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An email I will not answer (Part 1 of 2)

December 10, 2022 pm31 7:22 pm

From a federal investigator. To talk about the UFT. It was a few weeks ago. I will not respond.

He wanted me to call him, to speak about last spring’s United Federation of Teachers (UFT) election. From the Department of Labor. I didn’t say no. I just won’t respond.

(Part 2 is here)

Spring UFT Elections

Back in the spring, my coalition ran against the entrenched UFT leadership. I was the United for Change candidate for High School Vice President.

In lots of ways the election was rigged against us. Unity (the entrenched leadership’s “caucus”) holds all the levers of power. Every union staffer a regular member encounters – at the welfare fund, in the borough offices, in grievance, or our own district reps and special reps, belong to Unity. Plus the rules have been rigged over the years. I was running for HS VP, won the majority of the high school votes, but was defeated in a system where retirees and elementary teachers cast more votes for HS VP than actual high school teachers do.

Unity uses its advantages. It uses the unfair rules. And it uses its staff. And it crosses the line into territory that’s clearly not allowed. They do it every election. In the past I’ve been part of campaigns that has called them on flagrant violations. And they usually draw back.

Spring 2022 Complaint

In this spring’s campaign Unity pulled its usually stuff. And members of my coalition began to assemble a complaint, or a group of complaints. But these were not just about staffers campaigning on union time (a big no-no). This complaint also included things about UFT reps discussing the election on Facebook. I was not comfortable with that sort of complaint – we all talk on Facebook.

In the end a UFC complaint was drawn up that included the kitchen sink. Pages of items included Facebook, and Twitter, and Instagram, generally insubstantial. Every time a Unity candidate appeared in the New York Teacher – complaint. Conflict at the Delegate Assembly? In the complaint. There were 31 pages with 32 points and 29 subpoints, plus over 40 pages of appendices.

I was quite uncomfortable with the complaint resting on violations of federal law and chancellors regs, rather than on the union’s own rules and norms. As we will see, that discomfort was not ill-founded.

Some of the violations were clearly violations. I contributed three items (people brought them to me). I believe the UFT, which dismissed most of the UFC complaint, did find merit in two of the three items I added (and the third was dismissed because the violation had been committed orally, and not reduced to writing).

Some of the complaint was not just trivial, but wrong. A host of complaints about chapter leaders (not employees) made me very uncomfortable. In some instances CLs were being cited for telling their members which caucus they preferred. I am glad this group of complaints was rejected – they would have a chilling effect on all chapter leaders, regardless of caucus, who need to speak openly and freely with their members. I objected, pointing out that I as a chapter leader had engaged in practices that were being complained about, to no avail.

We have bad precedent here. In 2016 both sides, Unity on one, MORE/New Action on the other, had actively encouraged voting. This is important in a union with horribly low turnout. Several chapter leaders offered cookies or a bottle of water to any member who brought in and filled out their ballots on a specific date. (Members filled out their own ballots as they saw fit – the prize was for voting, not for voting the “right” way). Several chapters organized a ballot “drop off” where one member collected SEALED ballots and dropped them in a mail, or where a group from the chapter walked together to the mailbox, and made a show of casting the chapter’s ballots. What a cool way to build camaraderie. But in 2016 Portelos (sore loser) complained about these practices. I voted against his complaint. But in the aftermath the union in an overabundance of caution banned “cookies for ballots” and “walks to the mailbox.”

In the end the complaint was submitted to the UFT. Most of it was rejected – but a few items (Mostly reps mixing union business with Unity campaigning) were found to have occurred and be violations of our practices. I think the reps were admonished not to do so again – not much of a consequence, but still, public. And there was no question in my mind, in most of our minds, that the sum total of the violations did not change the result of the election. (UFC won the high schools, Unity won the other divisions, and overall).


And then the complaint was appealed to the American Federation of Teachers (AFT, our parent union). That’s an understandable next step.

