm31 11:08 pm

Imagine a place.

Imagine a place where prejudice based on religion was just a memory.

Imagine a place where discrimination based on race was in the process of going away.

Imagine such a place.

Imagine such a country.

Could it be the United States today?

But for some, that is what they saw, 50 years ago.

Read these words, spoken without irony, by Shirley Chisholm in 1970. She is announcing her support for the Equal Rights Amendment (for women) and first clarifying where we stand in relation to race prejudice:

Legal expression of prejudice on the grounds of religious or political belief has become a minor problem in our society. Prejudice on the basis of race is, at least, under systematic attack. There is reason for optimism that it will start to die with the present, older generation. It is time we act to assure full equality of opportunity to those citizens who, although in a majority, suffer the restrictions that are commonly imposed on minorities, to women.

(1970) SHIRLEY CHISHOLM, “I AM FOR THE EQUAL RIGHTS AMENDMENT.” [emphasis mine – jd]

How high we had risen, and how far we have fallen.

UFT Election Turnout: Some Observations

May 15, 2022 pm31 1:39 pm

The number of voters seem to change without connection to the number of voters changing. What that means – I will be looking at the number of votes cast instead of the turnout percentage (with one exception).

Earlier I looked at all the turnout data, trying to locate patterns or breaks in patterns that bore further examination. Here are some things I found, followed by a first crack at some analysis. It’s not enough, not yet. I will be digging deeper in the coming days.

  1. The UFT elections have alternated between higher returns and lower. 2004, 2010, 2016, and 2022 were higher. 2007, 2013, and 2019 were lower.
  2. There is an overall downward trend in participation. It is significant enough that the number of votes in 2022, a year of increased voting, was less than 2007, a year of lower voting.
  3. Retirees do not follow this trend. The number of retirees is rising. The number of retiree voters is rising. The percentage of retirees voting had been slipping, but the most dramatic number in this election’s turnout was the surge in retiree votes, 4,600 more votes than three years ago.
  4. The number of functional votes plummeted.
  5. The number of teacher votes climbed from 2019 levels back to 2016 levels – EXCEPT ELEMENTARY.

It is going to take further digging to explain these points. But there is room for some initial analysis.

  1. The changes, year to year, in the number of votes cast likely reflect events in the Department of Education, or in the UFT. The last two “high” years, 2016 and 2019, there were very competitive elections (in one or two divisions).
  2. The overall downward trend is something we have seen before. It reflects, I believe, a serious disconnect between members and our union. Short-term teachers (and it is alarming how many come into teaching for just a few years. Shouldn’t this be a career choice) do not have reason, at least in their own minds, to worry about the union. In the day to day reality of many of us, we have colleagues and a principal, and we work out what we can. If the union’s power and influence are not felt, why invest time in that union? I disagree with that stance – it is wrong. But it is rational. I will come back to this. Turning the lack of engagement around should be a high priority. I worry.
  3. Part of the retiree puzzle is easy: Medicare Advantage drove turnout. The other part is trickier. I have tried in past elections to dig further into retiree turnout. It is complicated, and I’m not sure it is worth it. But, in case you are curious, here’s some stuff: New retirees often pay more attention at first. And the number of retirees went down (after the incentives 25 or so years ago cleared so many out), and then has come back up. Also, a significant number of retirees stay involved for the longterm, and treat voting as an obligation. (Voter participation in state and federal elections is also higher among older voters). Also, retirees are out of schools, and out of most of the controversial stuff. So as long as they keep voting, they will probably continue to vote the same way. Except this year…
  4. I do not understand the drop in functional votes. I will dig, and look, and ask. One guess – the numbers rose temporarily as family child care providers (how large is the number? Large, I think) joined the UFT and were glad to have a union, but with time interest has fallen. That’s just a guess. The only supporting evidence I have is the timing. I’m curious if you have better ideas. And whatever we think of, I’ll try to ferret out something more concrete.
  5. The low number of votes from Elementary School teachers will become clearer as I go into the data in more detail. For now, this was a “good” year in the other divisions, but in Elementary School it looks like a bad year (7500 this year, compared to 7300, 7300, and 8900 in the last three bad turnout elections). We have a longterm downward trend, but that didn’t stop Middle Schools and High Schools from rising. Perhaps this is a reaction to the pandemic. Unity’s policies, Mulgrew’s bad deals, they made high school people scream. But we were already voting against Unity. Some of the decisions hit the Elementary Schools especially hard. They had to go back into the buildings before the other divisions, and before vaccines were available. “Instructional Lunch” which, if you read the language, was clearly a policy the UFT proposed to the DoE, hit Elementary Schools particularly hard. And even for teachers who did not get sick, being scared is a real thing, and not so easy to forget. I’ll get into this in further analysis, but it appears that a large number of loyal Unity Elementary School voters threw out their ballots this time.

Each of these points is a first stab at an explanation. They need further exploration. But the outlines are coming into focus.

Below is the data I relied on, with the total votes captured in a chart.

As always, comments and corrections are welcome.

UFT Election Turnout: Four Charts

May 15, 2022 pm31 12:48 pm

Let’s dive into the UFT election results. Let’s start with turnout. (For the beginning of the analysis, click here)

Votes Cast tells us more than Turnout Percentage

Turnout Percentage

Turnout in all divisions is under 50%. And turnout has generally been falling in all divisions.

All divisions tend to move together. 2004, 2010, 2016 and 2022 were better years. 2007, 2013, and 2019 were lower. But the longterm slide is such that 2022, a better year, is not actually better than 2007, a bad year.

The rates move, more or less, together. Which makes 3 exceptions stand out:

  • Retirees stand out for having a higher participation rate in general. And this year the rate among retirees. rose to better than the last three elections.
  • In-service rates were moving together, mostly. But functional did not fall off much from 2016 to 2019, and then fell off noticeably from 2019 to 2022, while other rates were rising.
  • Unexpectedly, elementary turnout did not rise this year in parallel with Middle School and High School.

Ballots Mailed

The number of retirees keeps going up! So the drops in percentage turnout are not as meaningful. And the RISE in percentage this year, even when the number of retirees was going up, means a lot of new voters. We will look at raw numbers of votes next.

The number of Middle School voters seems to shrink slightly. I’m guessing that’s due to teachers in K-8 and 6-12 being categorized as Elementary and High School, respectively. The middle schools are being squeezed.

The number of functionals has been rising, as we have adding categories or expanding categories of workers represented by the UFT. I don’t know why there is that blip in 2016.

This is the least interesting of the four charts.

Votes Cast

Middle School and High School move, just slightly, and together. The overall trend is down, but slightly.

  • Elementary moves in a more dramatic fashion, and has fallen further. The lack of rebound from 2019 is startling.
  • Retirees are not part of the same trends. Yes, there is a little motion up and down, in synch with MS/HS. But unlike any other division, the overall trend is for more votes from retirees, not fewer.
  • Also, the jump in retiree votes this time stands out – it is a “thing” independent of anything else in this chart.

Functional votes stopped tracking elementary votes when we added new titles.

Putting Ballots Mailed and Votes Cast on one chart

There is not obvious correlation. It looks like the votes move together year to year, independent of the number of ballots that were mailed. That suggests we should focus on votes cast, rather than on turnout percentage.

Data

Here’s what I used to create these charts:

As always, comments and corrections are welcome.

