UFT election fever is rising as ballots go out on March 12. If you notice Unity Caucus (the UFT leadership) material in your mail boxes and no one in your school put it in, it is a pretty good bet your UFT District Rep did the deed - probably on union time.
Most people do not realize these elections are secondary in terms of controlling the UFT at the school level than the elections for chapter leaders last year. The Unity machine relies on controlling an overwhelming majority of schools and using the CLs to push their positions.
The Dist. Rep is the key person in Unity control of the schools, which goes a long way to explaining why the leadership ended the practice of having chapter leaders elect district reps even though every single one of them except for one or two were Unity. Not all were the kind of Unity Caucus the leadership wants - someone who has total loyalty to the leadership instead of the chapter leaders they are supposed to serve.
The DR is the person who checks out chapter leaders for recruitment into Unity and also tries to get someone in schools to run against any opposition candidates.
I started working on this quite a while ago but events have been moving too fast. Now seems as good a time as any.
The original impetus for this post came from an anonymous email to ICE-mail from someone who is probably a chapter leader who wrote:
I need a crash course: Can someone tell me about District Reps?
Here is my initial response:
District reps in many ways are the most important positions in the union for the leadership - the keys to Unity Caucus' control and domination. They are the overseers of the chapter leaders in their districts. They push the leadership position and treat chapter leaders as if they are union employees. Every single one of them is in Unity Caucus. I know some great non-Unity chapter leaders, not understanding the real role of district reps is to keep chapter leaders from straying and keeping tabs on critical voices at the school level, innocently applied for the job not understanding that servicing the members is not their primary duty.
The district rep structure still basically follows the old NYCBOE structure that existed under decentralization from 1969 on, which is when Shanker created the DR position, which by the way has no mention in the UFT constitution. (More on that later.)
Thus there is a DR for the elementary and middle schools in each of the old 32 districts which only dealt with k-8 and another DR for each borough high school district (Charlie Friedman covers Basis- part of Brooklyn and Staten Island). Other DRs have been created for small high schools in various boroughs. And there is a DR for District 75 (SpecEd) and probably a few more - if I left some out let me know.
Until 2002, District Reps were elected by the chapter leaders in the district with a weighted vote based on the number of members in the school. Thus, the DRs had to some extent cater to their constituency, which wasn't the rank and file but the CLs, most of whom were Unity Caucus. Thus every single DR in history was also Unity - save one. But even within Unity there was some competition. Take the Queens HS DR race many years ago where 2nd in command under Feldman and Weingarten, Tom Pappas wanted to install a relative into the position but many Unity CLs didn't think he deserved it. They united with some New Action people to elect Rona Freiser who now heads the Queens office.
I'll digress for a second and talk about that exception to the rule.
Many of use called for direct election of DRs by all the members in the district but even some opposition people were opposed to that, especially New Action when they were an opposition, claiming it made sense for the people who dealt with the DRs
Here is the rest of the email I received. My responses to the questions are in bold.
Mine's new... and apparently unresponsive. I had a supremely inert DR for years and years and I'm, worried that new guy may be cut from the same mold.
But: I don't really understand the fundamentals.
1. Are they paid for their UFT service? If so, how much?
District Reps are DOE employees and paid accordingly - on paper. They supposedly teach one period a day and other than that period the UFT reimburses the DOE for the entire salary. Thus they continue to get salary and pension credit. They get paid extra based on the hours they put in after school ends. Thus, they often get as much as 30,ooo in addition to their DOE salary. And they also get a 2nd pension from the UFT.
2. How does one become a DR? Election, selection, etc
District reps are chosen by the UFT president but they go through a sham of holding interviews. Elections used to be by chapter leaders in the districts by weighted vote depending on the number of members in a school. An individual middle school carried more weight than an elementary school.
3. Do they actually TEACH? FT? PT?
They teach one period a day before 10 AM. Usually these are puff classes or some tutorials.
4. Any way to go over their heads.. so to speak? With whom would I communicate if I feel the DR is not doing an adequate job?
There is no way to really go over their heads without them knowing since the UFT runs on a chain of command. They will know and be pissed. If you don't care - and I think putting heat on them is a good thing but the next level is the borough head and they are all part of "the team." You could go straight to central at the staff director level - Leroy Barr. But don't expect much. Service is not the UFT priority. They view CLs as their servants and the DR as the overseer.
5. Any other ideas about responsible ways of applying pressure would be appreciated.
They hold monthly district chapter leader meetings and if you are a CL raising it there in a public manner might get a response.
As Willy Loman's wife said: "Attention must be paid."
Public exposure is the way to get attention paid.