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What if UFC Wins? #5b – leadership – Policy-Making

April 24, 2022 pm30 5:27 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, including of general policy. We want greater union democracy. But how will that look? What steps will we take?

Two Tasks of Leadership

I am discussing two varieties of leadership tasks in the union:

  • representing members, and
  • making policy.

And I treat them as separate, although there is invariable some overlap. My previous post was about representation. This one is about policy-making.

Setting UFT Policy

  • Chapter
  • Chapter Leaders
  • Officers
  • Executive Board
  • Delegate Assembly

Chapter / Chapter Leaders

Chapters and Chapter Leaders? Sure. Which SBOs to pursue, and which not to. What goals the chapter sets. What issues deserve priority. A well-functioning chapter actually joins the members and the chapter leadership in making quite a bit of local policy.

But Chapters and Chapter Leaders? You are correct. That’s not what the bulk of this post is about – just didn’t want to omit something this important.

Officers/AdCom

Day to day, the Administrative Committee meets and consults to suggest and implement policy. This is the president, the vice presidents, all the other officers. I think AdCom brings in additional department heads, and others, but I am not certain.

In theory the Administrative Committee carries out the directions it gets from the Delegate Assembly and the Executive Board. In practice, the United Federation of Teachers has been run top-down by Unity Caucus – and the AdCom tells the Exec Board and the Delegate Assembly what to approve.

The officers are directly elected by the membership as a whole. Retiree votes are capped – last time each retiree got something around 0.96 of a vote. Vice presidents are also elected by the membership as a whole, in other words, at large, even when they represent a particular division.

United for Change has not discussed any change in how AdCom is composed. We will propose that VPs be elected directly by their divisions. What sense does it make for retirees to vote on the Elementary School VP, or elementary teachers to vote for the High School Vice President? And we may propose a Vice President directly responsible for retiree issues.

The bigger changes would be in the relationship between the AdCom, the Executive Board, and the Delegate Assembly.

The Executive Board

The Executive Board meets twice each month, September through June. it is the intermediate policy setting body, in theory, and in practice.

In theory, it takes direction from the Delegate Assembly, and sets policy for AdCom. It also takes suggestions from AdCom and forwards them to the DA. It also questions officers on how policy is being implemented.

In practice the Exec Board approves directives from the AdCom, and passes them on. Unity members of the Executive Board generally sit in silence, raising their hand to signal they are voting as they are supposed to.

It is different when there are opposition representatives on the board. I was on the Executive Board for 11 years. Then, hard questions were asked. We would discuss resolutions, sometimes supporting, sometimes opposing, sometimes amending. We would bring our own resolutions. We brought members from schools who had issues that they were not getting help with, to speak at the “open mike.” That did not change the results of most of the votes, but it did change the tenor of the meetings.

But I am concerned today not about which caucus(es) have seats on the exec board. I addressed that question, somewhat, in my argument for proportional representation.

I am concerned with WHO should serve – the composition of the body.

The basics, though the numbers shift between divisions, as the balance in the schools changes from election to election: 12 elementary school, 4 middle school, 7 high school, 19 “functional”, 48 “at large” and the 12 officers, for a total of 102.

Unity tends to bulk up the board with full-time union employees, and with District Reps (who teach one class a day, same as VPs). I decided to underline this point by publishing a list of who United for Change was running, and who Unity was running, for the 48 At Large spots:

Is this an accurate picture? Does it represent a different outlook?

Some Unity supporters pointed out that United for Change is not in power now – we have no full-timers. True.

Some pointed out that District Reps are teachers. True. And that they face the same conditions in schools as any other teacher. Not quite true.

And some asked: is UFC proposing that DRs teach full teaching loads? The answer to that is – No. Absolutely not. It is appropriate and correct and best practice for the District Reps to teach one class, and only one class, to allow them some connection to the classroom, while freeing them for time to engage in representational activity.

So who should be on?

There are two major leadership tasks – representation, and policy-making. The Executive Board makes policy. That does not mean that people with representational responsibilities – one United for Change candidate suggested that District Reps do not belong – I disagree. But nor should there be an expectation that those with represent members are the best people to be making policy. It depends on the individual.

It would be better if more of the decision makers were full time in school members.

But that is not an absolute statement.

Some district reps are good at representing, and that is what they should do. But others may have an interest in shaping policy, in suggesting changes, in fine-tuning what we do. It may turn out that DRs who sit silently on the Executive Board today, actually have valuable ideas to contribute. It may turn out, if UFC wins and DRs come from several caucuses, that there are new DRs who have a knack for policy. I would not presume to exclude them.

Borough Reps even more so. A borough rep gets perhaps the fullest range of pressures and demands – from DRs, from Central, from the special offices, from Chapter Leaders, and sometimes directly from rank and file members. Does that mean that Borough Reps should automatically be on the Exec Board? No. But they are uniquely situated, and might bring good perspective. It depends on the individual.