Analyzing UFT Election Results: My Data

May 14, 2022 pm31 11:08 pm

Over the next ten days or so I will subject the recent UFT election results to some analysis. There is more here than

  • Unity won 66% – 34%
  • Unity’s vote totals were lower than usual
  • United for Change raised its vote in most divisions
  • United for Change won the high schools.

The real story will be more complicated. It might not be much more interesting. But as we ponder “what next?” it is important to have as complete a picture as possible of what just happened.

I will be using historical data. I have some historical data, going back to 2004. Some I took from Dave Kaufman. Some I compiled myself. 2019 has a different source; I’d like to double check it. And in 2016 some of the data appears altered – I myself may have been the culprit, as I wrongly adjusted for retirees’ percentage of a vote.

If you have corrections, please send them in.

If you would like the Excel file, please write to me.

My turnout numbers, 2004-2022

My results by division, both number of votes, and percents:

Unofficial numbers (fixed up a little)

May 14, 2022 am31 6:55 am

I corrected my previous post. Some of the numbers for retirees were funky – I’ve adjusted them. Some of the turnout numbers (mostly retiree-related) were off. I think I got the retiree slate vote thing correct, or close to correct, this time.

I corrected the charts in the previous post – but I’m putting them here, for convenience.

Good Luck

May 13, 2022 am31 7:40 am

Good luck to those who won their UFT elections. Good luck especially to the United for Change high school winners.

But congratulations? I’m not so sure. With 79.5% of teachers not voting, I’m not sure that congratulations are in order for any of us. Unity won among teachers 11.88% to 8.65% for United for Change. Out of every 34 voters, 4 chose Unity, 3 chose United for Change. 27 did not vote. (numbers do not include D75 teachers – but those numbers should be similar).

In the coming days I will have more analysis of numbers. More analysis of how each side performed vs each other, but also vs our respective goals (or my estimate or guess of those goals).

But for now – some needed discussion

Engagement

  • how will you increase member engagement? I do not mean voter turnout (and yes, we want to increase that). But low turnout is reflective of low engagement. And addressing that underlying problem, deep problem, is crucial. The strength of the union comes from its ability to unite the activity and energy and power of our members, and today that strength appears suspect. And that is a generous assessment.

Out of every 34 voters, 4 chose Unity, 3 chose United for Change. 27 did not vote.

Will this discussion happen within each side from the election? Will it happen within caucuses in United for Change? Or will all of us come together to address this?

Medicare

  • the bit of engagement that seems to have increased, seems to have increased among one group of members – retirees. And pretty clearly that was driven by one issue – Medicare vs Medicare Advantage.

Will Unity continue to secretly deal with health care and the MLC? Or will we look together at the magnitude of the funding problem, and work together for solutions that are acceptable to our members? I don’t know. My gut says not to trust Unity – but the right thing to do is to set aside that mistrust, at least for the moment, and give them a chance to reassess.

I’ll get back to numbers and analysis.

But for today, good luck.

More unofficial numbers

May 11, 2022 pm31 10:59 pm

Maybe not “more” – maybe “better organized”

My handwritten notes

Yasmin Colon read us the numbers. Aloud. When she finished the ballots returned list, my hand shot up. The numbered return column didn’t add. She knew. Three ballots had problems, is that what I had noticed? People were kind of looking, weirded, at least a little, that I noticed 7,498 + 2,297 + 4,782 + 8,869 + 27,451 ≠ 50,900. I didn’t have the heart to explain, or the energy, frankly, that no, I had not added the numbers, just their last digits…

Unity scrapes out a win – United for Change takes high schools

May 11, 2022 pm31 6:10 pm

Short quick post. Fuller results later. All of these numbers are unofficial.

Unity took the overall vote with 66%, their lowest result in – honestly, I thought ever. Soldini told me the elections in the 1960s were tight. So their lowest total in at least 50 years.

Retirees – Unity 71%. They usually score 85-90.

Functional – Unity 68%. They usually score 75-80%.

Elementary – Unity 67%. They usually score 75-80%

Middle Schools – Unity 56%. They usually score 60 – 80%

High Schools – United for Change 56%. This division leans opposition, but has swung back and forth.

Teacher total – Unity 58%. United for Change 42%. This is low. Unity has been between 65 – and 80%

Even the incomplete results are incomplete

May 11, 2022 am31 12:20 am

I wasn’t there to complain.

Missing Easy Numbers

This morning I was teaching. UFT Election chair Carl Cambria shared the number of votes per division (they are in the table, below), and Dave Hickey said that 198,900 ballots were mailed. Every other election he’s included how many were mailed in each division, which is helpful to understanding the other numbers we are seeing. But not this time.

When I arrived (almost 4) that breakdown was still not available. And I was not able to get it. “Tomorrow.” Nuisance.

Late Votes Counted

The deadline was receipt at AAA 8 AM Monday. A Monday is bad, and what is this 8AM nonsense? They decided (I assume the election committee?) to include ballots received Monday and Tuesday. Which is fantastic. About 1600 more votes.

(we should have probably checked to make sure these ballots were not from Arizona, right?)

Subtraction by Addition

But now we have less information, because all of the vote counts shared by division are now wrong. The total vote is up 1600, but we do not know what division those votes fall in.

A Surprising Nugget

Dave Hickey shared that he saw a pile of about 200 retiree ballots that were not slate (voted for individuals, not caucuses). That makes 99% slate voting. In the previous election retirees voted slate 95% of the time. We verified that this was approximately correct. That is a very big change. Was this election a referendum on Medicare? Turnout was up, although we wanted more, and there was quite a swing to UfC, though we wanted more, so yes, maybe yes. I’m a bit surprised. I expected more Unity voters to check off 11 officers, and omit Mulgrew. Maybe they either stuck, or switched completely.

Neither a Shocking Upset, nor a Resounding Vote of Confidence

I laid out two results in the last two days, both extreme. Neither the amazing United for Change upset nor that romp that would stop Unity from reexamining course happened.

A Table and A Chart, both bad

Since I don’t know where the extra 1600 votes belong, both the table and the chart are wrong. But close. I’ll do better graphics and numbers when they are available.

For now, the chart is just raw turnout by division, by year. I am missing two years of retiree data – what I had was just the cap number for those years.

The 2022 numbers will increase. Older numbers come from a variety of sources.

The graph treats 2010 as 100% for each division, and you can see patterns. 2022 (still missing numbers) seems to roughly return to 2016 levels, after a dip in 2019. Wonder what happened to elementary? And the retirees are their own story (Medicare Advantage).

What Would a Big United for Change Win in the UFT Elections Look Like?

May 9, 2022 am31 10:39 am

We have a hot United Federation of Teachers election.

The ruling Unity caucus, in power since the UFT was founded, currently controls 100% of the Executive Board. Every officer belongs to Unity. Also, every Borough Representative, every District Representative, every Special Representative belongs to Unity. And Unity uses some of these representatives to keep a lock on its control.

In 60 years Unity has always won the Elementary School division, always won the functional division. It is true that the lost the Middle School division once or twice, but that was decades ago. And they have lost the High School division many times, most recently 2016, though they won it back in 2019 and currently hold it.

Unity has always won the overall election – half the seats are at-large, all the officers are at large – and has always won it by a comfortable margin. In 2016 they got 76%, which I believe was their lowest total ever. In 2019 they climbed back to 83%.

On the other hand, incumbent president Michael Mulgrew is the least popular UFT president, well, ever. Unity looked weak and spineless during the pandemic. And our retirees, long a bulwark of Unity’s support, learned a year ago that Unity was forcing them off Medicare, into a private program. The retiree vote for the opposition (Retiree Advocate) in an election as the news was breaking rose from 15% to 30%. These were signs.

