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What if UFC Wins? #5a – leadership – representation

April 23, 2022 pm30 6:04 pm

The United Federation of Teachers’ leadership structure would change with a United for Change victory. But how?

Last week I printed a short piece with a list of candidates for Exec Board at Large. United for Change was mostly teachers. Unity was mostly full-time for the UFT, or District Reps, in other words, people who are not working in schools today, or are working just one class a day. And I posted in the online NYC teachers facebook page, where it got some attention.

Problem was, I had a point, but the picture is actually more complicated. A few said that once UFC was in power, our list would look the same. Several thought I was asking to make DRs teach a full class load (absolutely not!) Someone said it felt like a cheap shot, and while that was not my intent, it does leave me wanting to share fuller thoughts, potentially to generate real discussion. But in doing so, I want to talk about much more than just the Exec Board.

#5 Leadership Structure

I am the UFC candidate for High School Vice President. If we win I will be one of 12 members of the administrative committee (AdCom) and will help shape the new leadership’s agenda.

I cannot speak for our Coalition – these are decisions that need to be made. But I know our platform, and have a good idea about some decision.

We want greater rank and file voice and control of our union. We want greater union democracy. But how will that look? What steps will we take?

Two Tasks of Leadership

I will discuss two varieties of leadership tasks in the union:

  • representing members, and
  • making policy.

And I will treat them as separate, although there is invariable some overlap. In this post I will look at representation. I will save policy-making for a separate post.

Representing Members

  • Chapter Leaders
  • District Representatives
  • (Special Representatives)
  • (Further “up the chain”)

Chapter Leaders

Chapter Leaders are, for most of our members, the only union representative they interact with. Chapter Leaders are a critical part, the most critical part of our union. They must have a strong link with their members. Members vote for their Chapter Leader. That helps maintain that connection.

There has been a push over the last few years from 52 Broadway to improve how Chapter Leaders report, sometimes to their District Reps, sometimes to Central. I’ll talk about this later. But partially missing from those initiatives and discussions is how Chapter Leaders report to their members – it’s there, but without enough emphasis. There is a system for giving bonuses to Chapter Leaders who do a good job – but the categories measured are all how well the CL reports to Central or carries out directives that Central looks for. Completely missing? There is no value assigned for holding chapter meetings, for distributing minutes to chapter members. It is possible to get a top score (which is worth quite a bit of money, up to $1000) without holding a single chapter meeting or communicating with members.

Summary: Chapter Leaders are currently elected by their members. That is how it currently is, and how it should be. There is not enough emphasis on Chapter Leaders communicating with their members (sharing with the members, listening to the members). Most good chapter leaders figure this out anyway, but there should be encouragement from UFT Central.

District Representatives

District Representatives are Chapters Leaders’ first point of contact. I think most Chapter Leaders have their District Rep’s phone number, and use it. When we have issues (I’m saying “we” as a longtime Chapter Leader) the District Rep is the first one we reach out to. When I filed my first grievance for my chapter, not a particular member, and the borough office did not want to take it, it was my District Rep who fought for my school.

If the Chapter Leader is the day to day face of the union for most of our members – who do those Chapter Leader turn to each day? That is the district rep. The link between CL and DR is one of the most critical for the ongoing functioning and health of the union.

Chapter Leaders should vote for their District Reps. This is, in fact, the way things were until 2002, when Unity leadership used a disruptive Board of Education (starting to call itself the Department of Education) restructuring into regions to claim that Chapter Leaders could no longer be organized consistently into districts, so the elections were off, and from now on DRs would be appointed by the UFT president.

The relationship between District Rep and Chapter Leader, this crucial link, was, over time, badly damaged by this change. At first there was no visible difference. But as time went on, we began to lose things. CLs no longer looked at the DR as one of them, as their rep, with access and time. This was Randi’s emissary, or Mulgrew’s emissary, in their district. The DRs stopped depending on needing to meet the needs of their CLs – instead their primary responsibility was to their employer in lower Manhattan. Central sees it too. Look at all the things CLs report directly to central, bypassing the DR. Central has made it possible for DRs to be appointed who are not Chapter Leaders in the district, or not even from the District. There is no respect for the CL/DR relationship.

When I was a new CL, my second DR was appointed, but she would have been elected. She was one of us. And this was Bronx High Schools – we had been decimated by bad DoE policy, including policies designed to force our schools to close. And the union was not always properly understanding, and had in fact participated in some of the voluntary closing of schools. Yes, I am still bitter. But here we had a DR who was one of us, who we trusted to bring our concerns to staff meetings downtown, who would be our voice. But also, when our DR said something was important and had to be done, we would jump to do it. We have few, if any, of those DRs today.

Under the current presidential appointment system, we do have District Reps who serve their members well. But we also have had individual District Reps absolutely ignore the needs of their schools, and stay in the job indefinitely. Such festering sores are corrosive. They breed cynicism within our union. They eat away at this critical link. Under this system, Mulgrew gets 100% loyalty, and CLs may or may not get good representation.

Under an elected system, things would be different. Mulgrew could not count on 100% loyalty from a District Rep. But the CLs would choose someone to represent them. If that person does the job, they’d be reelected. If they don’t, they wouldn’t. Notice, by the way, if the person cannot work with the Director of Staff or the officers, odds are they could not serve their CLs well, and would be unlikely to be reelected.

