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UFT Retired Teachers Chapter meeting erupts

December 21, 2022 pm31 11:57 pm

UFT Retired Teachers Chapter Meeting December 13, 2022 (last Tuesday, 8 days ago)

This meeting, which went a bit out of control, has not yet been reported on. So that’s what I’ll do.

First, I was not there. I am not a retiree (though on my way). I spoke to or corresponded with seven people who attended – some Retiree Advocate (RA) people who played a big role, RA people who played smaller roles, and some people who do not belong to RA. That being said, all who spoke with me, including those who are not RA members, are opposed to the changes in healthcare the union leadership (Unity caucus, Mulgrew) are trying to push on the retirees; they are opposed to moving to Medicare Advantage (MA).

Second, there are two Unity people mentioned by name. I know both of them. I like both of them. Nothing here is personal. Even in their roles as Unity members, they kind of did what they were supposed to do. I’m not going to edit out the frustration that retirees felt, but understand, they were playing a role, it’s not them personally.

On the other hand, I’m not sympathizing with their politics. Both are wrong on this very important issue (preserving real Medicare for retirees). And they’ve both done stuff – I’ve seen John Soldini (former High School VP) shut down voices he disagreed with at high school meetings, and I’ve seen Vinny Gaglione (former Bronx Borough Rep) get up at Delegate Assemblies (more than once) and turn a 30 second motivation into a 7 minute speech in order to run out the clock and prevent voices he disagreed with from speaking. When they do things that I think are wrong, I say so. But I don’t think that happened last Tuesday.

Quick Story

I’m going to delay my telling of the events, to tell a story about Vinny Gaglione (who chaired the meeting). This is not about his character, or about his politics, it’s just a story I like.

Almost twenty years ago I was working for Lehman College, teaching Teaching Fellows who were going to become math teachers, but did not have math or allied degrees, and needed some brush up. Now, I wasn’t working for the Fellows directly, which gave me a little extra freedom. I used it, near the end of the term, to bring in a guest, who would tell them a little about surviving in the system. What good is it to train someone in pedagogy if we are not going to give them the tools to keep teaching more than a year or two? The person I invited was my District Rep, Lynne Winderbaum. And Lynne brought with her Vinny Gaglione. (The year before I brought in David Shulman, my previous DR, who sadly passed away over a year ago.)  At some point one of my students, a young man in his twenties, looked at Vinny and asked “Did you teach at PS__? “  I’m not putting in a __ to keep the school anonymous. I don’t remember. But I do remember Vinny’s response: “Noel?” – he remembered his student from 1st or 2nd grade from two decades earlier. Anyway, not related to the topic at hand, but I like the story.

The meeting

Retired Teachers Chapter (RTC) meetings this year have all involved some degree of conflict over the Medicare Advantage (MA) proposal. The union leadership (Unity) has been pushing to 1) negotiate a Medicare Advantage program, first with “the Alliance” (Emblem + someone else) and now with Aetna, 2) force retirees to join said program, 3) make retirees pay to opt out of MA, 4) to change the law so they can force retirees to pay to opt out. Understandably, retirees are not happy with this.

There have been disagreements over facts and over intent at each RTC meeting. And while Unity “wins” the debates (Unity controls the microphone), the number of retirees who have followed this has alarmed Unity. They know they lost a lot of retiree votes in the last RTC election, and the last UFT-wide elections. And they know their arguments do not have a lot of resonance. They lose support each time they debate.

But this meeting, they thought, would be different. December. Holiday Season. They lined up a number of festive events and presentations. Tom Murphy was not there.

But the Medicare Advantage push was still going on. It did not stop for the holidays. Retiree Advocate (RA) leaders asked to bring forward a resolution. Vinny said no, there was no mechanism for remote voting, but the RA people could speak to it during the open mike.

As you will see, it took a long time to get to the question period. But when they got there, all of the comments were about Medicare, nothing else. Vinny tried to direct conversation elsewhere – he did not succeed. He had sent out a notice in advance that this meeting was not about health care. No matter. He called on people who were not RA – and they surprised him by speaking against the Unity healthcare scheme. He called on a longtime Unity member, who got heckled. And cornered, he abruptly ended the meeting, half an hour early, without bothering with a motion to adjourn.

Eyewitness Accounts:

These are all direct quotes from written and oral accounts of people who participated, in person or via zoom.