The various opposition groups coalesced into one coalition: United for Change. (I am the High School Vice Presidential Candidate for UfC). They nominated a large number of delegates, and probably reached more members in more schools than any opposition campaign in memory.

The expectation, I am guessing, is that in this environment Unity’s vote total falls, a lot. Losing 10% or 15%, would be a big deal. That would probably mean United for Change wins the High School division, and maybe even the Middle School division. That would mean controlling 11/102 seats on the Executive Board.

But is a bigger win for United for Change possible?

What Would Constitute a Really Big United for Change Win?

If somehow United for Change moved 20% of the vote, won the High Schools and Middle Schools, but put the other divisions into play, that would be a big win.

A really big win would tip things a few points further, and United for Change would win the overall vote, even by the narrowest of margins.

What would it look like?

Maybe 30% was just the beginning among the retirees, and they swing far further. Maybe a lot of non-voters are motivated to protect Medicare by voting, and those votes go overwhelmingly to UfC.

Maybe we cement our hold on the high schools, surge in the middle schools, and build some margin. And maybe we make enough ground up in the Elementary Schools to even things out. We could win two of the four divisions, and the at large seats. That would give us 70/102 Executive Board seats. We would win the 11 officer positions we are contesting. I would have a seat.

How Would United for Change Have Pulled This Off?

Mostly? Turnout. For this to happen, Unity’s threat to Medicare would have had to energize retired members who usually do not vote to do so. And they would have had to break heavily for UfC. Teachers in the schools would have to be even more tired of Mulgrew than we imagined, and non-voters became voters. And inchoate anger about the pandemic and the world would also have motivated teachers and others to vote for the first time. This scenario imagines teacher turnout soaring from 24% in 2016 and 18% in 2019 to somewhere between 35% and 40%. Notice, that is still low, too low. But it would require a pretty big increase in teacher vote.

So this scenario requires an almost unimaginable increase in turnout. But if turnout does surge, is there any doubt that the new voters would break heavily for United for Change and against Unity? That part makes sense.

Also, there would need to be former Unity voters switching sides. Something around 10%. Now, there certainly are defections, especially among retirees. And I have heard of some in service Unity people, including former chapter leaders switching. 10% seems like a lot. Another factor might be split ballots. At the count tomorrow we will see – are there Unity ballots that omit officers? one in particular? several? Each slate vote that becomes a split vote hurts Unity a little – though not as much as a defection.

There are other factors that we know about. United for Change made the case that voting for Unity was voting for Medicare Advantage. In this scenario, many members would have heard this, and either are already Medicare age, have relatives who are Medicare age, or are deeply committed to the New Deal and Great Society, and will vote to protect those programs

The pandemic hit the elementary schools differently than the high schools. United for Change has fewer campaigners in elementary schools, so we may have missed trends. Perhaps one of those trends was anger over having to go back into schools first (before high schools) and instructional lunch (much more a lower grades thing).

There are UFT members with strong opinions on pandemic policy – masks (in favor of them, against them), vaccines (mostly in favor, but some fervently opposed) – and just about all members with strong opinions are angry at Unity, or at least the person of Mulgrew. United for Change did not campaign for the “anti-vaxx” vote. No. But I bet they voted against Mulgrew – either by boycotting the election, or, in this scenario, by voting for UfC.

And then Mulgrew-fatigue may be even far greater than I imagine.

But United for Change did the work. We reached more schools with literature than any opposition ever has. Our messaging was sharp. Our print media was much better than Unity’s, and our social media was so good, they copied us.

I think we could have done more to increase turnout. But in this scenario, it turns out that our get out the vote efforts were particularly successful.

And of course our slate looked pretty good. And running women for the top officer slots was probably a smart move.

For all of this to have happened, it would turn out that the United for Change outreach, while extensive, was exceptionally effective. And it would mean all the new voters we think we encountered ended up voting. And many people we did not meet directly ended up voting for the first time. And it would mean that a significant number of Unity voters secretly voted for United for Change, or split their ballots. And it would mean that the retirees who said they were switching to opposition did so.

What happens next?

In this scenario, United for Change will win the Officers, and most of the Executive Board seats. Unity will retain one vice presidency, and 31 seats. I expect that Unity will challenge this result. There might be litigation. I hope not. I hope that wiser people than Mulgrew put the interests of the union over their desire to retain power.

In office, UfC will move quickly on a number of items.

  • As rapidly as possible we will hold elections for District Reps.
  • We will open the books on the Stabilization Fund, and review options. We will take Medicare Advantage off the table.
  • We would probably open the proceedings of the contract negotiating committee to the membership as a whole.
  • And we would prepare, super fast, for the AFT Convention (in Boston, starting July 14).

Between the results being announced, and us taking office July 1 we would need to meet and make many more decisions – but those are the first that I am confident we agree on. There might be some long term changes in staffing – but short term I expect (and do not know) that aside from a handful of key changes, we would want to make certain that the organization has a continuity of functioning.

I don’t know that UfC as a whole has given this much thought – but I would want to reach out to and consult with members of Unity Caucus who continue to serve the UFT. And I would especially want to reach out to the 30 or so Unity Executive Board members. Establishing a collaborative relationship would be essential – even if we do not always agree.

Members would notice right away. More information. More openness. Better responses.

How Likely is this Upset?

Definitely possible, but not very likely. United for Change has consistently received positive campaign feedback – but just not at the level of the teacher vote doubling or a full 10% of Unity switching sides. We will make gains, maybe big gains – but literally doubling the vote? Some signs are promising. Unity people are telling us that they switched. Even a couple of candidates told us they voted against themselves. We are surprised to encounter cluster of retirees who we thought were apolitical who have been actively spreading the word. And we have run into elementary school teachers who just want a change – in ways that we did not expect. But at this scale for this to happen? I don’t think so.

Maybe a 5% chance that this happens? But I think that is high. Maybe a 2-4% chance – about 1 in 25 to 1 in 50. That seems right. Not out of the question, but highly unlikely.

What Would a Big Unity Win in the UFT Elections Look Like?

May 8, 2022 pm31 11:14 pm

We have a hot United Federation of Teachers election. Incumbent president Michael Mulgrew is the least popular UFT president, well, ever. The ruling Unity caucus, in power since the UFT was founded, looked weak and spineless during the pandemic. And our retirees, long a bulwark of Unity’s support, learned a year ago that Unity was forcing them off Medicare, into a private program. The retiree vote for Unity in an election as the news was breaking fell from 85% to 70%. These were danger signs.

The various opposition groups coalesced into one coalition: United for Change. (I am the High School Vice Presidential Candidate for UfC). They nominated a large number of delegates, and probably reached more members in more schools than any opposition campaign in memory.

The expectation, I am guessing, is that in this environment Unity’s vote total falls, a lot. They got 76% in 2016 (the larger oppo groups united) and lost 7 Exec Board seats (out of 102). In 2019 they won the seats back with 83% of the vote against a three-way divided opposition.

What Would Constitute a Big Unity Win?

If somehow Unity kept its vote over 70%, and held onto 100% of the exec board, that would be a big win.

What would it look like?

Maybe it turns out that 70% was their low-water mark among retirees, while retirees had just heard the Medicare Advantage news. Unity might actually raise their total a bit from there. 75%?