There are offices in the UFT that run things, or administer programs. Their leaders and top workers serve those programs or offices first. I think each major office or program should be represented by someone who speaks for that office at the Executive Board, but without a say in making policy. I’m thinking foremost about pension, the welfare fund, and grievance. I might also think about political action, if there ever was a teacher in charge again. Their representatives can supply the Executive Board with valuable information – but they should not take seats, should not take part in the votes.

The Director of Grievance comes and gives reports to the Exec Board, answers questions, but does not have a seat. I think that is correct. There are two representatives of the Welfare Fund on the Exec Board. I like Geoff, and Joe has been personally helpful to me when I’ve had issues. But the Welfare Fund should be following the organization’s direction – and should be reporting to us on how things are going. It should not have vote(s) in setting policy. Pension will always have representation on the board through two officers: the treasurer, and the assistant treasurer. But that should be it. In this case there is a third rep on the Executive Board – nicest guy, helpful – this is a Unity person, and I have nothing but good things to say about David Kazansky, and on top of all else just a really decent guy – but that does not mean that reps from departments should be taking seats on the Board.

So, in response to the question, if UFC wins, won’t we have fulltimers on next election? I say yes, we will, but not nearly as many as Unity puts there.

Also, we want people who will speak up.

Further, we should look at the Functional Division. It is an assemblage of reps from many chapters. Some of those chapter are large enough – certainly retirees are, probably paraprofessionals, perhaps others – that they should be able to elect their own representatives. Large groups could be separated from Functionals, making this a more representative body.

And finally, the divisions should be larger, maybe increase each 50%. Guarantee more seats for high schools, for paras, for elementary. And do this by reducing the number of At Large seats.

The Delegate Assembly

In theory the Delegate Assembly is the highest decision making body of the United Federation of Teachers. In practice it has been a rubber stamp for the Executive Board and ultimately, AdCom.

There is no easy fix. Elect officers who are committed to developing rank and file strength would be a good start.

But the basic set-up of the Delegate Assembly is ok. Each school gets a delegate for every 100 or part of 100 members. Each school also has a chapter leader, who doubles as a second (or third, etc) delegate.

There is a problem, structural, with the Retired Teachers Chapter – they send hundreds of delegates, elected in a winner take all election. That has to stop. We need proportional representation for those delegates.

There are issues with disrespect shown towards members, with abuse of the privileges of the chair – but those are mostly not structural issues.

There are issues with rules of order, with the standing agenda, and those are worth addressing. The Delegate Assembly, if it is to set policy, needs a report from the officers that shares needed information. But Unity has perverted this into an hour and fifteen minute ramble. The business portion of the meeting is reduced to about 20 minutes, which is inadequate. Debate is short, and party line, and usually involves a quick vote, if we get to that.

For the Delegate Assembly to even begin to perform its policy-making work, it must have adequate information, and adequate time. This could be addressed by time-limiting the president’s report. It could also be addressed, in part, by restoring Chapter Leader meetings to once a month, separate and apart from the DAs. A long president’s report (still shorter than today), followed by a long question and answer would be valuable. And it would free up DA time to set policy.

Another aside: some schools give up their right to have a delegate, and hand the seat to the DR, who teaches one class in the school. This is wrong. Members should not give up their right to have voice in policy, and being a DR should not entitle someone to a seat on a policy making body.

Setting Policy II

Things today are stood on their head. The AdCom sets policy, and the DA votes yes. In a bottom-up sort of system, real feedback from the Delegates would shape policy, and would help us avoid some of the gross errors that Unity has recently been made. Top-down leads to mistakes – so why do they insist on top-down?

Not allowing people to disagree to speak means having stupid fights over stopping people from speaking. If your ideas are better, let them speak, you answer, and after debate, if your ideas are really better, you will win? Part of the top-down control seems aimed at stopping people who disagree with you from speaking.

Hell, if I were Unity, I’d let me speak. I can be 100% right, and Unity can still signal its faithful and get a lockstep vote against me. I’ve seen it happen, at the Exec Board, where they could not deny me the mike, but could still win every vote 95 – 7. If you can win any vote, any time you want, on any issues – why put so much effort into stopping people who disagree from speaking?

One Comment leave one →
  1. April 24, 2022 pm30 6:57 pm 6:57 pm

    I would expand the Ex Bd and also include full -timers to some extent but I do not not think DRs should be there. Come and report and take part in debate but not vote. Their job is to rep a lot of people and should focus on serving them not the reverse — the attitude is too often that CLs are there to do the bidding of DR passing on orders from the top. Some of it is very useful but these are people who should be able to organize people.

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