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UFT – Chapter Meetings

January 6, 2007 am31 7:16 am

In the UFT Chapter Leader Handbook, there are two pages under the heading “Building a Strong Chapter.” (Definitely not nearly enough, not today). Anyhow, it says: “The secret of running a good chapter is plenty of participation. Your members need it. Many of them cannot go to meetings or become active otherwise, but they will want to help build our Union in the school.” And then it lists jobs people can do.

It’s not the same model I am looking for. We need to build strong chapters, (and we have far too few today). We need to involve every member in the life of the chapter. But today far too few are involved.

Chapter meetings are central to building strong chapters.

(More beneath the fold) ——->

As I speak to teachers from different schools, I ask how often their chapters meet. The answers are disturbing. We have schools throughout the city where the chapter does not meet.

The strength of a union, a membership organization, does not flow from clever lawyers and feisty negotiators. Our strength flows from the collective action and potential for collective action that is contained within our chapters. In many schools we have no functioning chapter. Worse, new schools loaded with beginning teachers, they have no members who have memory of the value of collective action. The smaller the school, the greater chance that the union is something foreign. There is nothing as important as bringing these people into the first collective action they will be brave enough to take: coming together to discuss their common conditions and rights.

Let’s strengthen our union by empowering our members. A campaign for monthly membership meetings in each school would be a step in the right direction.

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12 Comments leave one →
  1. January 6, 2007 pm31 2:08 pm 2:08 pm

    I agree with this point. When I was chapter leader I put much of my time into prepping for meetings. Notices went out numerous times and were posted all over the school. I always had bagels, etc. to make it like a breakfast meeting. Also no split lunchtime meetings because that split the staff. I tried to make it a regular morning — like the 2nd or 3rd Friday of the month.

    The Unity chapter leader before me used to take up the whole meeting with “reports” from the Dist. rep meeting, the DA, etc. We had about 5 minutes at the end to talk about stuff. Most people just sat there or stopped coming. And he had speakers from the union who also toolk the whole meeting. (I used to ask these people to come lunchtime and did not make it a regular meeting.)

    My agendas were almost totally focused on school issues (I put out a weekly newsletter with all the other union stuff they were throwing at us from central) and people responded to that. We had other people give reports, etc. so there was more activity.

    Another aspect was the consultation committee meetings. The commitee was open to anyone but most people didn’t have time to do much so it was small. But I asked everyone in the school to attend at least one meeting with the principal and I went around at the beginning of the year and asked them to sign up for one month. That way almost everyone got to see the sparring that went on between myself and the principal, who was a real diva and resented the hell out of the process but I think the dist supt told her she had to do it.

    The disappointing part is that when I left the school after 3 years it went right back to where it was. I was not able to build anything lasting. That often happens when things depend on the work of one person.

  2. January 6, 2007 pm31 10:10 pm 10:10 pm

    You don’t think that the UFT district, borough, and central bear absolute NO responsibilty for this state of affairs? What did they do in the early 60’s? Did chapter spontaneously come into being? They were organized by sending in people not to sell a contract or talk about how wonderful the leadership is or to spend the entire meeting time not letting members speak.

    You make some good points but join in with the UFT mantra that is is up to the members who have been beaten and battered by a brutal DOE, who played a great responsibility in allowing the fox into the barn.

    Remember the resources devoted to John Stoessel? The UFT is too busy to take care of the important priorities.

    Understanding where you are politically as New Action now in alliance with Unity, your noncritical position is totally understandable.

  3. January 6, 2007 pm31 10:24 pm 10:24 pm

    Norm,
    I will respond to your first comment later. But your second, it makes no sense.

    Our chapters are weak, we need to strengthen our chapters, our instructions to chapter leaders don’t point them in the right direction. We need to change that.

    That’s what I said. I guess for you it doesn’t count as criticism unless someone gets called an a——- or is denounced for selling out?

  4. January 6, 2007 pm31 10:46 pm 10:46 pm

    Norm,

    if you look back, you will find that you, Chaz and I ran through a similar discussion a few months ago in this post about Labor Day. Look through the comments carefully.

    The gist comes down to a) building a self-acting membership or b) supplying superiour leaders. I contend that a strong membership will reform bad leaders or force them out of the way. It is easier the other way, it is easier to look for a white knight or a great man. But what happens in the long run?

    Are we trying to build chapters dependent on a strong leader, or chapters that create their own strong leaders? Why did your meetings end when you left?