Sure, they might lose a few votes in each division (Elementary School, Middle School, High School, Functional), but not that many. Perhaps I have been overestimating the dissatisfaction over the pandemic? And some of the really bad policy was in 2020-21, which right now seems long ago? In 2019 they won 85%, 75%, and 64% Elementary School, Middle School, and High School respectively. They should lose votes, but maybe down to a manageable 70%, 60% and 51%, sweeping the seats (winner take all by division).

How Would They Have Pulled This Off?

They hid Mulgrew for the last four months. And maybe it worked. In December Mulgrew looked potentially the biggest vote-getter for the opposition – he was so unpopular. I begged Unity to drop him, for the good of us all, to no avail. Unity instead hid him, buried him. They canceled his events. They kept him off the campaign literature, and where they had to include him, did not make him noticeable. I went to the Unity Facebook page the other day. I could not find a single mention of him.

They shut up about Medicare. And people forgot. We have had almost two months of radio silence. Timing worked in Unity’s favor. A judge ruled in favor of retirees, and stopped the current implementation plan. But he showed the City and Mulgrew and the MLC how to work around the ruling (stop offering the old plan). But did Unity/Mulgrew jump at this? No. He is waiting for the campaign to end. They correctly judged that silence on Medicare during voting would save them votes. Just last week, after most of the ballots were cast, Mulgrew began sharpening his knife.

They put out good looking literature, with a unified theme. I wonder if they hired a pro? Seems like it. A media consultant to tell them what appeals to teachers. The irony of it. Some of the on-line stuff had serious issues with bad color choices that didn’t show, but the print stuff was fairly solid. And they did a full round of mailings, at least to ES, MS and HS teachers.

They highlighted individual members, especially in-service (and really in-service, full-time teachers, counselors, paras, etc). This gave them a better chance of having people campaign actively in schools, which they were never good at, but have gotten worse over the years.

They put pressure on supporters to cheat. We had pretty typical DR violations (mixing campaigning with union work, making it seem like voting for Unity was part of a union member’s responsibility, “branding” election work with union logos) but we had more lower level candidate violations (for example, lots of blocked access to mail boxes – which access is supposed to be guaranteed.)

And they successfully avoided a massive increase in turnout. Both sides knew that getting new voters to vote was key for the opposition. But Unity pulled every card they had – no electronic voting, no in-school voting, tricky ballot with double envelope, early deadlines for replacement ballots, conducting the election over break. They suppressed the vote. And in this scenario, they were successful, turnout barely rises.

For this to have happened, it would turn out that the United for Change outreach, while extensive, had been pretty completely ineffective. And it would mean all the new voters we think we encountered ended up not voting. And it would mean that the retirees who said they were switching to opposition changed their minds at the last minute.

What happens next?

In this scenario, Unity will draw the worst possible lesson. They will breathe a deep collective sigh of relief, and decide that all is good with the United Federation of Teachers.

Unity will decide there was nothing wrong with what they were doing. Mulgrew will remain president, for the indefinite future. Medicare Advantage will get restarted, and retirees will have to scramble to keep fighting it. Nothing will change?

Actually, something has been changing. The current course is corrosive. Unity/Mulgrew have been turning off members, badly, especially since March 2020. The support for the UFT from within the UFT has never been lower. Cynicism has never been higher.

Yes, Unity would have won. But with teacher turnout ticking up a few points, say as high as 27%, that still leaves almost ¾, a supermajority, disconnected.

Our union has been moving, slowly but steadily, in the wrong direction. The disconnect between membership and leadership has never been greater. This outcome will confirm Unity on the same path, a path to slow, steady decay of the UFT.

How Likely is this Disaster?

Definitely possible, but not very likely. United for Change has consistently received positive campaign feedback – probably not nearly enough to win it all, but more than enough to stop this doomsday scenario. Teachers are still angry about the UFT’s inconsistent advocacy during the pandemic. Even hidden, people remember it is Mulgrew running. Retirees do not seem less concerned with Medicare than they did a year ago – if anything, more of them are engaged on the issue.

Maybe a 10% chance that this happens? But I think that is high. Maybe a 5% chance – about 1 in 20. That seems right. Not out of the question, but not likely.

Chaz

May 7, 2022 pm31 11:59 pm

Two years and three days ago New York City teachers lost a friend, and an advocate. Most of us knew him as “Chaz” – famous from his blog “Chaz’s School Daze.”

But his name was Eric Chasanoff. Eric was an earth science teacher – and before that, a meteorologist – a weather man. His second career started roughly the same time as mine – September 1997

Chaz was hired at Jamaica High School, and became well-integrated in the school community. He taught, coached multiple sports, and served on the School Leadership Team.

Until one day there was an accusation made against him. This was the early 2000’s, and school reformers were going after teachers’ protections, unions, and livelihoods. And the gutter press was happy to oblige. Chaz was victimized, faced charges leading to dismissal, and survived. He was certainly not the only older man put in that position.

I digress: A member of Michael Mulgrew’s staff used to write attack articles against accused teachers.

Chaz survived. But he was horrified to see, in the 2005 contract proposal, that important protections were being stripped away. Teachers were to be suspended without pay on the accusation of sexual abuse. Punish first, and then due process. I “met” Chaz on line around this time – arguing over exactly this policy on EdWize – the UFT’s long-forgotten blog. Leo Casey defended stripping teachers of their rights – those of us who noticed, including me and Chaz, were incensed.

His blogging began around that time – his first post is from 2006, and continued until a few days before his passing. He wrote 1,935 times, quite an extensive assemblage.

He wrote about himself, sometimes. And he wrote about odd topics that appealed to him. We debated way back then the correct status of the planet Pluto.

But mostly he wrote about schools. He wrote about fairness. He stood up for teachers. And Eric understood how vulnerable a teacher under attack could be. After his case was over, he got moved to the ATR pool, and bounced from school to school. He stayed upbeat. He wrote about the system. He was so unassuming that teachers usually didn’t realize that Eric was Chaz.

He directed a lot of fire at the chief’s of the DoE – Bloomberg and Klein, and then Walcott, but he kept it up for de Blasio, Fariña, and Carranza. He wrote about DoE policies, major and minor. But he was most focused on things that made it hard to teach high school.

Chaz had no tolerance for bad union policy. He mercilessly went after leaders who he thought put teachers in harm’s way. Most frequently on the receiving end of Eric’s critiques: Michael Mulgrew.

Chaz used this image dozens of times. This version is from May 2016

Chaz also wrote about politics. I am a leftist. He was not. I found him middle of the road on many issues, with a slight lean in my direction. But slight. He did not vote for president in 2016. I do not believe he would have in 2020, either. We disagreed quite often. School integration. Foreign policy. Even testing.

But Chaz judged people by what they did, not what they believed. The people he treated with respect had a wide range of beliefs – but they all stood up for teachers, for fairness. For Chaz, fairness was a bottom line.

On April 26 he blogged about school budgets. He had been writing every two or three days, right through the pandemic. Super regular rhythm. Then on April 28, 29 nothing. I noticed on the 30th. On May 2 I emailed him:

No response. Next day I wrote to his former DR, and his Borough Rep. Amy answered on Monday – he was sick, family was being private. And on Tuesday his son announced on his blog that Eric had passed.

Please click through the comments. Look at that outpouring. And look what they say. About him. Look at all those “little guys” – just regular teachers who depended on Eric for straight information, or who looked to him because he told the truth, or just felt better because he gave them a voice.

Many of us memorialized him. NYC bloggers I regularly read, James Eterno, his former chapter leader at Jamaica High School, Arthur Goldstein, the chapter leader in a school Eric worked in as an ATR, me. Others. Norm Scott. NYC teacher-bloggers recognized him as one of us. Those posts, they all say different things about him. Bookmark this page, and when you have time, read them all.