And then there was a proposal to appeal beyond the AFT, to the federal government, to the Department of Labor. Here’s where the original complaint resting so heavily on federal law comes into play. It was designed from the start, it seems to me, to go to the feds.

The Federal Government and Unions

I am opposed to government interference in unions. Even where something has gone wrong (and yes, I believe that Unity abuses its power), it is up to us, internally, to address. I’m not a fan of the approach of organizing a new union where an old one is decrepit, but that doesn’t involve the government, and things could reach that point.

But the government is not a friend of the unions. Imagine an overseer telling me, a chapter leader, how I can communicate with my members. Imagine that we won the election – and we wanted to consider breaking the Taylor Law, and a federal overseer forbidding us from discussing that with the membership. That’s pretty easy to imagine. The government does NOT have any interest in a strong union. To the extent that they see violations of union democracy, they see them as an opportunity to interfere in the day to day functioning of the union.

I did not need early December’s events to convince me. But they should be a wake up call to all of us. Rail workers have been pounded since the pandemic began. They need sick days. They have none, wanted seven. (Seven over twelve months. New York City teachers, whose jobs do not take us out of town, get ten in ten months). Bargaining broke down.

But before they could strike, Biden and congress got into the act. The House passed a bill on November 30 imposing a contract. The weasels, Democrat and Republican, passed a separate resolution calling for more sick days. They knew by dividing the measures they could look like they supported sick days, but that the Senate and president would safely remove them. On December 1 the Senate passed a bill making a strike illegal. And December 2 Biden signed it all. Rail workers had been sucker-punched – by the feds. They had a government-imposed contract. Without the sick days they desperately need.

We need to warn workers that the feds are not our friends. That in matters of labor against bosses, the federal government has a side, and it is not ours. We can’t do that while we appeal to the feds to investigate our unions internal affairs.

The email

I don’t know who gave the feds my email. When I got the email November 16 I asked a blogger – who clearly had not given them my info. So I am left with only guesses. I certainly did not give my permission to share my email. And I will not talk to federal investigators about my union.

(Continued in Part 2)

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Anonymous permalink
    December 11, 2022 pm31 3:09 pm 3:09 pm

    I understand and respect your views. There comes a point -and I’m not sure if the Uft has reached that point yet- where the scales are tipped toward massive illegality and de facto racketeering. My father‘s union which was the Carpenter’s Union 608 had many similarities to the UFT. The feds did investigate it and unfortunately did close it down. It’s president and the upper echelon went to jail. Another union absorbed 608’s members. I had hoped that the Feds would clean house and allow what was once a great union to continue with its members restructuring. The UFT, as an organization and dictatorship has a reckoning coming one way or the other.

    • December 12, 2022 pm31 4:05 pm 4:05 pm

      The government is not neutral here. Even if they swept out some corruption (and yes, there is plenty), they would damage us. That’s just what they do. It’s another part of the government (with our leadership’s cooperation) that is pressing Medicare Advantage. It is another part of the government that allows teachers not to be union members (before Janus allowed – see that – it wasn’t “Janus” – it was the government – we name the case, not the actor – before “Janus” allowed them not to pay dues). Another part of the government took away our right to strike. And that Medicare Advantage crap? It’s another part of the government that’s pushing MA, hard.

      And to be sure: NYC government and OLR. US Congress. US Supreme Court. NY Legislature. Current US President. They are bipartisan against the interests of labor.

      Yeah, I agree the UFT has a reckoning coming. When we are strong enough to deliver it. Us, ourselves.

      • Anonymous permalink
        December 12, 2022 pm31 7:08 pm 7:08 pm

        To be clear you are under no obligation to answer that email. that’s a message you should probably share with others. They are fishing and will probably catch something from the very people that have something to hide. Perhaps Mulgrew volunteer the answers. I sincerely hope you are correct that the Uft receives its ‘just’ dues from its members. The only type of dues they deserve. Cheers.


  1. An email I will not answer (Part 2 of 2) | JD2718

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