  5. January 7, 2007 pm31 7:43 pm 7:43 pm

    Jonathan
    Let me give you an example of why I place so much blame on the UFT leadership. I just spoke to a teacher at a large high school. The principal is harassing aorund 40 people according the (new) chapter leader. No one in the school knows about the others. The chapter leader does not know how to respond. My way would be to publicize it to everyone, try to get all these people to sign something, get the rest of the staff to back them, put materials in every mail box, go to the local press, get a Principal from hell article in the NY Teacher, etc.

    But this new chapter leader can do nothing without the support and total backing of the UFT borough and district office. Who should take the lead? Does the UFT provide this advice on fighting back? They should be leading it. Yet I get reports all the time that the UFT won’t do this. This is a blame the new chapter leader and teachers at the school for not acting. Where is the leadership? The entire full-time staff of the UFT should be outraged that 40 teachers are under attack and should be in front of the school picketing.

    How about what happened to Maria Colon at JFK? A chapter leader having to go through 3020 hearings for whistle blowing? And after over a year in hell, getting exonerated? Can you imagine if this happened to shop stewards in other unions?

    The weakness at the chapter level is not because the members only are weak. It stems from weak leadership.

  6. January 7, 2007 pm31 10:59 pm 10:59 pm

    Who blames new chapter leaders?

    I’ve said again and again, our union is weak, our chapters are weak. And here we go, in a post about the need for chapter meetings, what do you rant on about? A school where chapter meetings may not be taking place. “No one in the school knows about the others.”

    Look, we all have discussions with members and CLs who are having problems. Let’s look at your role.

    Did you explore what was going wrong? Did you review what steps they could take with the principal in the school, and establish they had attempted the simplest options first?

    Did you establish that he had reached out to his DR? Did you help him figure out what to do if she was unresponsive? (I understand that this might happen, but I’ve never had to deal with this. Neither my current nor my previous DR, when I was CL or back when I was deputy, ever ver hung us out to dry)

    Did you establish that the guy is building awareness, both of the problem, and of a sense of union, in his chapter? Does he have a consultative committee? Does the committee meet? Do they know what’s going on? Are they holding holding chapter meetings? (sounds like, no). Did you tell him how to organize a chapter meeting, how to put out an agenda, how to beef up attendance?

    Because, even if it requires outside assistance to deal with the current situation, the goal should be to make the chapter strong enough that the principal won’t pull the same crap.

    And the idea has to be to solve the members’ problem. I hope you tried to help, and not just find people to blame.

  7. January 7, 2007 pm31 11:34 pm 11:34 pm

    Strong chapters can help what is going on in the individual school. I have lots of negative things to say about our chapter leader, but I know that there are much worse things going on in other schools. Unfortunately we never have union meetings so the only things we know are the things he writes in his bulletins, and his bulletins are very slanted in his direction. On the rare occassion that there is a union meeting, he never lets anyone who disagrees with him or UNITY speak! he has been CC for over 20 years. Over the years, others have tried to run against him and failed. Many times, he wins uncontested because in a school as big as ours, no one has the energy to fight for what is right.

    Thanks for the nice words in links!

  8. January 8, 2007 am31 2:14 am 2:14 am

    In the particular school I mentioned, this guy is in office for 5 months with a notoriously abusive principal that is well-known by the union who actually called the union to protest his election last June and when the principal’s secretary called back to protest the union threw it out and called for a new election. Good start for getting support.

    What are the responsibilities of the borough and central UFT? The UFT does not train CL to use publicity in the school to fight back. In fact mass attacks on teachers are kept hush-hush. With so many attacks going on all over the place, you very rarely hear about it.

    An enormous number of CL are Unity – Unity just about requires them to run for CL. Probably the majority of schools. I mean they are supposedly the most highly conscious union people and many are on the union payroll in some manner. pissed off teacher’s guy is a perfect example.

    Yet many of them run weak chapter in an autocratic way with little democracy and meetings that feed the members more propaganda by monthy visits from union folk. (That was the way my Unity predecessor ran things but at least he fought the principal, which many Unity people don’t). So what does that tell you about why the union is weak? You will not put the blame where it is really due and in fact are supporting the very organizaion that bears major responsibility for this situation. There are also a number of New Action retirees getting paid to go into “weak” chapters to help them organize. One of them even came to my old school a few years ago and people thought he was a joke.

  9. January 8, 2007 am31 7:32 am 7:32 am

    p.o.t.,

    the lack of meetings is obviously a problem. But the job is a lousy one, that few want, and chapter leaders usually get judged by conditions in the school (if all’s good, leave him alone, if all’s bad, is s/he out there actively fighting?)