The UFT was starting a memorial site, and it seemed to me that it mattered, so I filled out the form as best as I could to get the ball rolling. I think James picked up the slack – he knew Eric, personally, and I didn’t, actually.

I like this story: “I remember when I first met Eric, he ran up to me in a diner on the west side. “Jonathan!” He knew me. But I looked confused. “It’s Eric!” Still confused. We had been reading each other’s blogs for five years. And I didn’t know his first name. Hard to recognize him without his light blue background. “

The UFT Honors post for Eric is a nice one. They quoted James and me. And then the editor asked if I wanted to leave a comment. And I scratched my head. All of us had been writing about teacher-blogger Eric Chasanoff. Others had more stories, and better stories than I did. And then I remembered.

Way back when Eric was starting blogging, when he was defending Pluto’s planet status, he wrote something that stuck in the back of my mind. A girl’s basketball coach had a huge star. And against a weaker opponent, they were going to win. But the coach kept the star in, kept his team playing hard, and the final score, 137-32, is painful to imagine.

Chaz wrote:

* Don’t run up the score on an inferior opponent.

* Keep your best players out once it is a blowout.

* Never embarres another team.

* Show class and be a role model for your players.

Undefendable – Eric Chasanoff

And I shared this on his UFT memorial, and wrote “It was that same sense of right and wrong that motivated his defense of teachers. And it is that sense of class, and that dedication to fairness that I will remember.” and Eric’s son, Bryan, responded:

That is a great example of my father and one he lived by. I remember times when he coached my teams that we were up 5-0 in soccer and my father would sub out the best players, switch positions and even run 10 players instead of 11 to try to keep the game as competitive as possible. Our team always won the sportsmanship award every year whether we finished 1st or 8th place.

And everything everyone thought about how attuned he was to treating teachers with fairness, turns out he thought everyone should be treated that way.

Eric shared his choices in UFT elections for the 2010, 2013, 2016, and 2019 elections. He is not around in 2022. And everyone who is voting has already voted – it is too late to change anyone’s mind. So I think it is okay to share how I think he would have voted this time.

His issues would not have changed. But he would have added some great disappointment over how the leadership navigated the pandemic. He would be vocal in his opposition to the Medicare Advantage scheme. He knew science. No doubt in my mind where he would have stood on vaccination. And he would have been delighted that all the opposition groups had come together.

But he would have continued to frustrate me, and vote for individuals, not a slate. He voted on his personal take, on a person’s politics, but more on a person’s character, and most on what that person actually did or didn’t do for the members.

There will be opposition people on this list. But there will be Unity people. And Eric never felt a need to vote for every seat, if he did not have someone to vote FOR. There are names he never encountered before. He might have supported a few of them, but I do not presume to know, and I will not guess on an unknown quantity. But for people who’s names were previously on the ballot I will pretend to know what Eric would have done:

For President: Camille Eterno. He endorsed her twice in the past, and denounced her opponent many times.

For Secretary: LeRoy Barr. I know, right? But Eric endorsed LeRoy before, and endorsed few MORE members in 2019. And remember what I wrote just above.

For Assistant Secretary: Mike Sill. Endorsed twice, including 2019. I’m more sure of this one.

High School VP: Me. It is true, Eric endorsed Janella once. But he endorsed me all four times that he wrote about the elections. And while I complain about his ticket-splitting, in fact he split his ticket more than once to support me, though he did not support most of the people I was running with.

VP At Large Education – by my rule, I should leave this blank. But Gloria Brandman has been such a powerful leader on the Medicare issue, I think she would have won his vote.

Exec Board Functional – I’d like to believe that he would check off all the UFC candidates – but his track record here says he would vote for Norman Scott and no one else.

Exec Board at Large (all based on past performance)

  • Jay Werner (UFC)
  • Ellen Fox (UFC)
  • Mike Schirtzer (Unity)
  • Mike Shulman (UFC)
  • Greg DiStefano (UFC)
  • Mindy Rosier-Rayburn (Unity)
  • Richard Covelli (UFC)
  • Angela Artis (Unity)
  • James Eterno (UFC) – it is just a fluke that Chaz mentioned James just 3 times – in fact, Chaz showed more enthusiasm for James than for any other candidate, ever.
  • Peter Allen-Lamphere (UFC)
  • Amy Arundell (Unity)

Here is the list of everyone Chaz wrote about voting for:

A pause to remember

May 5, 2022 pm31 11:57 pm

I didn’t even know it.

COVID was all around us, dominated the news. Schools had closed, and were now reopening remotely. I was reeling, not only from the “big picture,” but having just lost a colleague of 18 years. It was a car accident, but somehow it felt related to the pandemic. He was visiting a home-bound friend in New Jersey. March 25, 2020.

My father, 82, is the youngest son of a youngest son – and my grandfather had kids late. All my father’s cousins are older than him. Most are gone, but the rabbi in Queens, Moishe Kwalbrun, must have been late 80s. I don’t think we would have recognized each other in the street. But his mother and my grandfather were sister and brother, who arrived together, with their mother, in December 1923. On a ship from Amsterdam. I don’t know how they got to Amsterdam from the Ukraine – maybe a ship from Odessa? I used to hear about Moishe from my uncle, with whom he regularly talked philosophy and politics and probably much more. I learned in May that Moishe died of COVID-19 at the end of March, 2020.

On April 4 a peace officer in my school, a decent guy, a thoughtful guy, a good person who cared about us, died of COVID.

I say a few words about Castro (18:20 in the video)

On April 4, 2020 the father of an alum, a housing rights activist, died of COVID.

We have a PS/MS down the block from us (a little further than that, since the by the “block” I mean the reservoir, and there are no cross streets on that side). I coordinate an after school activity with them, and one of the Assistant Principals was my contact, and she died of COVID. April 6, 2020.

On April 11, 2020 Winston, a retiree, a Unity member (who had once run with New Action) but just such a nice decent guy, always with a smile and a greeting and a kind word, died of COVID.

John Horton Conway was my professor for one course. He used to call himself the greatest living mathematician, but stopped making that claim April 11, 2020, Doomsday, when he died of COVID.

RIP John Conway

On April 16, 2020, a regular member of New Action, long timer, retiree, died of COVID.

These people were unconnected. It felt random. It was disorienting. Left me off balance. And then the numbers slowed, and the news stopped. One week passed. Another.

And then this:

He wasn’t. Blogger, teacher, advocate for those who could not fight for themselves, Eric Chasanoff, died of COVID. May 5, 2020.

Today is the second anniversary of Eric’s passing. I will say another word or two about Eric and my memory of him, tomorrow.

A Necessary Pause

May 4, 2022 pm31 11:07 pm

This is a pro-choice blog

We have been consumed with the UFT election. Understandable. It is local. It matters. It is closer than it has been in the past. But the world moves forwards.

Or, in the case of this country, and the Supreme Court, backwards.

Roe v Wade has been the law since I was a kid. Yes, I knew this was coming. No, it was not inevitable. And no, this has nothing to do with Jill Stein.

First take. We need some massive protests, massive pressure on the politicians and the courts.

Second take. We should be combining this with pressure on infrastructure, jobs. But mostly, other aspects of health care. We should be demonstrating to protect women’s right to choose, AND against the Bipartisan Murder of Medicare.

