Monday, January 1, 2007

Inside the UFT Negotiating Committee

From the very beginning we have maintained the 350 member UFT negotiation committee was basically bogus -- the usual gimmick by Unity Caucus to give the appearance of democracy. I met a former chapter leader at recent robotics tournament who is not affiliated with any opposition group and she concurred, saying from the first meeting it was clear Randi Weingarten was manipulating things. She said if there had never been a committee the recent contract would have been no different. Even Jonathan, one of the New Action people said basically the same thing on his blog ("I don’t think we got a better contract because of this mode of negotiating, but I don’t think we did any worse, and the involvement of teachers is a big positive.") He got the first part right.


The following was posted as a comment on the ICE blog and is well worth reading. Would you be shocked to see Unity attack TJC for breaking "non-disclosure" after Weingarten did just that by announcing to the DA how Jeff Kaufman voted.
I bolded the damning statement:
"When the Unity position won, Weingarten suggested TJC should no longer be on the Negotiating Committee."


Inside the UFT Negotiating Committee

by Megan Behrent, Peter Lamphere, Kit Wainer

We are three members of Teachers for a Just Contract, who were part of the 300 -member Negotiating Committee. We took part in order to take advantage of whatever opportunities it presented to assure UFT members a “just contract.”

President Randi Weingarten and the UFT leadership have been trying to establish the legitimacy of this new proposed contract by presenting the negotiating process as “more democratic and inclusive than ever,” and the negotiating committee as “mostly rank-and-file members” with “representatives from all school levels, the functional chapters and every union caucus.”

While technically accurate, the picture it suggests of open, democratic discussion with input coming from the grassroots and free give and take among the caucuses, is false.

From the very first meeting, President Weingarten and her ruling Unity caucus absolutely dominated the proceedings. It was not unusual for Weingarten to talk for hours, and to speak at length after each and every person had spoken from the floor. No idea except those that came from members of the dominant Unity caucus was allowed to be given serious consideration.

Here are just two examples of how proposals that came from outside Unity were handled. The first proposal was even adopted later when it was proposed by the Unity leadership.

At the first meeting of the Negotiating Committee in April, Marian Swerdlow of TJC made a motion to reject “any and all givebacks.” Representatives from both New Action and Weingarten’s Unity caucus spoke against this. It was said that this would be “refusing to negotiate” and would violate the Taylor Law. The ludicrousness of this criticism was exposed during the summer when DC 37 negotiated a no givebacks contract and at that point, the UFT negotiating committee did adopt this “illegal” position. However, in April, the threat that this was illegal frightened the independents on the committee into defeating the “no givebacks” resolution. The majority of the Negotiating Committee, as members of the Unity caucus, were required to vote against the resolution, since Weingarten opposed it.

In the fall, Kit Wainer of TJC proposed that the UFT adopt the position that the Department of Education could not dictate educational methods to teachers. President Weingarten prejudiced the discussion by claiming this was an “ideological position,” as if it were any more or less ideological position than any other bargaining demand. As if that were not enough, she again played the “fear card,” claiming illogically that this position could lead to teachers getting disciplined. Again, the independents were frightened and manipulated into voting against a position that was clearly in the interests of UFT members, and of course the Unity majority automatically supported Weingarten’s position.

What is perhaps the UFT leadership’s most outrageous claim about the Negotiating Committee is that no one on the Committee raised the proposal to “win back what we gave back.” Although it has not so far appeared in print, this is being used by Unity members all over the city in what are clearly coordinated “talking points” to discredit TJC’s position that the contract should have restored at least some of what we lost in 2005. Many of the Unity members making this criticism were not even members of the Negotiating Committee.

