|Amy Perruso, HSTA Secty-Treasurer|
People do not give up power very easily and given the controlling role Unity Caucus plays at the city, state, national - and even international levels - expect a major battle in the courts if Unity should ever lose -- but readers of Ed Notes know that unless the UFT constitution is changed drastically to control the retiree influence and restructure the union to tamp down on at-large voting - losing for Unity is impossible.
To Unity, losing would be if MORE won ANY seats on the UFT Exec Bd even if only 5% of the seats. Or if MORE received a substantial uptick in votes that would establish a more viable opposition with deep reach into the schools. Unity will do whatever possible to prevent these things from happening.
And don't expect the constitution to change given that process must go through the Delegate Assembly and a 100% controlled UFT Exec Bd. [One good reason for MORE to try to gain a foothold on the EB - and Unity will do what it can to prevent that - even supporting 3rd party groups behind the scenes to tamp down the MORE vote.] In 1994 when the NAC coalition didn't win any EB seats, Unity used the occasion to change the election rules in their favor.
Unity doesn't really have to steal an election because it does the work before hand. The UFT/NYSUT/AFT leadership under Randi Weingarten figured out more sophisticated ways of undermine an opposition by buying them off with the offer of jobs, influence, seat at the table or helping behind the scenes to form multiple opposition groups so the membership never has the clear choice between 2 caucuses. In the 90s we saw some 3rd parties on the ballot that on the surface didn't seem to have the capability of getting enough signatures on petitions - the thought was that Unity accepted what they had or even signed the petitions for them. (I imagine a caucus can challenge the signatures if it wanted to.)
Unity prefers to have multiple opposition groups to avoid a one on one election. Years ago they made it relatively easy to get on the ballot - it looked initially like a democratic move - but we realized there was a lot of method to their "democracy." You don't even have to be a caucus to run for something - if you can get 100 signatures you can run for any position except officer. If you can get 900 signatures you can run for president.
Can Unity steal an election?
When people charge that the UFT leadership is manipulating the ballot count in union elections I always scoff. The opposition isn't close enough for them to risk stealing the election. And besides, Unity vote totals don't look so good either. But if we ever start getting close, I have no doubt they will get desperate and anything is possible. When Unity lost the high school VP election in 1985 they went to court to challenge the election - a supreme case of chutzpah. (They waited to change the rules to keep this from happening again when they had total control of the EB in 1994).
The union hires the American Arbitration Association (AAA)
to run the election. When you watch the count you notice that the UFT official in charge - often Unity Caucus leader Leroy Barr - is consulted on all major decisions regarding the vote. Clearly, the UFT/Unity is paying the AAA over many years and the AAA doesn't want to lose the contract - so anything is possible. We send observers on vote count day -- but we not on the days before when envelopes are opened. But on the whole we have rights to ask questions and watch as ballots are fed into the machine. I haven't figured out how they could corrupt this process.
But organizations hired to handle the vote have been found complicit of fraud in the past - so nothing is impossible.
One way that could is to move voting into the schools - like the contract vote - where Unity CLs can have all sorts of free reign. With 92% voting on the contract, a good case can be made for making this move to increase general election totals. That's how they vote in Chicago and when CORE won in 2010, George Schmidt handled security at the school level - to make sure the Unity-like party in power didn't get their people to manipulate the ballots at the school level.
I am opposed to school level voting at this time because Unity controls too many schools. I would stick with the current system. It is up to the opposition to create enough of an infrastructure at the school level and get out the vote - if it can't do that it doesn't deserve to win anyway.
The statewide election in Hawaii is an example of incumbents losing an election and doing a do-over. Here is a summary of Amy Perruso's report at the Newark conference. (She gave me permission to share it.)
Her campaign statement for Hawaii State Teachers Association - HSTA
Amy Perruso - Hawaii Teachers for Change
Amy’s story: She hopes we won’t have to re-learn her painful lessons. At first, didn’t have a caucus, but 3 top slate officers were activists on different issues.Here are links to the Hawaii story and others:
Corey (new pres)-contract, work-to-rule, heat abatement.
Justin-progressive dems, radical voice w/in NEA.
Amy- focused on testing and professional autonomy.
She came to UCORE last year w/ no intention of running for office. Started to organize circle. Base is statewide. Chapter is conservative, so organized more outside it. Paths began crossing. Corey already had political ambition to run for pres. asked Amy and Justin to run, faith in each other. Not from a small clique, not even sure about being on the same page. Had to push each other to hammer out parameters and shared values. Intense discussion of shared platform, primarily around fighting teacher eval. and; democratic Social Justice Uunion.
1st lesson: You need to follow all the rules and exceed them! Dot every I, cross every T, etc. double ## of petition signatures, etc.
Really didn’t expect to win, didn’t have base @ her school. Won from speaking to frustration of teachers statewide. Had already been doing the work, being the voice of opposition for a long time. Also, union was hollow, not organized.
Whole campaign was on groundwork of principles, and then union was coming out publicly with wrong answers, so we could stand up and say, “actually we think this” we didn’t anticipate how stupid leadership would be. (i.e. when a legislator said we should be paid more, union leadership chided him for “raising members expectations.”) “be ready to dance.”
Board of directors threw out election results, had another election on the last day of school. Appalling.
What to do? Culture of conformity and acquiescence, but decided to file a lawsuit, got good press coverage. Journalists had good analysis and coverage. Prestigious labor law firm agreed to do it pro-bono. Held a press conference, etc. Then won second election by even a bigger margin. Raised teacher and public awareness, outrage.
MUST SUSTAIN YOURSELF IN THE FIGHT. And know lawyers.
Pushing nationals more largely to uphold democratic unionism. When we went to court, judge said, law applies to private sector unions, not public. Still worthwhile to have threat of lawsuit. Have to be willing to appeal to the law. Lawsuit brought media, and so does having members come out in force.