Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Randi, Green Dot, the AFT

Jeff Kaufman's report on the UFT Ex. Bd. May 21st meeting at the ICE blog contained the following:
Randi decided to use her time reporting to the Executive Board to answer the "blog activity" about her recent trip to Los Angeles to visit Green Dot Charter Schools. She defended her attempts to partner with this company and tried to quell questions about the reported Green Dot's position against teacher tenure. "Green Dot is a pro-union Charter School," she proclaimed. She argued that the loss of tenure was actually good for the teachers in this Charter School as the standard for teacher dismissal, "just cause" was "actually better." We can only hope this does not signal a softening of the Union's position on tenure.

So why Randi's concern over "blog activity" on Green Dot charters? We won't go into the details (blogger jd2718 has put together a package of blogger posts on Green Dot) but point you to NYC Educators' posts on this issue based on the praise heaped on Randi by the LA Times which contrasted her cooperative nature with the truculence of the LA Teachers Union. When former Fed Secretary of Ed Rod Paige joins in with the praise for Randi from anti-union forces, it's "Houston (sorry Rod for this association with the big cheating scandal when you were Supt.) we've got a problem" time for Randi's move to the national stage with a goal of being seen as a tough union leader. Phew! The UFT PR machine has a lot of work to do.

So Randi put attack dog Leo Casey on the case and NYC has in his usual style shredded their arguments.

Randi's goal is way bigger than AFT Pres. A national merger with the NEA would put her in position to possibly head the massive combined union which would put her in position to head the entire AFL-CIO. So a lot is at stake when a nationally recognized blogger like NYC Educator shreds her image as a strong labor leader.

The changes announced on Monday in the UFT are indicative that Randi will not give up the UFT presidency when she becomes AFT Pres. following in the footsteps of her predecessors Feldman and Shanker. AFT Pres. has little real power but lots of prestige. Power resides in the locals and the UFT is the big enchilada in the AFT. To hand over her power base even to a hand-picked successor is a risk.

The recent UFT election was very important to Weingarten in that the lack of ability of the opposition to make a real dent gave her free reign to get away with holding both the AFT and UFT positions and I'm convinced she will run for UFT Pres. again in 2010 even while holding the AFT Pres. position which she should capture in July 2008 or if McElroy clings on, in 2010.

Elevating Michael Mendel to Executive Assistant to the President is a clear sign of her intentions. He is affable and well-liked by just about everyone, even by most of us in the opposition. (Besides, he is a NY Ranger fan.) But he is not someone who fits as president of the UFT. The betting has been that elementary school VP Michelle Bodden will replace Randi. Until Bodden is given a bigger role than elem VP and is asked to run Delegate Assemblies and Executives Board meetings that move will be on hold. Maybe one day. Michelle is also well liked, but like Michael, not considered hard-edged enough.

Enter attack dog Jeff Zahler as staff director to ride herd on the staff and on the opposition. Word is that Vocational HS VP Mike Mulgrew is up and coming. Combining charm (he was sent out to Staten Island to deal with the boys in the UTP after they ran Dist. Rep Charlie Friedman out of town) and the willingness to stab people in the back, he and Zahler will keep things in order, allowing Randi to fly in for DA meetings and to put out fires as they arise. But her lack of hands-on will have an impact. No matter what you think of her as a union leader, she is highly skilled at keeping the troops in line.

Both Shanker and Feldman had obvious lines of succession in place so they were able to give up the UFT Presidency at some point. For instance, as far back as the late 80's it was clear that Weingarten was going to take Feldman's place and they quickly moved to get her a teaching license and put her part-time in a safe school (where Leo Casey was Chapter Leader). When Feldman began to turn the DA over to Weingarten it was clear that a change was coming. Weingarten has not been as far-sighted.

Experienced observers of the UFT know all the signs that will point to a successor. And the successor is..... no less than Randi Weingarten herself.

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