Saturday, May 22, 2010

What if they had a union and nobody joined?

Bringing Choice and Accountability to the UFT:
A Teacher Calls for End to Agency Shop

Generally people view the concept of an agency shop where everyone pays union dues whether they join the union or not as being a positive thing for union organizing and I've never been in favor of calling for its elimination. But there seems to be a level of frustration over the lack of accountability within the UFT where the top-down leadership controls just about every single aspect of the union, including the make believe opposition, New Action which owes the 8 Exec bd seats to Unity support. A hundred % of the members of the Ex bd were Unity endorsed in the recent election.

There was a thought that years ago when district reps were elected by chapter leaders in their districts there was a greater level of accountabilty. All DR's elected were Unity (except Manhattan HS rep Bruce Markens who had a lot of support from the Manhattan high school chapter leaders) because most chapter leaders were Unity. So I never thought that when Randi killed the elections in 2002 that it would make much difference. But it seems it has and more than a few chapter leaders have complained that the responsiveness of the union is worse than ever.

The recent letter circulating about dropping out of COPE (UNTIL WE GET A VOTE, SAY NO TO COPE!) is a sign of that frustration.

Other signs are the increasing calls for quitting the union, complaints about spending a thousand bucks a year in dues, calls to look for other unions to represent us. That is a big pipe dream since the most active opposition people in the UFT have rejected any moves in that direction.

This email from a long-time chapter leader, a strong union guy, made me sit up and take notice:

To move the education reforms, one simply has to allow teachers to not belong to the union --- in more than name only. ie not even agency fee payers. I can guarantee if that comes to pass, the leadership will be very much attuned to serving the membership as more than cannon fodder.

I don't see this coming to pass because the political forces want to keep the UFT strong at the top because it is an entity they can deal with them. The anarchy of a splintered union would not be a good thing for the ed deform crew either. Think about the former Soviet Union breakup and its aftermath. Do you feel safer today or back then? Same with the powers that be. They feel safer with a union they can not only deal with but that works to dampen and control militancy. In other words, the BloomKleins and the Daley/Duncans in Chicago need Unity and the UCP caucuses as much as they would like unions to give them a totally free hand. But these sell-out leaders must show the members something. Yet the BloomKleins keep taking and outraging the members.

Let's get this thing straight though. As long as the opposition can only pull 9% of the vote, there is no pressure on the leaders and all calls for accountability and internal union reform will be laughed at. It will take some action on the part of the people screaming about the how bad the union is. I keep telling them to stop moaning and organize. If they don't have an idea how to do that then start coming to GEM meetings. Just sitting back and waiting for someone else to do something will just leave them there sitting.

A prime example is the CORE group in Chicago which is just 2 years old and has done some wild organizing and can now contend for power in the union. I know these guys and they have thrown their lives into the effort. Any less than that here in NYC will leave Unity in power for a millenium, agency shop, COPE dues or not.

The future? One of the things I concentrated on over the last 3 years was working with younger teachers and for the first time I saw some early stages of interest and activism. No matter how bad things looked with the election, I found some hopeful signs of a CORE-like group forming here in NYC. I felt this was more important over the long run than the short term election results. These people will hopefully become the future leaders of the opposition as more and more people in the ICE crew (I can't speak for TJC) take a more supportive and mentoring role, sort of like what George Schmidt and Substance has done with CORE in Chicago.


  1. Sounds a little like you're advocating "right to work."

  2. Norm,

    I know you are not interested so much in "facts," but you should try and do some research before you go and write things. Most know that you relish in propoganda (and that is fine), but if you continue this way that's all people will see. That will ultimately hurt your cause as I am hopeful that you still have one.
    Just because there a few people who a dissatified with recent turn of events, doesn't mean you should hold them up on your shoulders because they railed against those you dislike. You don't know these people. Perhaps they have an IQ of a field mouse or they are insane. Do you prop them up and let them carry your agenda just because they developed a rant?
    A longtime supporter of you

  3. I agree. That guy who said that Mulgrew Satan thing has got to be nuts. There's making a point and then there's just being a loon.

  4. This was posted on ice mail and touches on some of the frustration out there:

    "Without the agency fee the UFT would be more like a union instead of a life insurance company. How many teachers do you think realize there is an agency fee that forces them to pay dues to the UFT."

  5. NYC: I know it looks like Right to work - and I am not the one advocating this by the way. I also have reservations because it can be used by anti-union people. But with a leadership that won't budge on making reforms and a bought off opposition like New Action that at one time at least fought for democracy but has abandoned that fight - there is a restlessness in some of the more aware members.

    I am passing on the sense of some of those people in the union.

    To anon "long-time supporter" who says I don't deal in facts and only propaganda - I wish I had loads more "supporters" like you.

    - you might want to come up with something that refutes my "facts".

    But let's look at your attack on the person who made the suggestion on the agency fee. I printed it precisely because he is a vet chapter leader, a staunch defender of the contract and someone who stood up to principals and also a very strong supporter of the union in general. No nut, no low IQ, no radical, not one who rants, etc.

    That is why this is an important indication of how the union has lost the heart and soul of enough people that there are dangers.

    I will do a follow-up main line post on this as it is an important concept.

  6. One more thing:

    When people advocate ending COPE payments I explored the idea of some kind of escrow account as a way to force the UFT to begin internal reforms. I have no idea how this would work or who would administer it.

    Could it apply as a way for people to have to pay dues like an agency shop but maintain the right to have the money go into some kind of escrow account?

    Probably as screwy an idea as anything. But I can't jump on board a movement to just allow all the TFA and new teachers not pay any dues because they are anti-union. If allowed, I bet no one would pay and then we lose even the shabby hulk of a union we have. Who knows, maybe one day a movement like Chicago begins and we end up with a progressive union one day. We don't want to have to refight the agency shop fee then- and I bet if CORE wins in CHicago we see all kinds of attacks on the union from that direction.


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