Third take. What sort of country is this, where this is even a question? Even if only a third of the population are against a woman’s right to control her own body… Jeez, what a sick place.

Fourth take. The Supreme Court is not about to make abortion illegal. It is about to decide that the question is up to the states. States rights? That’s a strange set-up, right?

There is something wrong with this set-up

Fifth take. So a country sets up its highest court in a way that makes it highly likely that court will be conservative. And the evidence is there. Proslavery for as long as possible. Antilabor for as long as possible. Anti-civil rights. And where there had been the slightest break forward, where the court began to move away from misogyny, boom, they come right back. I guess the problem is the court? Or the country that chooses to set up its highest court this way.

Sixth take. Who set up the court? Founding Fathers set up a court in a way that almost guarantees it will be conservative. A senate that over-represents rural areas that will be socially conservative, and even backwards. And fifty feudal fiefdoms (they only set up thirteen, but there’s the model), so even if ideas of progress reach parts of the country, smaller and more rural fiefdoms can stop that progress. The fiefdoms are called “states” but I figure you figured it out.

Seventh take. I didn’t answer. Who set up the court so that it was backwards, the Senate so that it overweights the influence of socially conservative areas, and the states, so that backwardness is allowed to fester? That would be a group of white men, half owned human beings as property, and the balance included their bankers and financiers, their shippers and suppliers. They wrote a constitution, which I learned in school was a masterwork of compromise, writing, and statecraft. Might need to unlearn some of that.

So, yes, today we must join the fight for a woman’s right to choose. It is not good enough to protect that right in our City and our State – but across this third of our continent. And we must join to that fight the fight to properly fund healthcare, and to make it available to all who live here.

But we must also cast a distrustful eye on the government, with divided and hard to pin down responsibilities, often leaving the most important, intimate decisions to the most reactionary parts of society. And perhaps with intent. We must review the founding documents, admit they were “defective from the start,” and look for something better.

Democracy—government by the people, or directly responsible to them—was not the object which the framers of the American Constitution had in view, but the very thing which they wished to avoid…The efforts of the Constitutional Convention were directed to the task of devising a system of government which was just popular enough not to excite general opposition and which at the same time gave to the people as little as possible of the substance of political power.

Teaching American History

In the United States at the present time we are trying to make an undemocratic Constitution the vehicle of democratic rule. Our Constitution embodies the political philosophy of the eighteenth century, not that of today. It was framed for one purpose while we are trying to use it for another. 

Teaching American History

Friends don’t let Friends Forget to vote

May 4, 2022 am31 9:55 am

The math is simple. Ballots are due Monday. 9AM. If they arrive Saturday I guess they are safe. Which means mailing them Friday is not a good idea, and even Thursday is dicey.

The UFT text doesn’t warn people that today is probably the last safe day.

Now you know. If you were holding onto that ballot, send it in. Today.

But you know people in your school. How many of them thought they had until Monday to vote? Straighten them out. Friends don’t let Friends miss the deadline.

You have to mail yours today – wish Rachel’d pointed that out

If Mulgrew wins…

May 1, 2022 am31 8:49 am

Last week at the Municipal Labor Coalition (MLC) Michael Mulgrew and Harry Nespoli and others resumed disparaging the NYC Organization of Public Service Retirees (NYC OPS Retirees).

Is it notable that Nespoli/Mulgrew are bashing NYC OPS Retirees?

NYC OPS Retirees fought the MLC for public opinion and in the courts, and won the first few skirmishes. NYC OPS Retirees prevented, for now, the MLC’s attempt to force retirees out of Medicare into a private MAP plan (Medicare Advantage Plus).

They helped convince many retirees to question their unions’ leaderships, and a third of retirees to opt out of the plan. (The cost of opting out, $191 per month, or about $2300 a year, is substantial. Retirees on fixed incomes who were willing to spend that much money must have been convinced that Anthem, Nespoli, Mulgrew, etc were lying about MAP being just as good as Medicare).

NYC OPS Retirees won a series of court battles. The latest, on March 2, blocked the City from attaching a price tag to traditional Medicare, while forcing retirees to choose.

Didn’t Mulgrew keep fighting?

No. He announced that he no longer supports the April 1st implementation date (which was now impossible anyhow). He mumbled that “retirees deserve better” – but he wasn’t talking about Medicare Advantage Plus (which he called “sound”) but rather about a better sales pitch and smoother implementation.

Mulgrew mumbled a few words, went silent, and disappeared

And then he went silent. Mulgrew is getting pummeled in the ongoing UFT election over Medicare Advantage. He is avoiding the topic as much as he can.

When a Unity person argues with me, I am ready. They can say “Jonathan, your coalition is crap” and I can answer “Mulgrew and Medicare” and they run away crying.

So for this entire election Unity has avoided talking about Medicare. And they have been trying to hide Mulgrew (canceled events, leaving his name out of the NY Teacher, keeping his face off their leaflets)

And what has changed?

The UFT election is almost over. Ballots are being mailed in. On May 10 they will be counted. Word is that turnout is up, which worries Unity. Unity relies on low turnout to maintain its hold on power. But Mulgrew may have learned that turnout is not up enough to defeat him. Or he may be guessing. Or getting ready. Last week’s episode was probably a trial balloon.

And after the election, if Unity/Mulgrew win?

We now know the direction they will go in. Full out attacks on the defenders of Medicare, starting with the NYC OPS Retirees. Mulgrew, Nespoli and their gang will characterize the retirees as lying and spreading misinformation. They will try to revive claims that giving up Medicare will bring retirees wonderful silver ‘benefits,’ claims that have already been proven false. They will spread rumors and accusations about the motives of the Retirees.

Thursday’s The New York Times article (Medicare Advantage Plans Often Deny Needed Care) or Friday’s Daily News article “Health Plan Hit: City Retirees Risk Loss of Care in Switch” (or Report: Medicare Advantage Plans Wrongly Deny Care, Physician Payments from MedPage, for those of you who refuse to pay for the Times) may have thrown some cold water on the MLC’s strategy, but most likely that will just delay their scheming a few days or weeks. The attacks on the retirees will come.

And then they will propose THE SAME MEDICARE ADVANTAGE PLUS, but with a new implementation scheme. Since the judge narrowly ruled on the opt out – rumor has it that the MLC is planning to find a way to eliminate the opt out altogether, or to take away the choice of traditional Medicare. o

And what can we do?

  • Expect the attacks to come. Fact-check each of them (you can do your own research, but I recommend NYC OPS Retirees’ website and NYC OPS Retirees’ Facebook page. There is also the PTPM Facebook page. I think the PM is “Preserve Medicare”). And for those of you in the United Federation of Teachers, there is Retiree Advocate (Facebook) (Twitter) that I highly recommend, and one day hope to join.
  • Spread the word.
  • Vote! Look, every vote counts in this election. We might still defeat Mulgrew/Unity. And that would stop this plan in its tracks. But even if we don’t, the margin matters. When Mulgrew receives the lowest vote total for a Unity presidential candidate in UFT history, that will send a message. But how low can it go?

The vast majority of late votes will come in for United for Change. And if you mail yours in soon, it will be counted. But far too many, thousands, of ballots never get mailed. Did you mail yours? It just takes two minutes. Do it. Did your friends vote? If you know five people, and you think they all voted, ask. I bet one or two didn’t. Get them to take care of it. And you have just changed your voting power from 1 to 3. You have tripled your voice.

Complacency is our enemy. Information is good for us. Activism is our friend. Because if Mulgrew wins, he’s coming for our healthcare. We will need our collective activism to protect Medicare.

