UFT: Your humble servant
I’ve never ended a letter that way, and I would, because it sounds cool, but I will not, since it also sounds pretentious.
However, the idea is not a bad one. Certainly when I write a Chapter Leader’s letter, that is the position I am in. I serve the chapter and its members. Likewise, our DR’s serve the Chapter Leaders, at least in theory. This is why the CLs should be electing the DRs directly. (Unity’s reasons for ending DR election fall flat. There is a multipartisan (bipartisan if ICE boycotts) committee meeting this month to look at DR selection). And Central should be serving the DRs, the CLs, the Chapters, and all of the members.
UFT Central exists to serve the members and the Chapters, not the other way around. But sometimes Central forgets
I’ve seen three mistakes in this regard in the last week and a half. One was easily corrected, but the other two are symptomatic of change that needs to happen.
The descriptions, two regarding chapter activities, and one regarding the UFT webpage, are below the fold —>
Chapter Meetings should be organized by the Chapters themselves – I
There is, in a sense, an exception, when events external to the school change the meeting’s date. Discussion of a proposed contract, for one. Or a meeting when a visitor, eg the District Rep, comes in. But in normal circumstances the chapter should set up meetings to fit the needs of the chapter. I think the recommendation is at least every other month, but once a month is better. There are school rhythms, cycles of consultative committee (exec board) meetings and consultations with the principal.
More staffers with mud on their shoes would be a good sign
But in Thursday’s mail at school I got a package of materials about the UFT campaign on paperwork reduction: “We are asking chapter leaders to hold a meeting and as a chapter activity, have teachers complete the survey and return the surveys in the envelope provided by March 16.” Sorry, we don’t have a meeting scheduled for that time period. We will at the end of March, and will fill in the surveys at that point – or maybe we will put them in members boxes and ask them to fill them in by Friday – I’ll need the advice of my committee on this one. But Central should know better than to schedule our meetings for us.
Chapter Meetings should be organized by the Chapters themselves – II
Last Friday (a week ago) in the e-mailed UFT Weekly Update 3/2/07 (5th item down) we learned: UFT Button Day will be Friday, March 16. Please ask the UFT members to wear their “Have You Listened to a Teacher Today?” button to work that day.
This Friday (yesterday) the UFT Weekly Update 3/9/07 top item said: Friday, March 16 is Button Day. … Wear your “Have You Listened to a Teacher Today?” button to work that day … It’s essential that as many schools as possible participate in the action. … Chapter leaders might consider holding a chapter breakfast meeting or a school consultation meeting on the day. …
I should make this a quiz: What is wrong with those messages?
- Method of notice. The authors of the UFT Weekly Update know that few readers actually get to the 5th item. There is, afai can tell, no notice in the New York Teacher newspaper that just arrived in members’ mail. I don’t recall a date being specified when my DR distributed the buttons. That means that most of us, at least me, have 4 days to organize this. Not enough if this is to be a citywide effort with strong results.
- Motivation. The DA had lots of suggestions for how chapters might use these. I suggested as Chapter building exercises (this was not in the motion) and that was well-received, including from the Chair. But shouldn’t chapters coordinate chapter building exercises?
- Timing of chapter business. In many chapters consultation with the principal is set well in advance. Chapter meetings should be arranged with at least a week’s notice (and I would hope in most schools that more notice is given, or that a schedule is set out at the beginning of the term).
Look, Central means well. A show of solidarity now would send a message to Bloomberg and his chancellor. The buttons are a neat, low-commitment way to involve lots of members who are apathetic towards the union. But there is a line between supporting chapters and ordering them about, and that line needs to be better observed. As it turns out, my chapter will not have a meeting this week, but we will most likely wear buttons Friday – as it happens to fit in nicely as a chapter building exercise that we both need and are ready for now.
Who is the servant?
I was reading the UFT webpage last week, and notice that the link for changing a home address read: “You must notify the UFT when you change your address or name.” The tone was wrong. We do not supervise teachers, we, the union, serve teachers. I immediately wrote to two staffers who have something to do (I hope) with the webpage, and then copied Randi Weingarten, and they fixed it to read “You should notify the UFT…” And today I noticed that the page it links to still says “You must …” and I am confident that they will quickly change it to “Moving? Notify the UFT.”
Central quickly fixed the error. The willingness to make some good change is there. The initial judgment would be improved with more field work
There is a willingness to fix this stuff. And that is positive. I have every confidence that the intent is to serve the union well, to organize good, effective campaigns, etc. But these are exactly sorts of goofs that flow from too little contact with the schools. In the Bronx UFT Office there has been a concerted effort to get the staff into schools much more. I feel the positive change here. We need more, and we need to make certain that a shift in priority to field work gets picked up by all the boroughs, and at central as well.