Wednesday, March 24, 2010

UFT Election Update: Unity Caucus Gets to Redo NY Teacher Ad

It's nice to be king. Unity Caucus owns the NY Teacher. All caucuses get to put a two page ad in two consecutive issues of the paper. We were told we had to have a camera ready ad in by Feb. 22. But Unity gets a second chance to answer the ICE-TJC ads in the current edition. We would protest - if we thought anyone actually reads the NY Teacher.

On another affront. Unity district reps feel free to go into any school with an ICE or TJC chapter leader and stuff mailboxes with Unity/Mulgrew material during the school day on union time. When we call Michael Mendel to complain about schools that do not let us in during the day, Michael always comes through - except that he tells us he can only guarantee us entry before or after school days. Since Unity sends out packages to every chapter leader to stuff mail boxes, it is fun to observe the UFT's increasingly narrow interpretation of our rights. The union FINALLY sent out a letter to schools affirming the right to place materials in mail boxes- people began receiving them in the last few days. But the letter was dated March 8. That US postal services is sooooo slow, you know.

Most principals don't seem to care one way or another. But Unity chapter leaders often take umbrage with the whining, "You should have had the courtesy to inform me you were coming." Sure I told one. I hit 20 or 30 schools a day and don't exactly have time to call you with a heads up. He actually turned out to be a nice guy, though he was quaking in front of his principal, who had insisted he be present while I stuffed the boxes, even sending up a teacher to cover his class. I was astounded when he told me he doesn't put even union material in the boxes without asking the principal. This is the party in power yet.

But our long term strategy is to develop contacts in as many schools as possible who will not only distribute our materials but become active promoters of what we have to say. Yesterday I was asked by one of our young activist teachers to come to her small high school to meet with the teachers after their own faculty meeting which ended at 4:15. I was surprised at the number that stayed until after 5. Some even voted for ICE-TJC right there. They did not listen because of our ads or out election material but because they have enormous respect for our representative, who is in her first year at the school, is running with us and has the kind of enthusiasm about building a democratic union from the bottom up. I learned a lot yesterday about the climate of small schools and was thinking about how that climate could be created in a large school without breaking it up. (There was an interesting debate on Leonie's list serve yesterday involving Deb Meier in defense of small schools and others who were critical.)

Last week I made an appearance at an elementary school where one of our 5 year activist teachers work. Having them work with us and build strong chapters has been the best part of this campaign. But I will point out that both work in schools where teachers feel they have a strong voice and are happy with their principals. They put in a lot of hours very willingly and that is an issue that we have to address at some point. One of the high school teachers, who had left a large high school with an awful principal 5 years ago, was pregnant and I wonder how things will shake out for her when she has to head home after school to see her baby.

After the meeting I went to CUNY to join the GEM meeting where Puerto Rico teacher union (FMPR) president was the guest speaker. The meeting attracted about 50 people. Afterwards about 20 of us went out to eat.

The response to the election has been much higher than expected, though I don't know if that translates into votes. I finished working on our main leaflet less than two weeks ago, the day before ballots went out. We printed an initial run of 20,000 and by the end of the weekend most of them were out of my hands. Almost every day last week I had to order another box. We are up to 40,000 and that isn't counting the number of people who went out and printed their own copies. Since we are only distributing for 10 days ending this Friday, that seems pretty amazing, compared to previous years. But again, I don't think all these leaflets necessarily translates into votes. In the last election I can't tell you how many people said they voted ICE-TJC but the totals were far below one would have thought. My guess is that people fill out their ballot and just forget to mail it. And then there were those 2 thousand invalid ballots.

That was why we focused on getting people to vote correctly (Unity copied us in their latest ad) and also to remind them to send in their ballots. If you are an ICE-TJC supporter don't just accept it when people tell you they voted for us. Make sure they send in their ballots. Unity chapter leaders are actually holding raffles for people who bring in their ballot to be mailed. Not wanting people to forget who hand-picked Mulgrew, the winners get a print of the famous Klein-Randi (Remember her?) cartoon in Ed Notes.

NOTE: I have not been doing much analysis on the election and what it means but will do a lot more next week and after the results are announced on April 7.

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