Thursday, January 11, 2007

ICE Platform: Union Democracy -Updated

We need a union that is structured to insure that no matter who is elected to leadership they will be accountable to those of us who are working in the schools. An active, well-informed and honestly represented membership is the necessary backbone of a union that is capable of standing up to the attacks on teachers, children and the public schools.

Instead, what we have is a union that has gotten progressively weaker, a teaching staff that is defenseless, demoralized, disengaged from unionism and resigned to tolerate all manner of abuse, and now fears that any change will be for the worse. A large part of the problem is the fact that our union is led by people who are removed from the reality of our schools.

Since its inception in the early 1960s our union has been dominated by one group, Unity Caucus which constantly adjusts its methods to insure that it monopolizes decision-making. President Randi Weingarten knows how to portray herself as a concerned and responsible leader at union meetings and in the pages of the NY Teacher, but her number one concern is to manage the membership rather than advocate for us and represent our interests.

The three levels of decision-making in our union are the ADCOM (citywide officers), the executive board, and the delegate assembly. All three are tightly controlled by the overwhelming presence of Unity Caucus members, who rubber-stamp all of President Weingarten’s policies, even when they themselves disagree.

In order to make each one of these bodies more representative and democratic we propose the following:

  1. Divisional vice-presidents (high school, middle school, etc.) should be elected by those they serve, members in their respective divisions.
  2. The number of at-large members of the executive board should be reduced and a method of proportional representation should be used to elect them, with seats awarded to caucuses on the basis of their proportion of the vote.
  3. The number of retiree members of the delegate assembly should be reduced and their election should also be on the basis of proportional representation.
  4. District representatives (a full time UFT position to support the chapter leaders and members in a district) should be elected.
  5. Every issue of the NY Teacher should be opened to opposing viewpoints, with space available for the printing of statements both for and against ratification of proposed contracts.
  6. All caucuses (political parties) who have met requirements to run in an election should be able to mail at least one piece of literature to all the members at union expense during election time. All caucuses should have access to teacher mailboxes for distribution of union-related literature and each caucus should be able to email campaign literature during the election. (Rejected by Weingarten at the Jan. 9, 2007 Ex. Bd. meeting, ICE will continue the fight for this right throughout the elections and beyond.)
  7. There should be an open microphone at all union meetings.
  8. Retirees should not vote for UFT officers, who are responsible for negotiating the contract for active members. But they should vote for the three teacher members of the Teachers Retirement System Board, something they presently cannot do.

Most important for democracy is an underpinning of active school chapters where meetings are held monthly and school issues are discussed openly. Chapter leaders are there to protect the interests of the members with respect to the administration and also to see that the flow of information between the chapters and the various levels of leadership of the union travels on a two-way street. This means that chapter leaders must do everything possible to encourage attendance at meetings and to carry out the wishes of the members, both within the school and as a representative to other union bodies. It is the concerns of chapter members, who are the best informed about the issues, that should be driving union policy.

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