    Do nothing CLs, CLs in the principal’s pocket, they are more likely to get replaced. I would be surprised if many people voted for CL based on caucus. Politics is local; politics is bread and butter – programs, scheduling, petty harassment, rooms, safety – how well is the CL serving the school.

    It’s one of the reasons I ask people about whether they have chapter meetings. Chapter meetings help define the difference between activist and passive chapters. Asking for chapter meetings can begin the process of rebuilding a moribund chapter.

    What Norman says about most CLs being members of Unity is not correct, although perhaps it once was. Norman was a CL for years, and deserves respect for doing a thankless job, but he’s so angry, sometimes he doesn’t make sense.

    Norman’s allies targeted me for defeat in last Spring’s elections, (but then claimed it was an error). Instead of trying to offer new leadership to chapters that are weak, that have no CL, or a CL who is the principal’s buddy, they targeted CLs from other caucuses (I support New Action).

    It will take patient work to rebuild, to reorganize our union from the base up. But it’s exactly that sort of work that is needed.

  10. Norm permalink
    January 10, 2007 am31 4:29 am 4:29 am

    My allies? That’s so nuts. What allies? I can guarantee that no one associated with ICE would have targeted you for defeat. We may disagree on many things but I assume you are a good CL based on the way you think about the job. So you’r tying me into whoever tried to defeat you (and what were their grounds?) makes less sense than I do and that is going a pretty far way.

    As for how many CL are Unity, I have been at almost every DA handing out material for 10 years (why i don’ t make much sense) and have gotten to know many of the players. (There has been a change this year so we’ll see and many Unity people lost due to support for the contract in 2005.) Most people do not vote based on caucuses but Unity people do not always tell the people in their schools that they are Unity.

    I suggest you go to the next AFT convention and suddenly you see all the people from the DA– all 800 of them. Also check the election ballot and see who the 800 + Unity people running are? Do you think many of them are not CL or at least delegates? When they join Unity the rules say they must try to run for these offices. And Unity numbers go way beyond 800.

    Now we know there are almost 3000 delegates and 1400 CL. But around 850 show up. Many Unity do not always do so or just come for the Unity meetings that follow the DA. But when there is an important vote, they are there.

  11. January 10, 2007 am31 5:59 am 5:59 am

    I got e-mailed by TJC looking to unseat my chapter chair last spring. That would be, me.

    I spoke to the sender who assured me that it was an error, and instead indicated another school with a solid chapter leader who they were really trying to unseat, not me. Not a big improvement.

    I count caucused-up Chapter Leaders at my District Rep’s meeting, not at the Delegate Assembly. There is a reason. The DR meetings are where we do the low-level grunt work that helps defend members and protect them from administrative predation. They are the meetings where I learn directly from my colleagues what is really going on in schools. And, if I had to chose to attend only one meeting, I would go to the one that most of my fellow CLs attend, the one where I find people interested in building the union from the base, the DR’s meeting.

    The DA is political, and spectacle. You are looking at the wrong gathering.

  12. Norm permalink
    January 10, 2007 am31 10:11 am 10:11 am

    Well, you’re lucky, but your DR is not the average and even anti-Unity people in ICE say she was a great CL. When allowed to (and there are times she is not, I bet) she does the right thing. Don’t project this onto the rest of the union as many DR’s are Unity goons.

    My Dist Rep meetings were such a joke and the total opposite of yours. It was all the UFT’s agenda and none of ours. That was the time when 6R came in and the union (this was a local, not a cental operation but they knew what this was all about) at the district level was tied into the Dist admin and did everything to help out getting people to do lunch duty. My school was one of the few that refused to do it. My principal went wild. I ended up losing my computer program that I had spent almost 10 years building.

    At the district meetings the DR was a nice guy who I had once taught with and was willing to let me rant at the end of the meetings and I used to give out the predecessor to Ed Notes there and a bunch of people were becoming allies. But the machine was very strong and there was real fear there and in fact I found out that the machine still exists even under BloomKlein. People recently had to attend a $150 a plate political dinner. I wonder what they can hold over people in today’s world unless Klein is backing some of these characters.

    I have no answer on the TJC thing in your school.
    ICE handed out some leaflets urging people to run against Unity CL. I had mixed feelings as I know some CL in Unity who are ok. We handed out something that asked “How did your CL vote on some issues at the DA?” and one of my allies (non-ICE) and distributers got real insulted at giving out something that she felt challenged her judgement. She had a point and I’ve been a little more careful about that since then.

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