Monday, October 15, 2007

The UFT "SWAT" Team and the Rubber Room

So we are alive!!!! – message from teacher in the Bronx Rubber Room (full message at the bottom of this post.

Pictures sent to Ed Notes by cell phone from Queens Rubber Room

"One thing was clear after talking to people in the RR: the overwhelming majority were as angry at the UFT as they were at the DOE, feeling the UFT had abandoned them."

This was what I told Elizabeth Green who reports in today's NY Sun article about how Randi Weingarten is going to take action on the rubber rooms. [I posted the article at Norms Notes.] The article highlights the new SWAT team Weingarten has put together. The team, is reportedly headed by recently hired "Betsy Combier and two unnamed NY Teacher reporters."

They are long-time NY Teacher reporter Jim Callahan and retired teacher Ron Isaac. I am very familiar with all three members, having known all of them for a number of years. I'll have more to say about these particulars at another time.

I am quoted in the article in this paragraph:
Ms. Weingarten's promise to ramp up pressure on the issue of rubber rooms comes as she is facing more pressure to act from inside her union and beyond. Factions have formed within the union to fight on behalf of teachers in rubber rooms, making suggestions ranging from hiring more staff to defend teachers to issuing subpoenas of state agencies on their behalf. One group, the Teacher Advocacy Group, plans to picket the union's Lower Manhattan headquarters Wednesday following a delegate assembly meeting, a retired teacher who is advising the group, Norman Scott, said. The group will carry signs charging that the union has "dropped the ball" on protecting teachers.
Green got some of the gist of what I told her, though I did not identify myself as an advisor to TAG, who have proven themselves perfectly capable of acting on their own. My point has been that the UFT, instead of automatically doing what a union should do – exert a rigorous defense of its members' rights without being concerned over their guilt or innocence – is more concerned about being slammed by the press over defending people who may be guilty than in protecting the rights of the innocent. In the past, the innocent have been treated like collateral damage.

Years ago, Jeff Kaufman and I began raising the situation of the rubber rooms at UFT executive Board meetings. After Jeff's tenure in the rubber room, he began to invite people he met to come to the meetings and use the 10 minutes of free speaking time to raise the issues. After a while, not a meeting passed without some people from rubber rooms present to remind the UFT leadership of their plight, often to deaf ears. At some point, Betsy Combier began attending meetings (even though not a UFT member) with some people she was working with. Callahan and Isaac were also present but never said anything.

When Jeff Kaufman raised a motion in June 2006 calling on the UFT to hire paralegals to conduct an investigation on the part of the teacher being charged instead of leaving this important step in the hands of a biased unit of the DOE, Randi Weingarten categorically rejected it, something I pointed out to Green.

After hearing of people spending months in the RR for minor charges and often being exonerated (allegations of an inappropriate comment or throwing a kid out of the room -- things every teacher does at some point) -- I raised the issue about why people had to sit for so long without having their case expedited and called for the UFT to offer those teachers who wanted their cases heard quickly an opportunity to do so. Randi Weingarten responded that surveys showed that most people did not want to rush through the process and even though the contract had time limits, their violation caused no great sense of "let's file a grievance."

She might have been right on this as some friends who had spent time in the RR gave me a sense of the total devastation this caused them and even those exonerated would never teach the same way. There were harges that conditions are purposely set up to break them psychologically and many are gunshy about returning to work, with some comparing the RR to gulags. Recent press reports confirm these conditions. Many began developing a rubber room mentality -- feelings of unity and support of each other surfaced as they told their stories.

As I said in the opening: One thing was clear after talking to people in the RR: the overwhelming majority were as angry at the UFT as they were at the DOE, feeling the UFT had abandoned them.

I raised this issue to Elizabeth Green and pointed to the increasing organizing efforts of RR people, as evidenced by TAGNYC, a group that goes beyond just RR people but included UFT'ers under attack by administrators and ATR's. Because of past inaction by the UFT, the very thing that created outside advocates like Betsy Combier, internal lobby groups are springing up, as people understand the UFT has a narrow range of interests, one of which is to undercut any move to militant organizing. Thus, the UFT tries to deal with individual cases, not groups.

Whereas many RR people were happy to see Betsy, now that she is on the UFT payroll, some refer to her as a "spy for Randi." It will take a long time to overcome the mistrust created by the UFT officials' attitude towards people.

I told Green that I viewed the SWAT team in this light – as a response. And maybe some good will come of it. But I also view it as an attempt to deflect militant organizing – damage control. The members of the SWAT team have assured me they will not allow this to happen. We'll see. Talk in the article about a law suit, even internal UFT legal sources say it is not a reality. See the lawsuit as a threat to the DOE (you can guffaw at that) or as a way to deflect. "See us file a lawsuit, now go away. See lawsuit sit in a drawer, joining the supposed senior teacher discrimination law suit."

