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Mulgrew Avoids Losing Votes / By Not Holding Any

December 17, 2021 pm31 3:20 pm

The highest decision making body of the United Federation of Teachers is the Delegate Assembly. But what happens when it makes no decisions?

Wednesday the Delegate Assembly met. Mulgrew gave an extended report. A Welfare Fund representative gave a fairly substantial report in favor of Medicare Advantage Plus. There was a question period with five questions and a point of personal privilege. I believe that two of the questions and the procedural point were arranged by the leadership in advance. And then two points were added to the agenda. And then Mulgrew adjourned, before the business part of the Delegate Assembly began.

This stands in sharp contrast to November, when a motion to add an agenda item Mulgrew opposed (about the Medicare Advantage Plus program – asking for some member say in the negotiations) almost got on the agenda (49% in favor), and during new business Mulgrew lost two votes (I think Mulgrew and Weingarten combined had lost a total of one vote in the previous 20 years – two in a night was startling).

The Delegate Assembly routinely does not have enough time to conduct its business. It used to start at 4PM, with an automatic adjournment at 6PM. Some years ago (anyone remember exactly when?) it moved to a 4:15 start. The president’s report is not time-limited, but the question period (15 minutes) and the period for motions directed to the agenda (10 minutes) both are. And new business runs up against the 6PM automatic adjournment.

What ends up happening? The president’s report is usually long, and time is pressed for the rest. There are delegates who want to ask questions who never get called on. Lots of them. And there are delegates who want to add something to the agenda who never get called on. And then the new business usually goes uncompleted, unless Mulgrew really wants to get to something, and then he gets the meeting extended past 6.

Question Period

Delegates have questions. Pre-pandemic I tried to extend the question period quite a few times. It’s not a factional move – it’s just that delegates really want to know stuff. Sometimes they ask questions that have already been answered in an email, or at a previous DA, or even that day. Still, they are delegates with questions, and should get answers. During the fully remote DAs they extended the question period – it usually was interesting. Because there were also questions that no one had asked yet – and that likely other delegates had the same questions.

The period is partially undermined by the leadership planting questions – those questions eat up valuable time – and if the leadership wanted that information to get out, it could have asked Mulgrew to include it in the report. It was not just the December DA where that happened – it is every month. In past years (and maybe it still happens) there was an invitation-only club run by an officer, a member of Unity Caucus, that would create and assign these planted questions.

If the time were longer, or better, not limited, then those planted questions would not be a problem. And the question period really needs to be longer. It’s a Delegate Assembly after all. Certainly 15 minutes is not enough time.

New Motion Period

This is where items are added to the agenda by delegates. An item is proposed, then voted on. (It takes 50% + 1 to get it on next month’s agenda. It takes 2/3rds to get it on the current agenda).

The Executive Board sends items to the Delegate Assembly, and they are placed on the agenda. Since one caucus, Mulgrew’s Unity Caucus, controls all but three Exec Board seats, this means that the only way for someone who thinks differently to add an item to the DA agenda is through the new motion period. Thus there are delegates highly motivated to be recognized during the New Motion Period.

At just 10 minutes, and with each item taking a few minutes and needing a vote, it is usual for only 2 or 3 items to come up – even when we are aware that there are 4 or 6 or even 10 delegates who wish to introduce something.

Worse, when the leadership does not like what may be coming up, they ask their loyal delegates to introduce items through the new motion period, even though those items could have easily been introduced through the Executive Board. This takes time from the New Motion period away from those without access to the Executive Board (opposition). On Wednesday, the leadership did just that, introducing two agenda items that everyone would agree to, that could have come from the Executive Board, but that fully ate up the New Motion period.

Even worse, when that is not enough, Mulgrew can drag out an item to prevent the next motion from coming up. He did that to me last November, dragging a nothing motion out for 7 minutes, and then filibustering for 3 more minutes, just to prevent me from raising questions about the hybrid learning that Mulgrew and Unity Caucus supported. Here, read about that.

President’s Report

The president’s report ran long on Wednesday. It is always long. Yesterday’s was padded with a substantial Mulgrew-Care infomercial (less polemically, a presentation by Joe Usatch, Deputy Director (?) of the UFT Welfare Fund, on the Medicare Advantage Plus plan that the Municipal Labor Coalition negotiated with “The Alliance”(?). I think the pitch was substantially similar to the one that our retirees have been getting since late last spring).

In any case the president’s report ran longer than usual, but usual is already long. Instead of squishing the rest of our time, yesterday’s report left no time for new business. Given how poorly Mulgrew did last month, that must seem like victory. He can’t lose any votes if none come up. But that means that the Delegate Assembly was completely prevented from performing its nominal mandate – running the union.

But the president’s reports are always long.

Is he intentionally eating up time to frustrate delegates? Perhaps. He’s definitely done that sometimes. He should stop. Or there could be a time limit, like for every other agenda item, and like they do at the Professional Staff Congress for president’s reports – but I don’t really think that’s a great idea. Just take the time you need, and don’t filibuster to prevent questions and motions from coming up.

Does he just have a lot to say? OK, then the Delegate Assembly needs to be longer. No one wants long meetings. But a 6:15 adjournment would make up for the time we lost years ago, bring the DA back to a full two hours. That, as a minimum, would be the right thing to do. And a 6:30 adjournment might meet the needs of delegates who have something to ask, or something to add to the agenda.

This is a Delegate Assembly, after all. Delegate questions and issues should take priority.

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