This Unity criticism of TJC is totally false. At the September 13 meeting of the Negotiating Committee, Peter Lamphere of TJC called for a campaign to restore the givebacks, and argued that this goal would energize and mobilize the union’s membership. Weingarten and other Unity leaders reacted with great hostility. At the October 25 Negotiating Committee meeting, he repeated this call, focusing on eliminating the requirement that teachers work the two days before Labor Day. Weingarten recognized that Lamphere was calling for nothing less than a completely different strategy for the contract campaign, a strategy of mobilizing the membership to fight to restore givebacks and to make gains. She called for an immediate vote by the members of the Negotiating Committee on whether to “stay the course,” or to adopt Lamphere’s strategy. When the Unity position won, Weingarten suggested TJC should no longer be on the Negotiating Committee. In the light of how strongly Weingarten and Unity reacted, it is ludicrous for them now to claim that no one on the Negotiating Committee suggested we should be fighting to restore the givebacks.

One of the reasons that we joined the negotiating committee was out of the hope that it would be a tool for mobilizing our members in a fight for a better contract. The reverse turned out to be the case: this contract has come with even less mobilization than the last one. This is a fact that Mayor Bloomberg even bragged about at the Nov 6th press conference, when he argued that this contract shows how it “doesn’t work to yell and scream.” We in TJC feel the exactly the opposite: that we must organize our members for action to present the credible threat of a strike if we ever want to win a contract that goes beyond the low expectiations of recent concessionary deals. Our members volunteered on two separate occasions for an “action committee,” that was supposed to coordinate mobilization efforts, but after a brief initial meeting in the spring, this committee never convened.

There is one last point we want to make. We participated in the Negotiating Committee despite our reservations over the “secrecy provision” in the “Negotiating Committee Membership Agreement” we had to sign. We had to promise information would “not be disclosed during negotiations.” Since negotiations are now concluded, this part of the agreement is no longer in effect. We also agreed to a “confidential relationship” with other members of the committee. Having watched President Weingarten and other Unity leaders reveal in public meetings (most conspicuously Weingarten at the November 8 Delegate Assembly) how various opposition members of the Negotiating Committee spoke and voted in its meetings, we must conclude that this confidentiality agreement is likewise no longer in effect. Nevertheless, the only names we have used are our own and President Weingarten’s.

9 comments:

  1. As a member of that comittee, I have to say I disagree. The problem with the ICE/TJC position is that they can't get over the popularity of this contract. Hence I repeat sour grapes. I read what was on the TJC website account of the negotiating committee and it was full of lies. It's one thing to dislike something but to smear it is another. That's the truth. I guess if ICE and TJC keep saying the negotiating comittee was a hoax, they can justify their position against it. I think. If you stop beating this "dead horse" position and deal with the main issues which are explained over on the UTP blog (Times are a Changing) it might seem like your coalition would be able to run the UFT. Here we go again: Continuous "loop" ICE to TJC "it was a hoax" TJC to ICE "it was a hoax". Give it up already.

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  2. To say "sour grapes" so misses the point.

    Calling TJC liars without citing where they lied means nothing. Cite chapter and verse.

    I would like to see members of the committee point to where the contract contained any of their input. It's not a hoax. It's manipulation of the membership.

    If you believe that committees set up by Weingarten are truly honestly run -- the testing, mayoral control, etc. then that point of view means she is doing the best that can be done. I can respect that and it aligns with where many people in Unity stand. So why do you oppose Unity supposedly? Do you say the reason is "no democracy?" How can you if this was truly a democratic process?

    At one point on the UTP site you say how can we be for democracy and oppose something that 90% were for? Since Randi got 85% of the vote 3 years ago can't you say the same thing about this election? Why run?

    This is not about the contract but the way Unity operates.

    We were against the 2005 contract.
    The 2006 contract extended the contract we opposed.
    The opposition to the contract is the beginning of the campaign against Unity not a substitute.

    An opposition that we are hoping to be part of should not stand for a contract like this and even if being opposed is unpopular, we should lead not follow. If 7500 people agree with us that is a good start on building such an opposition. That is the base plus those who opposed the 2005 contract but went for this with a gun to their heads.

