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How should we talk to people who are afraid?

August 26, 2020 pm31 3:24 pm

UFT members have begun to talk about job actions, especially after Michael Mulgrew mentioned them on tv.

There are people who are excited – I don’t get that. Job actions are last resorts. They mean that all other means have broken down, and that something is very wrong. And yes, today something is very wrong.

There are people who are expressing reluctant support for what is necessary. Put me in that camp. In fact, subdivide that camp into those who will do whatever Mulgrew recommends (not me), and those who are pro-union, but have a healthy distrust of the leadership. Here’s something I put on social media:

Many of you know I take issue with the UFT leadership, strategies, priorities, how the union is run. I talk about those things to push the union to be better. But if we take action, we all take action. This is not anonymous. The pledge has to be open. If we go out, we all go out together.

But then there are people who are scared. People who are expressing doubts. Even people openly contemplating not following the union’s lead if there is a job action.

I have seen people called names for this, called scabs. Accused of putting the rest of us at risk. And that is completely wrong. It is two weeks away. People are expressing doubt, not crossing picket lines.

Two questions: Who is expressing doubt? What should our response be?


  • There are untenured teachers afraid of being fired.
  • There are teachers who live paycheck to paycheck, terrified of not being able to pay bills.
  • There are teachers who have no idea what a union is, a byproduct of the decline of unions in the US, and the non-existence of the UFT in some schools. This has been a crisis since the day I started blogging, a crisis of weak chapters.
  • There are teachers who hate unions, but not so many teachers are like that.
  • There are teachers who believe that there is no risk to opening schools. I guess they survived the choloroquine and ingesting bleach, because they must still exist.

Especially the first three groups, which are by far the largest, we need to speak with. We need to explain. We need to change their minds.


  • Open discussion. It is okay to be afraid. Every sane person feels at least some nervousness about what comes next.
  • Acknowledge that the fear is legitimate. Losing a paycheck can be hard.
  • Not knowing what comes next is scary.
  • Emphasize the danger that reopening poses to all of us, all of our students, and to the entire City.
  • Talk about solidarity. Talk about standing for each other.
  • Let the nervous person speak.
  • Review history. How have unions protected vulnerable members in past strikes. How has this union protected vulnerable members.
  • Admit uncertainty where it exists. Being a know-it-all is bad. Being a know-it-all when the people around you can tell that you do not know it all can be damaging to the point of view you are trying to represent.
  • Answer questions.
  • Don’t answer questions when you don’t know the answer.
  • Be patient.


Remember, the person can be wrong today. Our goal is to change their mind, not belittle them. And we change minds by engaging in thoughtful conversation, not by bullying.

Open discussion MUST continue in all chapters and at all levels of the UFT, even after this crisis passes.

A culture that believes that information and instructions flow in one direction, from the top down, is destructive to our union. We would be in a much stronger position today if that culture did not infest our organization.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Mea Ambrosio permalink
    August 26, 2020 pm31 5:07 pm 5:07 pm

    Well said

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