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The answer is “Mulgrew, Medicare, Pandemic”

April 3, 2022 pm30 11:45 pm

Question: What are three biggest problems for Unity in the April 2022 UFT elections?

I have been involved, one way or another, in 6 UFT elections, pretty deeply in 5 of them, kind of near the center of campaign planning for 3 or 4. And I have never seen such a competitive campaign. Unity, the United Federation of Teachers’ ruling caucus for more than my lifetime, looks worried.

Broad Coalition

United for Change, the opposition coalition, is bigger and broader than anything we’ve seen in these last two decades. Maybe the coalitions is Unity’s biggest problem? You could make that argument. But I don’t think so. We had a pretty big coalition in 2016, and did win the high school division, but it wasn’t scary for Unity the way today is.


Ask a dozen teachers, you’ll hear a dozen different answers about what they are angry with our leadership for over the pandemic.

  • Elementary teachers who were forced back to work first, in the fall of 2020, pre-vaccine, with sketchy safety
  • Everyone, over “instructional lunch” that apparently was proposed not by the DoE but by the UFT leadership
  • Politically savvy members, who couldn’t believe Mulgrew’s email supporting Cuomo‘s decision to make us work through Spring break 2020
  • Financially savvy members, who knew we got robbed on the Spring Break arbitration (vacation days are good, but we were owed cash, right?)
  • (I do not support the anti-vaxxers – but they are angry about not being supported. Though, frankly, many of them are just angry in general, about the world and the 2020 election, and the gaps in the wall and the 13th amendment…)
  • Everyone who read the papers about the “toilet paper test” to pretend that rooms with dead air were actually ventilated
  • Everyone in non-ventilated and semi-ventilated rooms who had to keep windows open with frigid temps outside
  • Lots of people, about all the secretly negotiated safety protocols
  • Lots of people, about the bizarrely and secretly negotiated protocols for remote work
  • Techies, when they realized our HEPA filters are not HEPA, and the DoE just lied, and the UFT leaders stayed silent
  • Me, and a handful of programmers, over the ludicrous “hybrid learning” that was unworkable, and that we know came from the UFT leadership.

If the pandemic ended 6 months ago, maybe short-attention span members/voters would have forgotten. But the pandemic has not ended, not yet, though we hope we are close. And the wounds of the last two years are fresh on members’ minds. Some blame UFT leadership for doing things badly. Most blame UFT leadership for not doing enough. There may be enough anger that members who have never bothered voting before, some will actually vote this time. And not for Unity.


We get it. Healthcare costs are going up.

But who covers the extra cost?

I think WE should NOT. Bargaining with the City to get them to pay is a steep hill to climb, but we may have to. The best option does not solve our problem immediately, but does in the long run: fight hard for single payer. The UFT needs to drop its opposition to single payer.

But the UFT leadership, they think WE should pay, but they are hoping we do not notice it much. That is why their medicare advantage is designed to cover most of the same “things” as retirees’ current coverage. But it will not cover them as completely. It will not provide as much care, just the same type. Mulgrew just negotiated with the MLC, to reduce how much care we get (or will get when we retire and are ready to go on Medicare). Most procedures will be approved. Some will not. I know, I know – your procedure is probably fine. But just because you are ok, try talking to someone who faces a denial. And services denied = less service = cost savings (for the fund) = less medical care (for some retirees).

Our retirees did not fall for this, and opted out in large numbers.

A mistaken policy is one thing. A mistaken policy on retirees’ healthcare? This is healthcare. This is wrong as bad policy. But it is also strategically a potential disaster. It has the potential to upend decades’ old voting patterns (retirees have gone for Unity with about 80-85% in recent years). They made a small version of this mistake 6 years ago with co-pays. But nothing like trying to penalize retirees for sticking with Medicare. $2300 a year Unity was going to charge, to avoid Mulgrewcare.

But there’s also how they played it. The back-room wheeling and dealing, which when it broke Unity’s first response was to say it should have stayed secret, but it was not really secret. And then they shifted their story every time they spoke with retirees. Mulgrew – well, I’ll save him for the third answer. But the answers shifted, and seemed shifty. And retirees are by and large fairly savvy. They were not having this being misled stuff.

And just about everyone knows that retirees would not have signed onto Mulgrewcare voluntarily. That’s why Unity withdrew it. They had no way to get seniors to sign up, except by 1) making it “opt out” instead of “opt in” and 2) penalizing anyone who tried to opt out.

And everyone knows that Unity will try to revive it after the election – unless there’s a huge backlash in the vote. Little motivation there, for people who care about healthcare to return their ballots.