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  3. Have you spoken to any one else on the committee who didn't share your point of view. The problem is many will not break confidentiality. I am not trying to debate you, I'm commenting on your post. Never said the Weingarten Committees are totally democratic. Where they were democratic, I wil give my opinion. When they're not I give my opinion. There needs to be opposition to tyrannical reign when it exists. As for being against unity or any other caucus, that is my perogative as a Independent. My goal is helping to create the strongest Union possible. That to me includes speaking to truth and fiction.

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  4. As for chapter and verse. I will not break confidentiality to expose where they were untruthful. There is no other alternative to UNITY at this time except TJC/ICE. I am glad for this. It's starting to keep them "honest". Independents are useful in keeping everyone "honest".

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  5. Norm you have admitted to not voting in support of any contract since 1970. So it isn't at all anything about the last 2 contracts and wheter they are "good" or not. Tou are against everything. Furthermore, the fact that you admit that "opposition to the contract is the beginning of the campaign" goes to show that you really don't care about the membership but about the politics.

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  6. Anon 10:07:
    This has been a constant refrain - that it's all about politics. How do you define politics? You seem to be implying that my consistent No votes on the contract for 30 years was "political." Meaning that I really believed they were good contracts? That my vote was dishonest?

    I was not active in any opposition group all that time, certainly not from early 80's until ICE was formed at the end of 2003. I voted NO in 2002 right before I retired.

    I always looked for improvements in working conditions and basically saw all contracts after the early 70's as being about money only. The money generally wasn't enough to make me feel they were good contracts. So how is that political?

    Following your reasoning, as Justdatruth says, if we were being political and knowing full well that the vote would be in the 90% range we would have tapped into it. New Action plays that political game. Shulman and Dehler supported the 2005 contract on the negotiationg committee but when New Action saw the tide against they quickly switched tactics and came out with a leaflet at the DA opposing it but did nothing active in the campign other than that since Randi is their main political focus and they needed her support to get back in the game. Of course, this time they supported the contract.

    Now, since we've been here before on other blogs, your next post should talk about how I an retired and enjoying my pension and have no right to comment while you are slaving away and need the money and don't want to pay for class size reductions or other working conditions imrovements, etc, etc.

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  7. I've posted on Ice and NYCeducator, but this is my first time on Ednotes. Let me just say thank g-d for your voices. I can't remember the philosopher, but he is famous for his concept about what kind of world would be created if you could somehow erase all pre-conceptions and start from a blank slate and create a new society completely from scratch with absolutely no preconceived notions. I somehow suspect that if you put a bunch of great minds together in a room and asked them to create the ideal union, it wouldn't look anything like ours. In fact I think it would look just about the opposite.

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  8. UnityMust Go:

    What you say strikes a chord. Attempting to create ICE over the past 3 years as sort of a blank slate from scratch (as the anti-Unity) with people who did not know each other and with many people who had been averse to joining groups in the past, plus people who left New Action and others from other active political groups has been enlightening.

    Bending over backward to be as democratic as possible (if we challenge Unity we don't want to recreate the monster) has also resulted in a somewhat inefficient way of operating. Finding that balance is still elusive but I feel that any movement that grows around the idea of a challenge to Unity must think hard and long about how they operate within the group and externally.

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  9. On behalf of a stronger Union. New Action was only able to capture high school seats in the years they were a viable opposition party. I rarely voted with them at the DA. TJC/ICE has those seats now I believe. I don't think TJC/ICE with their overall political stance will do any better. Thank you Norm for making the the ICE/TJC position more clear. I think there is a great divide between the needs and voting patterns of the High School Division and JHS and Elementary School. Unfortunately I don't think you will do any better than the 10% you got on this contract vote in the elections primarily due to that divide, Unity or no Unity. People are entitled to their principals. The caucuses can do what they want. I'm splitting my vote. I'm not saying that the ICE/TJC platform is wrong. Please comment on the following : It seems that many members share some but not all of the principals of the ICE/TJC platform. Does that mean we don't deserve better than we have gotten from Unity? Does ICE/TJC care that many members want more than they are offering now? That seems to be a question that I think should be answered from a caucus that wants to be seen as a serious alternative to the party in power now.

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