Thursday, July 3, 2008

UFT Staff Changes: Mulgrew is the Boss

Mulgrew the big winner; Sprung, Engler rise

AFT Staffers beware. This is what you have to look forward to when you get your new boss next week.

A new structure in the UFT pretty much ensures that Randi Weingarten will stand for re-election in the 2010 UFT elections.

Mike Mulgrew will be the Chief Operating Officer and strong man of the UFT. This seems to be a newly created position that will enable him to function as Randi Weingarten's surrogate when she is out of town. Michael Mendel has been playing this role, and this seems to push him out of the way. Too bad. Many of us view him as the most capable person. (It looks like I win my $10 bet with Ellen Fox, who claimed he would be the next UFT Pres.)

People have predicted this for Mulgrew, the fast-rising power in the UFT, who just a few years ago was the chapter leader of Grady Vocational HS. We have predicted he would play the Tom Pappas role. But do not look for him to be UFT president in the near future. I'll give reasons why in future posts.

Here is one Mulgrew anecdote. After John Powers made his GHI/HIP resolution at the June DA, Mulgrew was telling people to vote against it. John called up to Randi telling her a UFT VP was trying to tell people how to vote.

The Staff Director, traditionally the seat to power in the UFT - it was held for a long time by Sandi Feldman who appointed Tom Pappas when she became UFT President and he continued in that job for years under Randi - will now be divided between Leroy Barr, Gary Sprung and Elie Engler.

After many years of stability, in the last 3 years we have had: Liz Languilli, Michael Mendel, Jeff Zahler, Leroy Barr, and now a troika. And of course we had the resignation of Michelle Bodden as elementary VP, a story we broke. We said at the time that Barr was a surprise appointment to create an African-American alternative to Bodden. Now, 6 months later, it seems Randi is not happy. By the way, the staff director job pays a lot of money. Will all 3 earn this high salary?

Elie Engler is fairly popular (ironically, an ICE founder has a long-time connection to her.) But Sprung, Pappas' hatchet man, is an old face. There has been no Unity Caucus member who seemed more despised by his fellow Unity Caucus brethren (they used to whisper in my ear) over the years, though he seems to have mellowed a bit - but reports do flow in as to how incredibly nasty and disrespectful he is still capable of being. (I saw him in action when he did that to a friend of mine at a DA who was helping me with ed notes - ironically, it is she who has the connection to Elie Engler.)

Sprung is extremely hard working and capable (he has made sure the Executive Board meetings are well stocked with great food.) Not a guy who seems comfortable up front, look for him to be the main force behind the scenes as staff director - a strong arm guy who doesn't care who he offends - excecpt Randi, of course.

Sprung and I almost got into a fight at a DA when he threw 500 copies of Ed Notes in the garbage can. Pappas came over and had us make up after I embarrassed them by raising a point of order at the beginning of the Delegate Assembly about 10 seconds after Randi began to speak (this was just after she became UFT President and I was able to push for rules that protected the distribution of critical literature, which has been eroded since the UFT moved into 52 Broadway.) Randi ordered them to give me my own table for Ed Notes.

Since then, Gary and I have gotten along - on and off. I used to list him as the real power behind Ed Notes, hoping some Unity hacks would take it seriously. Some actually gave him grief for talking and joking with me. We've shared a few laughs over the years as Gary doesn't mince words about his likes and dislikes. Too bad I can't share them.

Gary spends lots of time at a beach near me in Rockaway. If you hear of a drowning, I have an alibi.


  1. This is good news.

    We should refer to Mike from now on as "Coach Mulgrew."

    Where else but at the Unity DA can you witness a bully VP telling delegates how to vote for a resolution?

    It will be interesting to watch how this thug operates from his pulpit.

    My guess is he will not be cool under pressure.

    No bully ever is...right?

    Someone should bring a video cam to next's year's DAs.

  2. Mike is one of the good guys. Came up through the ranks well respected at Grady HS. Plus, he knows the folks he is dealing with at the DOE. A Great Choice even the ICE folks will eventually see Mike as a True Old Time Unionist.

  3. What a relief.

    In other words, we'll be in good hands.

    Thanks for clearing that up.

    What is a True Old Time Unionist? In other words, what can we expect to see and hear from Mike?

