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

December 12, 2022 pm31 12:37 pm

I got an email from a federal investigator. He asked to talk about the UFT. November 16. I will not respond.

Part 2

(Part 1 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.

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.

A UFC complaint was drawn up that included the kitchen sink. Marginal violations. Even things that UFC candidates had done too, all were in there. And the complaint rested largely on violations of federal law, rather than on the union’s own rules and norms.

In the end, after UFC has lost the election (but won high schools) the complaint was submitted to the UFT. Most of it was rejected.

Appeals

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.

UFC – structure?

The United For Change coalition was formed to contest the spring 2022 United Federation of Teachers election. It is a coalition of several groups and caucuses within the union. Some, but not all, have defined membership. Also there are independents, like me.

During the election we made decisions using some sort of consensus. It was not perfect, but it functioned ok for the election period – platform, candidates, literature were the main issues.

So when the proposal to go to the Department of Labor came up, there were discussions between UFC members, but also in the groups/caucuses. And two of the membership caucuses said no. And a third was only willing to go ahead if there were consensus, which there was not.

As an individual, independent part of the coalition, I argued against appealing to the Department of Labor. Let me explain.

I am opposed to involving the government in union affairs.

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. The government is not a friend of the unions. Look at what just happened to the rail workers.

The government restricts unions. It restricts organizing. It routinely decides disputes against workers. It makes it hard to create a union. It limits what unions are allowed to do. It decides cases against unions and workers. And the few cases it decides in favor of workers, most are overturned on appeal. Appeal to the government. The government also restricts how unions can fight strikes. It restricts how we can get others to join unions. In New York, the state curtails our right to strike.

There’s also a history of internal interference in unions. Sometimes well meaning opposition people have looked to the government to fix unions, but ended up with a mess. The Teamsters is the first example that comes to mind (president leading a national strike, removed by the government). And I will add, I don’t care how good your intentions were, when you brought the Department of Labor into the union, you set the stage for the government interfering, at a fairly high cost to the union members. And when leaders appeal to the government to fix union problems, they are telling the rank and file that the government is a neutral arbiter, that they should trust the Department of Labor, NLRB, courts, etc. And that is a lie.

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 cannot do that while we appeal to the feds to investigate our unions internal affairs.

UFC Decision – not to appeal to the Department of Labor – so what happened?

So several caucuses that had participated in the election under the UFC umbrella did not support going to the Department of Labor. Another group, which was nominally in favor, did not support going forward without consensus. I argued fairly strongly against appealing to the government. There was not a UFC decision to make this last appeal.

But the appeal happened. The Department of Labor (not the UFC) says that individuals may make complaints about an election for union officers. And five individuals signed a complaint addressed to the Department of Labor.

Interestingly (or frustratingly, for at least me), they did not restrict their complaint to how they were treated in the election, but felt empowered (in the absence of an affirmative UFC decision) to complain about how the UFC was treated. When the Department of Labor called this a “UFC Complaint” the five individuals did not feel the need to clarify that the complaint was not originating from UFC.

No one signed who was speaking for a caucus with membership. None of the people elected to the Exec Board signed. I did not sign.

The email

I don’t know who gave the feds my email. I only have guesses. I certainly did not give my permission to share my email. And I had already made clear that I was adamantly opposed to this complaint. And I will not talk to federal investigators about my union. Hell, I doubt I would speak to feds about anything.

The Department of Labor guy 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.

But now it is clear to me that the five individuals took a non-UFC decision and acted as if they were acting on behalf of UFC. So just to clarify. No.

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