Politics? or Power? 2. Mail-in Ballots

April 28, 2022 am30 9:57 am

Some of the big issues in the current UFT election are not really about politics, and policy. Some of the issues are just attempts by the current leadership, Unity Caucus, to hold onto power.

How we vote

The American Arbitration Association runs the election. Ballots are mailed to each member, at home. Members check off the slate of their choice, or individual candidates of their choice, put the ballot in an envelope, put that envelope in another envelope, and drop it in the mail.

How bad is that? Not terrible. Many members manage to vote. But not good. Many, many more members don’t manage to vote. For every retired member who votes, two more do not vote. For every in-service member who votes, three more don’t vote.

Low turnout

Ballots get lost. People forget. The ballot is 12 pages long with over a thousand names – it can be overwhelming. But whatever the reason, turnout is low.

Turnout is so low, that if these numbers were elections for president of a country, we would wonder if democracy in that country would survive.

Ways to raise turnout

The most obvious step is to move to electronic voting. Electronic voting is easy, and fast, and reliable, and safe. It is secure. At yesterday’s Contractual Empowerment SBO Workshop Michael Mulgrew stated “We are using Election Buddy. Our job is to make it easier for you, the chapter leaders, to do your work.” Election Buddy is what the chapter leaders want, and Unity agrees, for SBO votes. But Unity makes lame excuses for insisting on mail in ballots.

Another approach would be to send ballots to schools, as we do during contract ratifications. When everyone is voting around us, we tend to vote at the same time. Turnout for voting on contracts is MUCH higher than voting for UFT elections.

Who benefits from low turnout?

Unity. Unity is not very popular, but counts on paid staff working the schools to deliver votes from a committed core. They count on winning a committed core, and then having most members not bother to vote. The higher the vote totals, the greater the risk to our current leaders.

We are using Election Buddy. Our job is to make it easier for you, the chapter leaders, to do your work.

Michael Mulgrew, April 27 2022, speaking about SBO votes. In UFT elections, apparently, his job is to make it hard to vote.

Think of it this way. Unity won a large victory in 2019. But they won about 39,000 votes, Solidarity 3600, MORE 2500, and New Action 1500. But 151,000 UFTers did not vote. Unity won with just 19% of the members.

After each election Unity says it will take steps to improve turnout, and then does nothing. Their position has nothing to do with good policy, or good election policy, or good connections with the members or chapter leaders. It has everything to do with clutching tightly to power by keeping the vote totals low.

How can you fight voter suppression?

The most obvious way – vote. Make the effort. Find your ballot. Fill it in. Put it in the secret envelope. Put that in the postage paid envelope. And mail it. If you let them suppress your vote, they win.

If United for Change wins this election, we will immediately change this. We will consider different options to make it easier to vote, and implement what will work. Let’s strike a blow against voter suppression!

Politics? or Power? 1. Vice Presidents

April 27, 2022 pm30 6:58 pm

Some of the big issues in the current UFT election are not really about politics, and policy. Some of the issues are just attempts by the current leadership, Unity Caucus, to hold onto power.

Vice Presidents

I am running for High School Vice President. I think I have a good chance to get the most votes from members is high schools. But that’s not good enough to win. Because everyone votes for the HS VP – elementary teachers, middle school teachers, all other titles, and even retirees. Same goes for the Elementary School VP, and the Middle School VP.

Why does this obvious unfairness exist? Each division used to vote for its own VP. But then…

In 1985 Michael Shulman (New Action) beat George Altomare (Unity) and became high school vice president (the full story is longer – Unity challenged their own election, forced a second election that Shulman also won, and thereby delayed Shulman from taking his seat until January 1986). Unity so hated losing this seat, that the next chance they got, they amended the constitution, because they knew their hold on high schools was weak, but their hold on elementary was stronger, and on retirees even stronger.

Unity won’t let each division choose its own VP. This is not a position that comes from what is fair, what is principled, or what makes sense. It was a conscious decision to promote power over what is right.

How fair would it be if residents of Albany for NYC Mayor? Then why is it fair for retirees to vote for the Elementary School Vice President?

If United for Change wins this election, we will sweep, perforce, all of the VP spots, and all of the officer positions. One of the first things we will do is take steps to amend the constitution, so that VPs can once again be elected by their own division. Let’s strike a blow for representation and fairness!

Deadline for replacement ballots is Monday 4/25

April 24, 2022 pm30 10:15 pm

If you have not yet voted in the United Federation of Teachers elections – there is still time – but not much.

Ballots were mailed to members’ houses. They need to be mailed back and received by May 9.

If you already voted, great!

If you have not yet voted – where is your ballot? If you found it – that’s fine. Fill it out and put it in the mail.

But if you cannot find your ballot… Monday – that’s probably TODAY, depending on when you read this – is the deadline for requesting a replacement.

Call: (800) 218-5524 

or

Email: UlerioS@adr.org

The deadline for requesting a new ballot is 5PM Monday (that’s April 25).

What if UFC Wins? #5b – leadership – Policy-Making

April 24, 2022 pm30 5:27 pm

The United Federation of Teachers’ leadership structure would change with a United for Change victory. But how?

Last week I printed a short piece with a list of candidates for Exec Board at Large. United for Change was mostly teachers. Unity was mostly full-time for the UFT, or District Reps, in other words, people who are not working in schools today, or are working just one class a day. And I posted in the online NYC teachers facebook page, where it got some attention.

Problem was, I had a point, but the picture is actually more complicated. A few said that once UFC was in power, our list would look the same. Several thought I was asking to make DRs teach a full class load (absolutely not!) Someone said it felt like a cheap shot, and while that was not my intent, it does leave me wanting to share fuller thoughts, potentially to generate real discussion. But in doing so, I want to talk about much more than just the Exec Board.

#5 Leadership Structure

I am the UFC candidate for High School Vice President. If we win I will be one of 12 members of the administrative committee (AdCom) and will help shape the new leadership’s agenda.

I cannot speak for our Coalition – these are decisions that need to be made. But I know our platform, and have a good idea about some decision.

We want greater rank and file voice and control of our union, including of general policy. We want greater union democracy. But how will that look? What steps will we take?

Two Tasks of Leadership

I am discussing two varieties of leadership tasks in the union:

  • representing members, and
  • making policy.

And I treat them as separate, although there is invariable some overlap. My previous post was about representation. This one is about policy-making.

Setting UFT Policy

  • Chapter
  • Chapter Leaders
  • Officers
  • Executive Board
  • Delegate Assembly

Chapter / Chapter Leaders

Chapters and Chapter Leaders? Sure. Which SBOs to pursue, and which not to. What goals the chapter sets. What issues deserve priority. A well-functioning chapter actually joins the members and the chapter leadership in making quite a bit of local policy.

But Chapters and Chapter Leaders? You are correct. That’s not what the bulk of this post is about – just didn’t want to omit something this important.

Officers/AdCom

Day to day, the Administrative Committee meets and consults to suggest and implement policy. This is the president, the vice presidents, all the other officers. I think AdCom brings in additional department heads, and others, but I am not certain.

In theory the Administrative Committee carries out the directions it gets from the Delegate Assembly and the Executive Board. In practice, the United Federation of Teachers has been run top-down by Unity Caucus – and the AdCom tells the Exec Board and the Delegate Assembly what to approve.

The officers are directly elected by the membership as a whole. Retiree votes are capped – last time each retiree got something around 0.96 of a vote. Vice presidents are also elected by the membership as a whole, in other words, at large, even when they represent a particular division.