    And why Mike over someone like Leo Casey?

  4. Some teachers at Grady said, "Don't turn your back on Mulgrew."

  5. Mike had several U ratings(Grady HS) over turned last year. Most of the U ratings were to senior teachers. He has had several principals removed and will use all at his disposal to fight for members rights. Old Unionist refers to his personality, a throw back to the beginnngs of teacher unionism. Again, the ICE folks will be impressed give him time and have an open mind. Not the typical reaction from UFT leaders you might expect. He knows what the trenches are like. You'll Like Mike, Bloomberg will not....

  6. I've had very minimal contact with Mike but it's always been pleasant.
    I have heard mixed things. An independent CL that leans ICE's way raves about him - said he's been the only union official who gets it.

    What must be understood is that even if Mike is old union vs. Randi's new union, he will be molded into the thrust of union (AFT & UFT) policy just as Randi was.

    This takes me to a point Randi's people raise all the time - that it's about personal vendettas, not political disagreements. I told Randi time and again she should read the stuff we wrote about Al Shanker ie. The Case Against Shanker which we of us distributed at the AFT convention in Hawaii in 1975. I told her we would be just as critical of her successor. And if it's Mike, his style may differ - just as Randi differed from Sandi - but Unity will tighten the stranglehold if that is possible.

    So Mike being old or new union is not a factor. The direction set by Shanker is new union and Mike can't buck that. But there will be a honeymoon of sorts as I guess Mike might reach out a bit - but that is personality not policy.

    As I've said before, Randi looked very good to many of us - I mean the people who ended up founding ICE. She really reached out to us. And I think we responded, feeling she could be worked with to move the union in a better direction. I mean, what did we have to lose?
    New Action and PAC at the time were hopeless as an opposition and TJC was off on the fringe and critical but not willing to be a caucus.

    So why be just another opposition if you could get a willing leader to move the union? We were criticized by NAC and TJC privately, which is ironic since NAC has now adopted that position.

    But we saw she had no intention of changing anything and in fact was going to take the lack of democracy to new heights - I saw early signs when she was unwilling to call on me for resos she didn't like.

    Our uneasiness grew and independents at the DA who also disdained NAC started moving toward ed notes as we began turn from trying to convince Randi to being more openly critical. At that point the Unity people who loved Ed Notes - don't think I didn't hope that we could move some of them - started refusing to read it and I knew there was only one way to go - move to the opposition.

    But what opposition? I tried to get the independents and NAC, TJC, PAC together and we met at Norman Thomas HS twice in 2002 I think. But the New Action people disdained the others and PAC and TJC were at war.

    Some of these independents like Larry Taylor went to TJC. It took the total sellout by New Action in the summer of 2003 for the idea of an ICE to form. Irinically, it was the NAC people most critical of me who left them in disgust and were part of the formation of ICE.

  7. As a unionist and a teacher, I would trust anyone that Randi Weingarten chose. What she has brought to the union in the past ten years has been phenominal. Ellie Engler's handling of MRSA, heat in schools, and other safety issues has been honest, transparent, and powerful. I would accept her leadership in this union anyday. As far as Gary Sprung is concerned, he is a strong, knowledable leader who knows how to get things done. Mike Mulgrew spearheaded the Keep the Promises campaign and all of the schools will now receive full funding. What more can you ask for in a leadership team?

  8. Nothing. You convinced me. But I am concerned. With Gary's new responsibilities, will the food still be as good at the Exec bd. meeetings?

  9. It is possible that Mulgrew is being groomed as the "Chief Assistant to the President" to use a term, until 2010 when Michael Mendel will most likely be nominated for UFT
    Mulgrew will probably remain as Cheif of Staff under Mr.Mendel.
    Just speculation or a prediction.
    We shall see.

  10. Mendel has as much chance of being UFT President as George Bush has of being re-elected. If anyone other than Randi were running in 2010, why not just make them president immediately? My guess is if she doesn't resign in the next 6 months. she is running. Otherwise, her successor would have time to function as president for at least a year before the election which has been practice in the past.

  11. Why can't Mendel get it? Isn't he well liked by ICE and UNITY alike?
    Isn't Randi's term up in 2010 anyway?


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