To be clear, this becomes a representational, rather than a political, position. I’m going to mention a real name here – District 25 DR Lamar Hughes. I don’t think we know each other more than to nod or say hello. I’ve seen his social media during the campaign – not only has it been hardcore Unity, it has been, in my opinion, unfair. I’ll stop there. He might say the same about me. Right, you’ve got the picture. I’ve got a negative assessment of where he stands politically. But if United for Change wins the election and we move to elections for DRs, and if Lamar serves his Chapter Leaders well, I expect that he would be reelected. And if he continues to represent well, I’d expect him to be reelected again, and again, and again. And that is right, and that is good. Because the DR should not serve at the pleasure of the president, but should serve as the representative of their Chapter Leaders, the elected representative of the members in each school.

Think about it. An elected District Rep is a stronger District Rep. And a CL who helps elect their DR will also be more responsive to their DR. They will feel a sense of some control, some ownership, over the broader life of the union.

Summary: District Reps should be elected by Chapter Leaders. But they are currently appointed by Mulgrew. That should change. The link between CL and DR is critical to the health of the union. Steps (beyond election) must be taken to repair this link.

Special Reps

In the early 2000s Bloomberg and Klein created lots of small schools, mainly by destroying large schools. But this meant many more principals, and many more chapter leaders. This screwed with representation. If we went from 25 Bronx high schools to 120, even though the number of members stayed the same, the number of schools, principals, and issues – all soared.

Different boroughs tried different things at different times. But basically, special reps got brought in to spread the load. In some cases the high school district got split between DR and Special Rep. In other cases smaller high schools got spun off to district-based DRs. Some Special Reps got high schools that were tied together by type or size or theme. I experienced several models directly, and learned about many others by speaking with Chapter Leaders in other schools and other boroughs.

One model stood out as the best: In the Bronx, right after the school break-ups, a special rep came in and split the high schools with the DR. But we continued to meet as a single high school district. We preserved that relationship among our schools, our Chapter Leaders, in our borough. And while Lynne Winderbaum was my DR, and Mary Atkinson repped the other schools, there was no problem with me asking Mary something, or someone in one of Mary’s schools running something by Lynne. We remained one district, with two reps. They functioned as a team, and we avoided being fragmented. I should also add, we had pretty good meetings. Attendance could have been better, but the presentations were solid, and the questions and discussion after were rich.

I don’t know from the District Rep and Special Rep point of view if that was a successful model. I would speak to them and ask. But from a chapter leader point of view, that was better than anything that has come since. And from my point of view, better than any models being run elsewhere. If it is reasonable for the Reps, I’d like to see it at least tried in other places. And if Mary and Lynne think it wasn’t so great, I’d like to look at ways of replicating the parts that Chapter Leaders liked.

One issue with members/chapter leaders/schools being repped by special reps rather than DRs would be what would happen if we moved to elections. We (UFC) have not discussed this – and I assume that elections would be in order – but there are important distinctions between Special Reps and District Reps, and maybe we need to look closer at the details.

Further on the Chain

It is not clear to me – maybe someone inside can clarify – how information and representation works between District Reps and – hmm – who? There is a Director of Staff. There are borough offices with Borough Representatives. And there are the officers, including the president. I’m going to leave this piece alone, for now.

But a word about the borough representatives. I do not think

Chapter Leader : District Rep :: District Rep : Borough Rep

is an adequate or an accurate analogy. The borough reps have a broader portfolio than that, which includes, yes, working with DRs, but also tracking many member services, running an office, coordinating events, etc.

Part of the United for Change platform calls for moving to the election of Borough Reps. I disagree with that line in our platform. First, I don’t know who would vote. Second, if we decided, for example, all members in the borough, what would they be voting for? Since the position consists of a wide range of managerial, representational, communication, and organizational tasks, and since the position is not inherently political, I don’t think an election makes sense. We vote for mayor, but not for Commissioners of Sanitation or Transportation – and there is good reason for that. Similar here.

Next

I will follow up with a post on the other side of leadership: Policy Making.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. April 24, 2022 am30 10:24 am 10:24 am

    Very well thought out piece. And the basis of a serious discussion even if UFC doesn’t win as a way to make the union stronger. I’ve been thinking of a district level staff of sorts with locak part timers staffing the district — some office in a school — from 3-6 – maybe two or 3 days a week. Or certain cluster of schools massed together if located near each other. Build union capacity at the local level. I agree on borough reps – a key job but with input of the DRs and others. Remember wheb Debbie Poulos was pulled from the Brooklyn job willly nilly? The reps are all tied to central union policy which included not stepping too hard on CSA — I believe Debbie was pulled for that reason. We need strong local voices not dictated to by central. Even when I was CL when DR were elected we were told what to do at meetings with along agenda coming from central. No time was spent on our issues. It was all one way. I would also be more inclusive and supportive of the CL and cabinet – open those training sessions to a crew from the schools. But follow the pattern. Leadership like mayoral control to deal with one person. Same with CL — they don’t seem to want a crew — they can control one person easier.

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