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What Would a Big Unity Win in the UFT Elections Look Like?

May 8, 2022 pm31 11:14 pm

We have a hot United Federation of Teachers election. Incumbent president Michael Mulgrew is the least popular UFT president, well, ever. The ruling Unity caucus, in power since the UFT was founded, looked weak and spineless during the pandemic. And our retirees, long a bulwark of Unity’s support, learned a year ago that Unity was forcing them off Medicare, into a private program. The retiree vote for Unity in an election as the news was breaking fell from 85% to 70%. These were danger signs.

The various opposition groups coalesced into one coalition: United for Change. (I am the High School Vice Presidential Candidate for UfC). They nominated a large number of delegates, and probably reached more members in more schools than any opposition campaign in memory.

The expectation, I am guessing, is that in this environment Unity’s vote total falls, a lot. They got 76% in 2016 (the larger oppo groups united) and lost 7 Exec Board seats (out of 102). In 2019 they won the seats back with 83% of the vote against a three-way divided opposition.

What Would Constitute a Big Unity Win?

If somehow Unity kept its vote over 70%, and held onto 100% of the exec board, that would be a big win.

What would it look like?

Maybe it turns out that 70% was their low-water mark among retirees, while retirees had just heard the Medicare Advantage news. Unity might actually raise their total a bit from there. 75%?

Sure, they might lose a few votes in each division (Elementary School, Middle School, High School, Functional), but not that many. Perhaps I have been overestimating the dissatisfaction over the pandemic? And some of the really bad policy was in 2020-21, which right now seems long ago? In 2019 they won 85%, 75%, and 64% Elementary School, Middle School, and High School respectively. They should lose votes, but maybe down to a manageable 70%, 60% and 51%, sweeping the seats (winner take all by division).

How Would They Have Pulled This Off?

They hid Mulgrew for the last four months. And maybe it worked. In December Mulgrew looked potentially the biggest vote-getter for the opposition – he was so unpopular. I begged Unity to drop him, for the good of us all, to no avail. Unity instead hid him, buried him. They canceled his events. They kept him off the campaign literature, and where they had to include him, did not make him noticeable. I went to the Unity Facebook page the other day. I could not find a single mention of him.

They shut up about Medicare. And people forgot. We have had almost two months of radio silence. Timing worked in Unity’s favor. A judge ruled in favor of retirees, and stopped the current implementation plan. But he showed the City and Mulgrew and the MLC how to work around the ruling (stop offering the old plan). But did Unity/Mulgrew jump at this? No. He is waiting for the campaign to end. They correctly judged that silence on Medicare during voting would save them votes. Just last week, after most of the ballots were cast, Mulgrew began sharpening his knife.

They put out good looking literature, with a unified theme. I wonder if they hired a pro? Seems like it. A media consultant to tell them what appeals to teachers. The irony of it. Some of the on-line stuff had serious issues with bad color choices that didn’t show, but the print stuff was fairly solid. And they did a full round of mailings, at least to ES, MS and HS teachers.

They highlighted individual members, especially in-service (and really in-service, full-time teachers, counselors, paras, etc). This gave them a better chance of having people campaign actively in schools, which they were never good at, but have gotten worse over the years.

They put pressure on supporters to cheat. We had pretty typical DR violations (mixing campaigning with union work, making it seem like voting for Unity was part of a union member’s responsibility, “branding” election work with union logos) but we had more lower level candidate violations (for example, lots of blocked access to mail boxes – which access is supposed to be guaranteed.)

And they successfully avoided a massive increase in turnout. Both sides knew that getting new voters to vote was key for the opposition. But Unity pulled every card they had – no electronic voting, no in-school voting, tricky ballot with double envelope, early deadlines for replacement ballots, conducting the election over break. They suppressed the vote. And in this scenario, they were successful, turnout barely rises.

For this to have happened, it would turn out that the United for Change outreach, while extensive, had been pretty completely ineffective. And it would mean all the new voters we think we encountered ended up not voting. And it would mean that the retirees who said they were switching to opposition changed their minds at the last minute.

What happens next?

In this scenario, Unity will draw the worst possible lesson. They will breathe a deep collective sigh of relief, and decide that all is good with the United Federation of Teachers.

Unity will decide there was nothing wrong with what they were doing. Mulgrew will remain president, for the indefinite future. Medicare Advantage will get restarted, and retirees will have to scramble to keep fighting it. Nothing will change?

Actually, something has been changing. The current course is corrosive. Unity/Mulgrew have been turning off members, badly, especially since March 2020. The support for the UFT from within the UFT has never been lower. Cynicism has never been higher.

Yes, Unity would have won. But with teacher turnout ticking up a few points, say as high as 27%, that still leaves almost ¾, a supermajority, disconnected.

Our union has been moving, slowly but steadily, in the wrong direction. The disconnect between membership and leadership has never been greater. This outcome will confirm Unity on the same path, a path to slow, steady decay of the UFT.

How Likely is this Disaster?

Definitely possible, but not very likely. United for Change has consistently received positive campaign feedback – probably not nearly enough to win it all, but more than enough to stop this doomsday scenario. Teachers are still angry about the UFT’s inconsistent advocacy during the pandemic. Even hidden, people remember it is Mulgrew running. Retirees do not seem less concerned with Medicare than they did a year ago – if anything, more of them are engaged on the issue.

Maybe a 10% chance that this happens? But I think that is high. Maybe a 5% chance – about 1 in 20. That seems right. Not out of the question, but not likely.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Mr. Kaves permalink
    May 9, 2022 am31 7:44 am 7:44 am

    Prediction: If Mulgrew wins, he will have absolutely no reason to fight fo a decent contract and we will get screwed. I agree with you 100% that if he wins he will think all is well with the UFT. (Even if he wins by a small margin)


  1. Even the incomplete results are incomplete | JD2718

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