Before the Meeting

My group, Retiree Advocate/UFT, gave out our literature, as always

We gave out the literature before they went in. They had the resolution on the back.

They agreed to let us bring up the resolution during the open forum, but no way to hold a vote.

The written resolution was apparently given out to the attendees.

We approached Vinny before the meeting.  We gave him a copy of the reso that we would introduce, and we wanted to place it on the table. He agreed (since it was a reso). We would like to motivate it. Vinny said ok, but since there is no motion period it would have to be during open mike.  We would hand it out. Motivate it. Little discussion. He agreed. I stood by the table to make sure they didn’t throw anything out.

Holiday presentations – various takes

I enjoyed seeing the videos or the knitting group from Si Beagle, as well as Marty Raskin’s fascinating school memorabilia

The whole time I was like “they are just wasting our time” they did not want anything substantial to happen at that meeting.

The rest of the meeting was a holiday kind of meeting. UFT chorus. Si Beagle. Art teachers.

They filibustered the meeting. They had a former teacher give a history of artifacts he had about the history of the board of education. For about 45 minutes. I wanted to shoot myself. And a few people spoke. And the UFT Chorus. Holiday songs.

The first part of the meeting was a holiday presentation, with caroling and arts and crafts presentations.

The meeting for the first 75 minutes – I think it was literally designed to kill retirees with boredom so the City no longer had to pay for our health care.  There was a looong video presentation by a quilling instructor. Next there was a presentation with slides of some guy’s collection of NYC public school memorabilia – it went on, and on, with two lengthy introductions. There was a talk about UFT professional committees. Then they moved up the chorus – once cute old people start caroling, I mean, how can you stop them?

Question Period: RA Speaks

At very end of meeting, Gloria gave an intro and Bobby was allowed to motivate the resolution, although he was rushed by Vinny Gaglione, who chaired the meeting

Gloria spoke. She was very good. Laid out some of the arguments for passing this resolution. Bennett wrote a summary, and I read it out.  “Don’t Amend 12-126” with some reasons. I finished. Gloria sat down. I sat down. And all hell broke loose.

When I got to the end there were people cheering me – I’ve never had that happen before. My main point was that a campaign has been underway by our union leadership – but no one in our union has ever had any say – we never voted on this at the DA, at an RTC, at an Executive Board. We didn’t have a democratic process.  When I got to the ending I got dramatic “never have we voted on this. Not at an exec board. Not at a delegate assembly. Not at an RTC. And certainly not the entire membership” And there was cheering. People I did not know were supporting us.

But he did offer us a chance to speak about the resolution during the open-mic question period, and two Retiree Advocate members, Gloria and Bobby, did just that.

Question Period: Retiree Comments

Five speakers. All on this. All very upset at the leadership. Very angry. Some of our people shouted out, and I tried to calm them down. Let the people speak. Everyone calmed down, and we all sat and watched.

Then he called on somebody from Zoom – but also supported us.

They asked questions. It got raucus. I’ve been paying dues all my life. And this is what you do now with the copays we’re getting? People were yelling out.  Soldini got up. That damned guy keeps going with this bullshit, making excuses. Choice, choice.  These were people I didn’t know. They weren’t Retiree Advocate. Just regular people from the audience.

Virtually watching Retiree mtg. Vince G just told attendees that since “we” had heard from both sides of health care issue that remainder of comments CANNOT be on health care. He is getting push back.

Then John Soldini raised his hand and of course was recognized. He gave the elected spiel (We must pass this amendment to preserve “choice”, negotiating on health-care is only a “tradition”, blah blah blah”. I couldn’t control myself and yelled out “That’s not true”. I was immediately censured by Vinny for “calling out”

People began raising their hands, calling out questions about healthcare, and accusing union leadership of withholding information and lying to us. It was rather like those British House of Commons debates that CSPAN carries. John Soldini spoke in favor of union leadership, but was interrupted many times. The chairman tried to stop it. He told us that we had already debated healthcare at past meetings. Many outbursts followed, and not from members of any political group, but from random, angry, scared, and pissed-off seniors who know bullshit when they hear it and were letting Vinny know it.

 I was disturbed by the brusque & haughty attitude shown by those bureaucrats monopolizing what is billed as a ” general membership” meeting. I thought it was more important to deal with the valid concerns a vast number of retirees have about the way the UFT brass continues to sidestep/ minimize the huge issue of the union forcing members to accept privatization of our Medicare!. I realize they forewarned attendees that the issue was already dealt with at the Dec 7 Delegate Meeting- but that is just another lame excuse to avoid criticism! 