What does Jeff Kaufman think of the actions of the UFT? Green says:
Some in the union ridiculed Ms. Weingarten's push for compromise, saying it will not resolve what they described as the UFT's failure to provide teachers in rubber rooms with strong legal representation. "They need people that have some kind of understanding and background in employment investigations. They have nothing," a teacher who was placed in a rubber room and who is also a lawyer, Jeffrey Kaufman, said.

Report from the Bronx rubber room (Sept 29)
Norm... the Rubber room in the Bronx has been very active
We were told that Randi wanted to meet with us - the meeting will be arranged in the near future- expect good numbers

First day of "back to school" we were introduced to Marlene Siegal (remember her?) as the Coordinator of 501 Courtlandt-
She entered each room with the (male) gang of five - distributing a leaflet containing the rules of governance. These "new" and "old" rules included no computers, no beach chairs, no roaming in the hallways, no refrig..., no microwave- issuance of time cards and time clocks- issuance of a "bathroom" passes and an escort(if exiting the 4th floor) and on and on

We called our "Bronx is Burning" UFT office and requested an immediate response to the 2007 Police State at 501
We wanted to know why Jose Vargas approved this? aka Ms. Siegals' testimony
The meeting did not include Jose Vargas- instead he sent his apologies and Rodney Grubiak and a few others (6).
At the meeting Rodney handed out the 1990s memo from the Chancellor indicating the elimination of timeclocks.
And the chanc. regs on the definition of "school staff"
We are considered "other" based on our offsite location-according to the Bronx UFT personnel.

The question was asked regarding "Age Discrimination", "Retaliation" (I am Harassed) and ATRs.

Rodney told Rep. X to "WRITE THAT DOWN" -simply stating "If you want" to speak to us about your individual cases we will be more than happy to assist you-
We replied- We are "one"- a collective unit of experienced teachers who are being harassed ... look at the quality and quantity.

Next UFT meeting included Jim Callahan and no Jose. Callagan and the other gentleman (sorry -forgot the name) were so effective. - They spoke to us-not at us - We really needed a good dose of reassurance and optimism.
[Ed. Note: Nice work by the UFT reps here and a legit function of the SWAT team.]

This time Rodney was less abrasive.
He acknowledged "our" importance- mentioned Randi 5X (why is loyalty so selective...when he thinks it is in his best interest)- reminding us that the fight against injustice would "remain" vigilant wanting to remain "a positive focal point" -he continued talking... stating that he would always be responsive -and Rodney better have a "damn good" reason for not calling you- as he enthusiastically handed out the "b-cards."

Immediately a teacher raised her hand and said "Mr. Grubiak" I have been calling you since last year- left you "a lot" of messages- (I have it all recorded) and I keep calling you and you have never responded- What is your reason? He said ...let me give you my card- she said " do not bother I have you "on speed dial"- Then...another shouted what is the "damn good reason" for losing my papers-jeopardizing my career- for failure to respond to the charges (to the State).

We were and continue to be vocal and active in "our" phone call blitz efforts to the Bronx.
The numbers as of Friday were 127 and growing ( because of age discrimination and retaliation).

We are currently under the direct supervision of a "supervisor"- who has an office on the 4th floor.

A reporter from the Post tried to interview several teachers- we put the word out -nobody talked to the Post. We were concerned about the "spin"-at the POST.

The Daily News is currently interviewing a few of our members-

So we are alive!!!!
The NEA, the elections, Randi's comments/declarations at the Executive Board-followed by the article in the NY Teacher, the DOE and its monitoring closely agenda, the Councilwoman who will take a stand (Rubber room)and the involvements of Parents- we are active- of course watching closely.


Anonymous said...

Holy Crap!! Is that smarmy Grubiak still around?? He was in the Bronx umpteem million years ago when special education was broken up into "regions" with all these guys who grew up together in the Bronx in charge of them. So what's stopping Randi from meeting with these victims of the fascist regime? We are paying almost $90 a month for what?? Wasn't that called racketeering at one time?

proofoflife said...

Rodney personally told me that ATR's were "happy" that they didn't have to do paper work! Other Bronx Boro Representatives told me that people were also "happy" to be in the rubber room and didn't want to work. I guess the mentality is- if you lie long and hard enough others will believe you. I wonder if they believe their own bull shit!

Anonymous said...

I would like to see Randi sent to a rubber room for several months...and also send her minions as well.

That they are only providing a paralegal when we are spending $1200 a year in union dues (that's over 100 million per year!)

I am not in a rubber room and never have been. I can empathize with those who have been placed there. Yeah, there are some guilty ones, but I think most are just innocent and are being harrassed.