Skip to content

Goodbye, Andy. NYSUT RA. Where’s the UFT?

May 1, 2023 am31 1:24 am

The New York State United Teachers leadership – the Representative Assembly, met this weekend. They passed a series of education-positive resolutions, and heard a bunch of speeches. This was, as far as I know, a feel good affair this year, with no major disagreements among delegates. That’s not a knock on the RA. I like those feel-good resolutions, and probably some of the speeches. Hell, I’d’ve liked being there, except, you know… My local, the UFT, uses winner-take-all elections to shut out anyone with a different opinion.

Andy Pallotta

The biggest news might have been the official retirement of Andy Pallotta, NYSUT President. You might have issues with Pallotta. He supported Unity, which I oppose. But within Unity there are people I like. He was one of them.

Andy was a District Rep in the Bronx when I was starting out. I appreciated the way he spoke to me. And he knew that I strongly supported doing more work in the field, and shared with me on several occasions how frequently he got into his schools. This is District 10, the Bronx, a huge district. Do I know how he was in the schools? No, though I assume he was better than just ok. But I know that his intentions were to get to where the members were, and those intentions are important.

One day he was organizing a march and rally to save a local middle school, and I joined it, not because it was my highest priority, but because Andy asked me. And it may not have been the best march I was on, it was pretty good, but for the UFT it had a damned good slogan: “Shut Down Klein, Not 399.” After Andy went to Albany, when I ran into him, I tried to bring him some update on one or another of his old District 10 schools (not such a stretch, since I live in the middle of the district.)

In NYC today UFT District Reps are the connection between the top leadership and the chapter leaders. They mostly answer to Mulgrew, and give directions to chapter leaders.

But NYSUT is different. It has a large bureaucracy (really, staff), but NYSUT RESPONDS to local presidents. As NYSUT President, Pallotta represented locals throughout the state. And Andy was good at being responsive to locals. This is a combination of structural (NYSUT is more responsive) and individual (Andy, even in the UFT, was more responsive than most DRs). This meant that NYSUT did things that the UFT does not, and projected a more “union” attitude. Over the years I have noted differences in endorsements, in openness, in supporting opt-out, and more. And during the pandemic, Andy’s NYSUT got the messaging better than Mulgrew’s UFT.

To read the article and play the video: Andy Pallotta delivers farewell address at

I wished Andy well months ago when I heard he was retiring, and I do so again, today. Good for him, these last six years, and leaving on his own terms.

Jolene DiBrango, NYSUT Executive VP, is also leaving. I can’t figure out if she is retiring or stepping down, but I think the latter. The little I’ve seen of her, she’s been a fine VP. And, like Pallotta, she was a real local leader. Unlike him, it was in a small district, and she spent a bigger share of her time before NYSUT in a classroom.

Net Minus

I underline that both Jolene and Andy were local leaders who were responsible to their members, and local leaders. They were elected to local positions (with the UFT it’s more complicated, since Unity suspended the election of District Reps, but I think Andy was an elected chapter leader, and he may have been elected DR before Randi pulled the plug on elections). But ok, both local leaders, both served members directly, both had significant classroom experience.

I am disappointed that their replacements, one never worked as a teacher, the other never served as a leader, neither has been directly responsible to the people they serve. Which makes it likely that they will misunderstand service – and think that local presidents and NYSUT members serve the NYSUT officers, and not the other way around. Melinda Person, new NYSUT president, worked in government and then political action for NYSUT. She’s never been a local president, district rep, chapter leader, or teacher. Jaime Ciffone, new executive vice president, was a teacher for a few years (less than ten minutes from my house, but District 11, not Andy’s district) before getting a Teachers Center job, also was never an elected leader, not a chapter leader, not a district rep. It’s as if the people making these choices went out of their way to devalue teaching and local leadership experience. Disappointing.


I don’t have a list, but from social media, it appears, embarrassingly, that in the spirit of devaluing the classroom, the UFT’s delegation was disproportionately full time union staff. I’ve talked about this before.

In the recent election, when I pointed out how few full-time teachers Unity was running for executive board, Unity got worked up. But that was a few seats. The NYSUT RA is a huge delegation – and teachers – again, from social media posts – seem to be a tiny minority. But looking at delegations from other locals – nope. It’s not “but everyone does this” – this devaluing of teaching is a UFT issue. And the Unity delegates who are still teachers – most seem to have some sort of union part time job – looking for full time. For me a union is something important, something I am part of, something I participate as part of. I never saw it as a path out of the classroom. I guess I was never really “Unity material.”

Along with that comes another problem. Assembled in Albany, at the RA, were UFT staff, UFT representatives. But many of them, not all, but some, maybe most – they call themselves “the UFT” – as if the UFT were the non-teachers in the offices, and the members are somehow below them. That’s a bad take, a bad way to think.

At the DA, or the Exec Board, members ask “what will the union do about this [whatever situation they just described]” And Mulgrew or whoever will chide them for asking what the union will do “You are the union.” In theory this is true. But in practice, it’s not how they act, not how they speak. And it’s been a problem for a long long time. Here’s the first time I wrote about it – the Bronx Office, by itself, chanting “who are we? UFT!” – no, no, no, you are staff. The UFT is the members. And they are not here.

I wish we saw some effort within Unity to reorient towards the schools. Is there any movement to recenter the work of our union around in-service members? What is the role of teachers, today, in this teachers union?

Where’s the UFT?

A few score staffers, and a handful of teachers, spend the weekend up in Albany, listening to speeches, and having a drink. They are by the rules our representatives. But they are not us. The UFT, in the majority, is at home, end of the weekend, hopefully having relaxed, getting ready for work Monday.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. May 2, 2023 pm31 4:51 pm 4:51 pm

    Thoughtful piece. Another thing–Unity says, “We do the work.” Well, they don’t. WE, the people who teach the children of NY, do the work. The people in offices are supposed to support us. Instead, they’re scrambling for ways to help out Eric Adams by giving us cheaper health care.

    • May 2, 2023 pm31 9:08 pm 9:08 pm

      Absolutely! “We do the work” is such an insult to every member in every school.
      And in a patronage system, like this, they control the support jobs.

      I should have mentioned that. Good point.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: