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In This Together: Why does NYSUT get the messaging?

November 3, 2021 pm30 11:48 pm

And why does the UFT not?

I have some guesses. But no actual answers.

Why’d I ask the question? Because it should be asked. Why ask now? Because I got the NYSUT United insert in the mail, and was about to throw it out, but first I read the lame front page headline, but it wasn’t lame. Look here:

The UFT should have solid messaging like this. But it does not. Sometimes we get it, or come close. Like on the Social Emotional Screener.

Close, right? But did you notice the ham-fisted attempt to make members thank Mulgrew? And to remind us who is in charge. Look at all WE do for YOU. The words “we” and “you” had no place in this message. Leave it to Mulgrew’s office to deliver something nice that people wanted, and find a way to add an off-note.

But over the course of the pandemic, “coming close” has been an exception. Mulgrew’s communications usually miss.

So what drives the difference? Why does NYSUT seemingly have an easy time not fucking up?

First, terminology. When Mulgrew says “UFT” he means himself and other top leaders. Sometimes he might mean his entire caucus. He says “the UFT is all of us” or “the union is all of us” when a delegate complains about something not happening, but he doesn’t mean it.

I am writing about messaging. I’m talking, in this post, about Mulgrew’s messaging, which is the union’s messaging, no matter how I phrase it. So when I write about UFT messaging, I am not writing about all of us (even though the union is in theory all of us, and decisions should represent our mutual interests). When I write about UFT messaging I am writing about Mulgrew, his direct staff, his communications and media people, and to a lesser extent, his caucus.

Oh, and bias? I don’t much like Mulgrew’s caucus. “Unity.” But I don’t like the related caucus that runs NYSUT, the state federation. I don’t like either one. But one knows how to package a solid message, and the other doesn’t. And I am asking why. And I don’t know the answer.

Guesses

Constituency –

  • NYSUT serves locals. And that means local presidents and officers. There really is an expectation of service.
  • The UFT (UFT top leadership) on the other hand gives members what the leadership decides to give. There are no local presidents, and chapter leaders are a usually bypassed afterthought. Mulgrew is not answerable the way Pallotta is.

Who runs schools? –

  • For the UFT, the NYC DoE does. And the UFT leadership wants to be able to help. There’s lots looking for “a seat at the table.” Some of their messaging it to boast about how close their bureaucracies work together. You know how every time the DoE makes a decision the Mulgrew email sounded celebratory? Even when it should have been, like, “this is ok, but raises some issues, we will have to see”? Other times the messages are orders to chapter leaders to comply with a DoE directive that Unity helped shape.
  • NYSUT? They work with New York State Education Department. And SED doesn’t run schools. It’s just different

Politics –

  • The UFT leadership often think of themselves as a PAC, with the union stuff a side-gig. So when Cuomo was screwing schools and teachers during the pandemic, Mulgrew was making pronouncements to his members praising Cuomo. I don’t know if Unity were afraid of Cuomo, or were trying to curry favor – but neither of those have anything to do with the interests of our members. And the messages were all off, or just wrong. And then the attacks on incompetent Bill de Blasio were ferocious at every turn – and sometimes the members agreed – often in fact – but 1) the attacks were not always connected to our schools, which was weird, and 2) they stood in sharp contrast to the fawning over Cuomo.
  • NYSUT pushes teacher issues in the legislature, but politics is clearly a part of the work, not the biggest part. And while NYSUT sucks up to politicians, it is not central to their messaging. It’s just not what they do.

Personnel –

  • Mulgrew is responsible for his people. He’s got a communications chief who doesn’t seem to communicate much, a social media guy who is not too social when fighting with teachers, a media specialist who used to specialize in writing attack pieces on teachers facing charges. Related, he hired a political director (our first ever who was not a teacher) who took the UFT’s miserable performance in past elections – as low a bar as you could set – and failed to meet it. And I think you have to ask, is the problem the personnel, or is the problem the person who is choosing them? Or the person who is leading them?
  • NYSUT? I’m sure there’s plenty of cronyism there, too. But there’s some sense that you should be able to do the job you have.

I don’t know. None of these arguments are super-convincing. But NYSUT reminded me today that good messaging by a union during the pandemic is possible. And Mulgrew reminds me every week that there is no guarantee.

What do you think? Do any of these make sense to you? Do you have a better theory? Please share in the comments.

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