Thursday, June 25, 2009

UFT Delegate Assembly, Democracy NOT

A New Star rises. No not Mulgrew.

Gem's Seung Ok gives us this brillaint and scintillating DA report. I've only known Seung for a few months, but it is meeting people like him that keeps me in this business. I've always maintained that the opposition is too polite at DA's or unwilling to take the slings and arrows of Unity harassers. I didn't give a crap. Neither did Jeff Kaufman. Seung looks like a comer.

UFT Delegate Assembly 6-24-09

I’m sorry to inform my colleagues (although many of you have already suspected), that our UFT right now is as much an undemocratic and farcical scene as the NY Senate and the Mayor’s Office. The lack of transparency, the fa├žade of democratic input from its constituents, and the intolerance for opposing views shows us why our UFT, city, state, and country is in it’s dire situation today. The events of the meeting seem to be "par for the course" of how things run there.

The vast majority of us were surprised to hear when we came into work this morning that there was a new agreement on Tier V in which Weingarten basically sold off wholesale some of our pension benefits for future teachers. And what did our master negotiator get in return for this – two non- teaching days back before Labor Day.

Now one would think that a decision as important as changing our profession’s pension benefits requires input from us as a whole - perhaps a referendum, or survey to get the thoughts from the rank and file. If there had been transparency, Weingarten would not have sold us off so cheaply with a mere two days. In her own words at the meeting, she saw the two days before Labor Day as,” ….the most important issue that she has heard coming from the delegates affecting our teachers.” Really? I guess the fact that seasoned ATR’s in our schools cannot find positions, in spite of the DOE hiring freeze and budgetary concessions, is not as important as two extra days of summer vacation.

Let’s not forget to mention the detrimental effects of Mayoral control on our professional autonomy, parental input, and student learning. Had such a prize for Governor Paterson and Mayor Bloomberg not been given so cheaply, in the least, the alteration of future pensions could have been used as leverage to add more checks and balances in mayoral control rather than the dictatorship that seems destined to be renewed.

Also, how much weaker are we know, as we head into contract negotiations in October. Had we not given up our hand so quickly and easily, we would have had something the Mayor and Albany would want. But now, thanks to the wonders of “Democracy Lite” that is the UFT, we are now left holding a weak hand yet again.

The meeting went as follows. First, Weingarten frightens all the delegates (Ala George Bush post 9/11) by playing off their worst fears in what may happen: working till 62, the loss of our pension plans, etc. Now once everyone is good and scared, she comes to the rescue and pats herself on the back about how she saved our benefits. Gee, all by yourself Randi? (Add applause and glee by the union faithful) Then she congratulates herself by adding that she saw an opportunity to get back our two days before Labor Day and she took it! Quick thinking sport!

Of course she then asks for input from the delegates. Somehow she manages to “randomly” choose 4 delegates in a row who gushingly admire her great efforts in securing this wonderful new deal. Then, to highlight how contrived this debate was, she graciously noted that it would be remiss on her part if she didn’t allow the opposition view to be held. So she called on those with opposing views to raise their hands. One delegate noted that we indeed were “giving back” yet again, which a few delegates from past meetings decried. Of course, the shouting down of this delegate ensued by the rest of the delegates – at which point Weingarten, in her graciousness, asked for calm. Then magically, two more people were called on, that were in favor of Tier V. So, the viewing audience can scratch their heads now in bewilderment – I thought this was the dissenting voice’s turn. Finally, Weingarten suggests that one more person speak up for the dissenting view. A delegate suggests that such an important matter as this should be given as a vote for all union members in the schools, which was of course, ignored by Weingarten in her response.

As she began to start the vote, I and a few other delegates shouted out that the debate was not fair. The opposing view did not get equal time to state its case (2 versus 6 speakers) At this point, Weingarten spewed off some Robert’s Rules of Order process rule - that she had asked for one more dissenting view, and that there was no objection. Again, note how parliamentary procedures are used to discourage rather than encourage true democratic vote (can anyone say the state senate?).

Now during this whole fiasco, I was raising my hands and my voice, - sometimes standing to get her attention. Interestingly her body and face slowly started to face the opposite way. Interesting, considering that her UNITY caucus usually sits on the end where I was. But alas, I was never called. Okay, that’s understandable – I mean, there are many delegates and there is such precious few moments together.

Then the vote happens. Many voices boomed “Aye!” And it seemed only a few of us yelled “Nay!” Then there was much rejoicing and hoop and hollering.

Then the question portion of the pageant commenced. There were several questions about the Tuesday we get back from Labor Day and how some principals are threatening to give letters if their classrooms are not set up and ready by the end of this school year. Much booing and “that’s intolerable!” was heard. Weingarten, on cue, decried how many evil and treacherous characters were allowed to become principals. Much cheering and clapping followed. She suggested, and it seems the crowd knew what she was going to say, cause they mouthed it too – “get it on paper”.

One delegate asked about the handout that lists all the local politicians that the UFT endorses. She wondered whether it was appropriate for us to endorse many of the politicians on that page that voted FOR mayoral control. At this point, since Weingarten, didn’t want to do her own dirty work, referred the question to suit B. He managed to fumble through the response by noting that these politicians voted for key issues that affected the union. I guess mayoral control doesn’t count in the Union’s mind, but okay.

