UFT election turnout is concerning
Reviewing data since 2004, participation in UFT elections is down across the board. In 2007 there was a drop, an uptick in 2010, and a big drop in 2010. This trend was stronger than any variation among the divisions, including retirees. Here are the percents by division, followed by the divisional data displayed as a line graph…
The same data, graphed:
The drop from 2004 to 2013 in each teacher division is between 35% and 39%. The drop for retirees over that same time period is 22%, and among functionals 44%.
The big trend is clear. But what of the bigger drops in 2007 and 2013, and the uptick in 2010? My working assumption is that the blow from the 2005 contract was demoralizing, and is reflected in 2007. In 2010 Mulgrew was new, and had just publicly opposed Weingarten on using test scores to rate teachers. And today? Danielson, teacher evaluation looming, how many years of Bloomberg, etc. The overall trend is less voting, but that trend is magnified by demoralizing events and conditions.
So why the overall trend? TFA, NYCTF, low retention…? But there are not so many TFAers as there once were, and that number has not been increasing. Anecdotally I believe that NYCTF retention is getting a little better. And those categories don’t effect retiree vote, which has dropped a little slower than the rest, but moves the same direction in each election.
Could the delayed vote (April instead of March) made a difference? I think not. And that would just be 2013. And it would not affect retirees.
Could the influx of functionals (home care workers) make a difference? Not really. Our addition of charter school teachers, home care workers, nurses, etc, account for making the purple line in the graph change places with the red line, nothing more. Discounting the growth of the division, turnout for 2013 would have been 18%.
I think there are two major factors. First, there is an overall mood of demoralization. There is a sense that no matter what we do, things will go badly. And second, too many new teachers are indifferent to the UFT (and we do too little to address this).
It certainly had been the case nationally under 8 years of Bush, but despite several important improvements (health care jumps out), four and a half years of Obama have not improved the lot of teachers or the conditions in the schools. Retirees earned benefits over years in the workforce, and are watching renewed targeting of Social Security and Medicare. Few of us can answer the “Are you better off…” question in the affirmative.
And certainly in our schools, the demands of the current system are utterly demoralizing and frustrating: punishing quantities of paperwork, impossible requirements, colocations and school closings, the ongoing ATR pool, endless testing and test prep, maltreatment at the hands of abusive administrators. The union has pushed back in some places, and we have prevailed in several instances, (we won twice on school closings, that was huge), but those are the exceptions.
The second major factor contributing to the decline in turnout, I think, is that newer teachers don’t vote. And this is a system that is bottom-heavy with newer teachers. Even after the partial hiring freezes of the last few years, it seems clear that the proportion of senior teachers has dropped, and of newer (maybe not brand new) teachers has risen. And the UFT enrolls, but does not induct, new teachers. There is a difference between making people members on paper (sign this card, and then the Health and Welfare form), and making them feel like, think like they are part of an organization that unites them with their colleagues.
When I started blogging, in 2006, before I joined New Action, I knew that retention was one of the biggest challenges facing our school system and our union. I knew that weak chapters were tied to the retention crisis. And I knew failing to recognize the crisis makes things worse. I’ve learned a lot since then. I would add other factors, I would add nuance. And while I knew that rebuilding/repairing chapters was a big job, it is far bigger than I understood, and with the loss of 7 years it has become far, far harder. But I believe that addressing new teacher induction would directly address voter turnout (among other things).
Organize. Build. Involve. From the chapter up, with support from the top. There needs to be a strong, two-way link, from member to chapter leader to district rep to officers and vice versa. Communication must move in both directions. There need to be strong relationships in the chapters. And this need, this lack, should inform much of what we do. This this is not sufficient to solve our turnout problems (demoralization and new teacher indifference to the UFT), but it is necessary.
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The full data set shows the same trend, but also reveals the relative size of each division, and changes in the relative size of each division. The next post will analyze those numbers.