The chairman tried to stop it. He told us that we had already debated healthcare at past meetings and that the remainder of the question period must be reserved for talk about the holidays. This, naturally, drew more derisive comments from the crowd. No one was having it. It was condescending. We were being treated as if we were in a nursing home and had been wheeled into the sunroom for the holiday entertainment.

Vince was actively trying to silence those in the room who were appropriately addressing their concerns with current health care direction. There was one person who spoke then after her turn raised her voice over others BUT that was only one person. Other speakers were recognized and spoke their piece and then sat. Vince literally told us that after the first couple of questions/statements that he would not call on anyone who would address health care. He was dictating parameters of member questions. It was atrocious and did not respect the members, the retired members who literally are the backbone of this union.

Adjournment

Vinny didn’t know what to do. Finally called on John Soldini. Unions’ position. People started shouting him down. John got very upset. And they called the meeting and left.

He didn’t make it to the end of the meeting. It fell short of the two hour mark. (which is what had been scheduled)

The virtual meeting was suddenly ended. It just wasn’t there anymore. In my opinion it seemed as if discussion, questions and opinions opposing “UFT” position based on Mulgrew’s statements during Town Hall are not welcome.

After a few more raucous minutes the chairman adjourned the meeting, a full twenty minutes before the automatic adjournment time (and without anyone having offered a motion to adjourn)

But Vinny immediately cut off discussion and that’s when the ruckus started. People calling out all manner of things, Democracy now, You don’t have to protect us from political speech, Let them speak, others can probably fill in more shouts.

The Agenda

My Conclusion

My thoughts: except for adjourning early, I see no major fault with Vinny, except for the huge political error – being wrong on Medicare. The Retiree Advocate people dealt with Vinny in advance, got an agreement, and abided by the agreement. With just one exception, none of the heckling or shouting out was RA.

The real story here is retirees, regular retirees, mad as hell, not going to take it anymore.

11 Comments leave one →
  1. Anonymous permalink
    December 22, 2022 am31 10:16 am 10:16 am

    I understand your reluctance to criticize those you’ve worked with in the past and considered friendly acquaintances or actual friends. Gandhi said something about the impossibility of trying to separate a person from his actions. He basically said one can’t be a righteous person and do unrighteous things. If people join a political/national/etc. party – one really can’t rationalize that decision with the direction and results of that said party. For India/Ireland/South Africa/Germany (just to name a few) it was the British government/army, for Dietrich Bonhoeffer it was the Nazi party and for many of us its the Unity party. I believe there needs to be an extreme change in the direction of that said party or it may bring down the entire institution – which may not be such a bad thing. If people are continually shut out from democratic processes and don’t have a voice, they will most certainly stop funding said institution, especially if that institution works directly against us. While this is something that many may not want to see – it may facilitate the extreme change needed. Excellent post.

    • December 22, 2022 pm31 12:55 pm 12:55 pm

      The subject of the post were the retirees – the unaffiliated retirees – who refused to stay quiet, to stop asking about Medicare.

      In that context, does it matter whether I criticize John or Vinny?

      • Anonymous permalink
        December 22, 2022 pm31 1:54 pm 1:54 pm

        It doesn’t at all to me, but you attempted to temper presumed assumptions concerning John and Vinny. Why?

        • December 22, 2022 pm31 8:35 pm 8:35 pm

          Vinny made an agreement with Gloria and Bobby, allowing them to present their resolution. Vinny kept his side. RA kept its side. (No one knew that such a wave of enthusiasm to talk about Medicare was going to sweep the meeting. )

          And all John did was get up and try to give the Unity line, and get shouted down.

          I disagree with their politics. But John certainly did nothing wrong, and I would argue that Vinny’s initial fairness outweighs the rest of what happened.

          But most of all, the post wasn’t about them, and I did not want to let it become about them.

          Retirees, without prompting or organization, refused to let the meeting move off of the issue of Medicare Advantage. That, and not the names of individuals, is the story.

  2. Anonymous permalink
    December 22, 2022 pm31 9:13 pm 9:13 pm

    Thank you for reporting it and for your insights.

  3. lucapaul@tutanota.com permalink
    January 15, 2023 pm31 4:43 pm 4:43 pm

    Is there a blog for conflicts of interests? Collusion?

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