The broad coalition may trouble Unity. I’m not really including UFC as one of Unity’s problem issues. They did not come out of the Pandemic smelling good. That’s a problem. Attacking retirees’ health care was a huge blunder. But they would probably survive all of these, pretty easily (except in the high schools) if it weren’t for their biggest problem: Michael Mulgrew.

There has not been a less popular president in the history of the UFT. For these last 25 months members have been paying more attention than ever before. And they are not pleased.

It’s policy:

  • He gets hammered for Mulgrewcare.
  • He gets hammered for the handling of the pandemic
  • Some members remember that three ring circus endorsement process that settled on Stringer, couldn’t move off, and then switched to Adams in the general (who is now offering us 0% 0% 1%)

It’s politics, internal and external:

  • He supported every move Andrew Cuomo made, even when they were bad for us.
  • He never gave the full denunciation of Trump that other union leaders did (and avoided even saying his name)
  • The rumors and innuendo about his conservative Staten Island background keep floating out there (although they are not nearly enough to convince real Trumpers to vote for him. Lose/lose.)
  • Within the UFT leadership he takes no counsel
  • He has surrounded himself with hired non-educators, outsiders.

It’s personality:

  • He is rude at the DA’s
  • He got caught talking down to retirees
  • He sounded like he was lying to retirees
  • He’s just not – and I know this sounds shallow – very likable

This has gotten so bad that everyone knows. Everyone in Unity knows. At United for Change we constantly have to pass up the easy cheap shots – we are not just running against Mulgrew – we remind ourselves – we are running against Unity, his caucus.

Unity has taken to hiding Mulgrew. They will not let him debate Camille Eterno. They tell him to eat up all the time at the Delegate Assemblies so there is no danger of issues being discussed. They left him off their mass mailing leaflets, and hide him (small photo, lower center left) on their general leaflet. They try not to use his name. Last newspaper article I saw on UFC vs Unity, Unity wouldn’t let Mulgrew speak, and sent a vice president instead.

Interesting Election

For people who follow elections, UFT elections are usually a snore. 12 officers, 95 executive board seats, 750 delegates, none of these are a contest. There is usually a tussle over the last 7 executive board seats. The high school seats. I held one of them for 11 years.

But this year? At least those 7 seats in play, with a realistic chance for more, and an outside chance for the whole ball of wax. Observers and players alike are speculating about the margin. If Unity somehow loses votes from 2019 (83%), but stays at their 2016 level (76%), that will look like a huge victory for them. But I don’t think that is likely.

Will Unity lose some votes, or will they lose a lot of votes?

Will they take a small hit but still sail in with 72%? If that happens, there’s no mandate for change. UFT members who want something different will be disappointed. Some Unity members among them.

Of course UFC might win, and we should talk about that, a different day.

But if the votes come out and Unity wins, but takes a big hit on the numbers – and that’s what I think will happen, will that send a clear message? Will Unity adjust some of its policies? Will they find a new leader?

Stay tuned – observers. And remember to vote – members!

5 Comments leave one →
  1. David Vota permalink
    April 4, 2022 am30 6:47 am 6:47 am

    Special Education teachers, like myself, were forced back to work FIRST, along with Elementary School teachers, in September 2020.(those of us, that is, that did not hide behind a doctors note)

  2. David Vota permalink
    April 4, 2022 am30 6:54 am 6:54 am

    The vacation days they gave us was far better than cash. If it was cash for the 7 days and put into our regular pay checks, it would have amounted to nothing after being slashed by taxes. I am nearing the end of my career, so I will cash them in.

    What 50 plus year old building is equipped to handle a pandemic in the year 2020. We all know there is no air flow. We sweat it out in school in the 1970’s, there was no air conditioning.

    Pretty soon all those “filters” will be piled up in dumpsters in the backs of schools. I bet they would make great white noise machines to help me sleep better are night because they are good for nothing else.

    • mike madden permalink
      April 4, 2022 pm30 1:28 pm 1:28 pm

      David, with all due respect why are you trashing the “filters’ or air purifiers we have in the classrooms. Air purifiers are essential to good health and came to the front pages when the pandemic hit however air purifiers are a good product and we need to keep them in the classrooms to help filter all the stench from the blunts and dirty clothes that stink up the classroom

      • David Vota permalink
        April 4, 2022 pm30 1:32 pm 1:32 pm

        I understand your point. They are beneficial. I do not think they are 100 percent effective.


  1. The Retiree Vote | JD2718

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