Then Weingarten, in an earnest and reflective repose, asked the delegates if she can let the media in, so she can avoid announcing her retirement twice. The delegates deeply moved, voted a unanimous “Aye!” and “Hear! Hear!” Apparently everyone turns into a 17th century Britain at such moments. The media came in and then the show started.

She began by noting that her mother was a teacher, and she remembered how after striking all day, her mother would come home tired yet vigilant. Wow, too bad the daughter didn’t become an educator herself. Then she humbly stated how she is leaving the Union stronger and healthier than how she found it. I at this point I couldn’t contain myself. Let’s just put it this way. Just imagine how men act watching the super bowl, and they see a ridiculous fumble – “What?! Are you kidding me?!” I basically turned into John McEnroe. I looked around the room in amazement, and all I could see was shimmering eyes, welling up with deep gratitude. The tissues were definitely out.

Then she began listing all her accomplishments, stating that when she first began working for the UFT, the starting salary was 14,000. Wow, can anyone get her on a stamp please – I mean really. At this point, the Johnny Mac in me took possession, and I screamed out,” Don’t forget Mayoral Control!” Now, I’ve never been tarred and feathered before, but let’s just say that the Brits at this point were getting the cauldron heated up. Several of the mob called me a jerk, and the several men in front and to the side of me looked like I just stole their baby’s pacifier. The latter glared,” You better stop shouting in my ear.” I suspected that this unfortunate man had hearing only in this ear, because he had not been agitated by the shouts of “Hear! Hear!” coming from the other end the whole meeting up to that point.

The momentous and tearful scene was capped off by flowers being brought forth to a teary Weingarten. Then unknown suit C got up and asked for a tribute to her highness Weingarten the I. This included a long litany of whereas and whereforths too long to list here, but I’ll give you a tasting of the deliciousness of this treat:

Whereas as the tribune of the New York City public school educators, Randi Weingarten has successfully led us through many perils and challenges, and now leaves our profession and our union stronger than ever.

Wow! Tribune. I almost wanted to cry out, "Hail Ceasar!"

Of course, I had to shout out a whereas myself, “ Sell OUT!” But with the graciousness befitting the queen, she nobly and befitting her aristocratic stature ignored me with impunity.

After the pageant winner left her stage, suit D – went on to announce that volunteers who wanted to be on the committee for contract negotiation should fill out a card. He was about to close the meeting, and asked if there were any further questions. I raised my hand and shouted,” I do.” If you could see the begrudging look he gave me, it would make your toes curl. At this point, Randi was taking pictures with her adoring fans, as she was making her way out of the pageant with her flowers in hand. I was actually given the mic, and I quickly noted,” Will Randi actually listen to her own committee this time (alluding to the fact that she went against her own year long committee and flip flopped in favor of mayoral control).

I could not get out the rest, since the parliament started to Whig out, and the tar was hot and ready by this point. I then made the mistake of asking if I can finish my statement – which was a crucial error, since unbeknownst to me, suit D was Alex Trebeck, who immediately informed me that a statement is not in the form of a question, so I was,” Out of Order!”. Then with 2 seconds left on the clock, the man in front of me snatched the microphone from my hand (not a joke, true democracy at work). Then the crowd cheered with frenzy as the home team counted down the seconds to victory.

I will leave you with some immortal words by an unknown ancient sage:

“Don’t eat yellow snow.”

Your colleague:

Seung Ok


Julie W said...

This is more or less what I wrote you earlier today.....

Thank you so much for this account (and the colorful allusions to 17th-century Britain). I couldn't stomach it as long as you and missed the end.

But I also left the room to go find someone who could explain to me what the headings at the top of the seniority list mean. I asked the personal secretary at my school: she and another secty did not know. They called their supervisor at Human Resources; no answer. I spoke to someone who deals with seniority issues at the Dist. Office: he only knew in part (info that I circulated), but not in full, so promised to get back to me. I spoke to a district rep at the DA, who also did not know and in fact said: "What does it matter what the headings mean, just go by the order." When I perused the seniority list further yesterday, there were even more anomalies that needed sorting out.

The way I see it, seniority in these times, with all the ATRing and excessing and marginalization, is one of the most important issues we have to deal with. To find NO ONE at the middle level of the union who could explain the construction of the seniority list is an abomination. As the district people suggested, I will go to the some higher ups and get some answers. I'll report back to everyone I know and forward them a copy as well.

And to bring this back to your post:

Yes, tremendous sham, tremendous gall. But I think that though they seem to have abandoned us — or in RW's case, never understood in the first place — we have to keep working to hold their feet to the fire.

Whether it's you standing up and demanding to be heard at a DA, or all of us forcing them to cough up information, exposing them on the blogs, or prying them off the Exec. Bd in the next election — it's a fight we cannot walk away from — if one values the profession and sees teaching as more than a day job.

Thank you again for taking the time to flesh this out.

Anonymous said...

Norman since you are so quick to print his op-ed pieces, where is the story about how Sing accidentally wound up at the DA?