United for Change has not discussed any change in how AdCom is composed. We will propose that VPs be elected directly by their divisions. What sense does it make for retirees to vote on the Elementary School VP, or elementary teachers to vote for the High School Vice President? And we may propose a Vice President directly responsible for retiree issues.

The bigger changes would be in the relationship between the AdCom, the Executive Board, and the Delegate Assembly.

The Executive Board

The Executive Board meets twice each month, September through June. it is the intermediate policy setting body, in theory, and in practice.

In theory, it takes direction from the Delegate Assembly, and sets policy for AdCom. It also takes suggestions from AdCom and forwards them to the DA. It also questions officers on how policy is being implemented.

In practice the Exec Board approves directives from the AdCom, and passes them on. Unity members of the Executive Board generally sit in silence, raising their hand to signal they are voting as they are supposed to.

It is different when there are opposition representatives on the board. I was on the Executive Board for 11 years. Then, hard questions were asked. We would discuss resolutions, sometimes supporting, sometimes opposing, sometimes amending. We would bring our own resolutions. We brought members from schools who had issues that they were not getting help with, to speak at the “open mike.” That did not change the results of most of the votes, but it did change the tenor of the meetings.

But I am concerned today not about which caucus(es) have seats on the exec board. I addressed that question, somewhat, in my argument for proportional representation.

I am concerned with WHO should serve – the composition of the body.

The basics, though the numbers shift between divisions, as the balance in the schools changes from election to election: 12 elementary school, 4 middle school, 7 high school, 19 “functional”, 48 “at large” and the 12 officers, for a total of 102.

Unity tends to bulk up the board with full-time union employees, and with District Reps (who teach one class a day, same as VPs). I decided to underline this point by publishing a list of who United for Change was running, and who Unity was running, for the 48 At Large spots:

Is this an accurate picture? Does it represent a different outlook?

Some Unity supporters pointed out that United for Change is not in power now – we have no full-timers. True.

Some pointed out that District Reps are teachers. True. And that they face the same conditions in schools as any other teacher. Not quite true.

And some asked: is UFC proposing that DRs teach full teaching loads? The answer to that is – No. Absolutely not. It is appropriate and correct and best practice for the District Reps to teach one class, and only one class, to allow them some connection to the classroom, while freeing them for time to engage in representational activity.

So who should be on?

There are two major leadership tasks – representation, and policy-making. The Executive Board makes policy. That does not mean that people with representational responsibilities – one United for Change candidate suggested that District Reps do not belong – I disagree. But nor should there be an expectation that those with represent members are the best people to be making policy. It depends on the individual.

It would be better if more of the decision makers were full time in school members.

But that is not an absolute statement.

Some district reps are good at representing, and that is what they should do. But others may have an interest in shaping policy, in suggesting changes, in fine-tuning what we do. It may turn out that DRs who sit silently on the Executive Board today, actually have valuable ideas to contribute. It may turn out, if UFC wins and DRs come from several caucuses, that there are new DRs who have a knack for policy. I would not presume to exclude them.

Borough Reps even more so. A borough rep gets perhaps the fullest range of pressures and demands – from DRs, from Central, from the special offices, from Chapter Leaders, and sometimes directly from rank and file members. Does that mean that Borough Reps should automatically be on the Exec Board? No. But they are uniquely situated, and might bring good perspective. It depends on the individual.

There are offices in the UFT that run things, or administer programs. Their leaders and top workers serve those programs or offices first. I think each major office or program should be represented by someone who speaks for that office at the Executive Board, but without a say in making policy. I’m thinking foremost about pension, the welfare fund, and grievance. I might also think about political action, if there ever was a teacher in charge again. Their representatives can supply the Executive Board with valuable information – but they should not take seats, should not take part in the votes.

The Director of Grievance comes and gives reports to the Exec Board, answers questions, but does not have a seat. I think that is correct. There are two representatives of the Welfare Fund on the Exec Board. I like Geoff, and Joe has been personally helpful to me when I’ve had issues. But the Welfare Fund should be following the organization’s direction – and should be reporting to us on how things are going. It should not have vote(s) in setting policy. Pension will always have representation on the board through two officers: the treasurer, and the assistant treasurer. But that should be it. In this case there is a third rep on the Executive Board – nicest guy, helpful – this is a Unity person, and I have nothing but good things to say about David Kazansky, and on top of all else just a really decent guy – but that does not mean that reps from departments should be taking seats on the Board.

So, in response to the question, if UFC wins, won’t we have fulltimers on next election? I say yes, we will, but not nearly as many as Unity puts there.

Also, we want people who will speak up.

Further, we should look at the Functional Division. It is an assemblage of reps from many chapters. Some of those chapter are large enough – certainly retirees are, probably paraprofessionals, perhaps others – that they should be able to elect their own representatives. Large groups could be separated from Functionals, making this a more representative body.

And finally, the divisions should be larger, maybe increase each 50%. Guarantee more seats for high schools, for paras, for elementary. And do this by reducing the number of At Large seats.

The Delegate Assembly

In theory the Delegate Assembly is the highest decision making body of the United Federation of Teachers. In practice it has been a rubber stamp for the Executive Board and ultimately, AdCom.

There is no easy fix. Elect officers who are committed to developing rank and file strength would be a good start.

But the basic set-up of the Delegate Assembly is ok. Each school gets a delegate for every 100 or part of 100 members. Each school also has a chapter leader, who doubles as a second (or third, etc) delegate.

There is a problem, structural, with the Retired Teachers Chapter – they send hundreds of delegates, elected in a winner take all election. That has to stop. We need proportional representation for those delegates.

There are issues with disrespect shown towards members, with abuse of the privileges of the chair – but those are mostly not structural issues.

There are issues with rules of order, with the standing agenda, and those are worth addressing. The Delegate Assembly, if it is to set policy, needs a report from the officers that shares needed information. But Unity has perverted this into an hour and fifteen minute ramble. The business portion of the meeting is reduced to about 20 minutes, which is inadequate. Debate is short, and party line, and usually involves a quick vote, if we get to that.

For the Delegate Assembly to even begin to perform its policy-making work, it must have adequate information, and adequate time. This could be addressed by time-limiting the president’s report. It could also be addressed, in part, by restoring Chapter Leader meetings to once a month, separate and apart from the DAs. A long president’s report (still shorter than today), followed by a long question and answer would be valuable. And it would free up DA time to set policy.

Another aside: some schools give up their right to have a delegate, and hand the seat to the DR, who teaches one class in the school. This is wrong. Members should not give up their right to have voice in policy, and being a DR should not entitle someone to a seat on a policy making body.

Setting Policy II

Things today are stood on their head. The AdCom sets policy, and the DA votes yes. In a bottom-up sort of system, real feedback from the Delegates would shape policy, and would help us avoid some of the gross errors that Unity has recently been made. Top-down leads to mistakes – so why do they insist on top-down?

Not allowing people to disagree to speak means having stupid fights over stopping people from speaking. If your ideas are better, let them speak, you answer, and after debate, if your ideas are really better, you will win? Part of the top-down control seems aimed at stopping people who disagree with you from speaking.

Hell, if I were Unity, I’d let me speak. I can be 100% right, and Unity can still signal its faithful and get a lockstep vote against me. I’ve seen it happen, at the Exec Board, where they could not deny me the mike, but could still win every vote 95 – 7. If you can win any vote, any time you want, on any issues – why put so much effort into stopping people who disagree from speaking?