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Do the right thing?

February 10, 2022 pm28 10:57 pm

The UFT’s leadership has an opportunity to make the union stronger. Will they do the right thing?

My union is the United Federation Teachers (UFT). The leadership is completely controlled by a “caucus” or political party, whose politics generally align with centrist Democrats – but whose day to day politics are about maintaining power, and not much more than that. This caucus is called Unity. I think they should be replaced.

But today Unity controls the leadership of the UFT.

Over the course of the pandemic members of our union have seen our union leadership in different situations and different ways than before the pandemic. Policies affected us directly, in what were truly life and death situations. Members who never paid attention paid attention.

And now that members were paying attention, what did they see?

Policy, Pandemic, Conciliation

Policy letters, sent out by the UFT President, Michael Mulgrew, of Unity Caucus. Letters that endorsed bad decisions by Andrew Cuomo. Letters that put school opening ahead of our safety. Letters that promoted weirdly risky policies, such as instructional lunch, or weirdly bad planning, like the 2020-21 hybrid plans. Members who had not paid attention to union correspondence before were now reading the stuff, and concluding that we had a problem, a problem named Michael Mulgrew. He may not have written the stuff, but as we talked to friends, coworkers, teachers in other schools, the easy target was the man with his name at the bottom of the email.

Running Meetings Poorly, and Being Obnoxious About It

Delegate Assemblies are usually poorly attended affairs. But during the pandemic they went virtual, and many more people dialed in than used to attend at 52 Broadway or Fashion Industries. And what did they experience? Strange, long-winded, sometimes hard to follow reports – and then the chair of the meeting, UFT President Michael Mulgrew of Unity Caucus, being a jerk to chapters leaders and delegates he disagreed with or didn’t like. His behavior was so bad that last spring Unity lost a vote (they never lose votes, at least until now) based on member reaction to his juvenile behavior alone. That was bad.

There were also town halls, attended by huge numbers of members, who heard the same rambling, though there was far less of the jerky commentary. But between Delegate Assemblies and Town Halls many more members became familiar with the UFT leadership, and did not love what they saw. And they identified what they saw with the person of UFT President Michael Mulgrew of Unity Caucus.

Endorsements

Probably not too many people paid attention to the UFT’s endorsements in last spring’s primary elections. The endorsements are all about handing cash to candidates, not about GOTV (get out the vote) which the UFT can no longer reliably manage. But for those who paid attention they got to see the worst UFT election season. Ever. And not just the mayoral race. And as Mulgrew ran the endorsement events like an emcee, the massive screw ups that were the UFT’s eventual decisions were pretty tightly tied to him.

Medicare Advantage / Mulgrewcare

And the kicker happened this spring. Unity is committed to private health insurance, as their rep explained at the last DA. They are opposed to single payer. We all kind of knew this. What we didn’t know was that they were negotiating to protect the Stabilization Fund at the expense of our retirees. Mulgrew’s folks worked with the MLC to cut a deal to push our retirees out of Medicare into Medicare Part C (private care). They did it in secret. Not just the details in secret. Even the fact that they were negotiating was kept secret. When UFT retirees found out (another union told ITS members, and word spread) – when UFT retirees found out they were pissed and scared about losing medicare, but they were super-pissed about being deceived. Retirees were incensed. Many blamed Unity. But when UFT President Michael Mulgrew of Unity Caucus came personally to “explain” – they got even angrier. Unclear. Deceptive. Smug. Michael Mulgrew came to attract much of the blame personally.

In the Field

I hear members who never cared about the union, deriding the union. Some of the sentiment verges on anti-union sentiment. Our brand – “UFT” has suffered damage. And it is OUR brand – all of us – this is our union. When someone is pissed at Mulgrew and says they no longer trust the UFT – you see that? It hurts all of us.

Opposition / United for Change

A coalition formed to oppose Unity in this election, made up of individuals and caucuses, many of whom are working together for the first time. In the past the odds were massively stacked against oppositions in what were essentially winner take all elections (except for a handful of divisional seats). But this time, because of bad pandemic policy, and bad endorsements, and because many members have seen and not liked big UFT meetings, and because Unity decided to mess around with Medicare… and because the opposition is united… I’d rate us as a long shot, but with an actual chance. Maybe 1 in 50 or even 1 in 20 instead of 1 in 1000 from elections past? I don’t know – I’m making up the numbers based on instinct, but probably not that far off.

In any case. say we have a 3% or 4% chance instead of 0.1% or something like that. A lot of that difference is based on members’s anger directed not at the union as a whole, but at the person of UFT President Michael Mulgrew of Unity Caucus.

And, I have said “we” and “us” – I am running with United for Change. I also say “we” and “us” for the UFT – because while I do not support the reelection of this leadership, it is still OUR union. I am fiercely proud of our union. I want it stronger, better.

So?

So this.

So United for Change has a better (still slim) chance in the election because Michael Mulgrew is at the top of the Unity ticket.

But the UFT is weaker, has less support from members, with all the negative attention Michael Mulgrew has garnered. We all suffer with him in the lead.

We (United for Change) cannot do the right thing here. It has to be Unity. Make our union better. Shore up support from members whose confidence in the union has been shaken through the pandemic. Even though it hurts my election chances, I am asking, pleading with Unity, do the right thing. Remove Mulgrew. Replace him with someone, anyone. Promote him to some position where members don’t see him.

Because in the end, no matter who wins, we all lose if members are turned against our union, against the UFT.

Unity members, do the right thing.

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