Tuesday, September 6, 2011

How Far Do We Go When Criticizing the UFT/AFT Leadership?

When we do so are we aiding the enemies of unions?

There are people who will argue that publishing negative information about our union leadership helps our anti-union enemies attack unions by providing them with ammunition on how corrupt unions are. Plus it undermines whatever faith union members still have left in their union, thus weakening the unions even further. The argument goes: with teacher unions under such attack, we must remain united by stressing the positive.

I am increasingly sensitive to these arguments. But where does adhering to this line lead us? Basically to where New Action, which was the leading opposition, joining in a partnership with Unity Caucus in 2003, thus removing a major voice of criticism and leaving the leadership to force through any policy it wants without open discussion or vetting.

How has that stance worked out over the past 9 years as we have seen devastating policies eviscerate so much of both education programs that benefit children and teacher rights along with the rights of parents and community to have any say in their local schools (something the union leadership is actually happy about)?

The "we are under attack and should mute criticism to stay united" is an argument George Bush supporters used to attack critics. (Why not cancel elections to mute criticism?) As a member of the Independent Community of Educators (ICE) which ran 3 campaigns after the New Action move into the Unity camp with intense criticism of the leadership over their capitulation to so much of the ed deform program we saw vicious attacks on us for doing so. And I'm told that these attacks from both New Action and Unity resonated with people as ICE was branded as being obstructionist.

ICE differs from even the group that has run with us - Teachers for a Just Contract (TJC) – which has never come under the level of attack ICE has. Many of us see the UFT leadership as apart from the membership. Not only do we not view them on the side of the members, but many of us see them as being on the other side of the fence all too often, incapable of truly acting in our interests but with the ability – by dominating the total communications machinery to the members  – to fudge their message to the members to give them the impression they are fighting for them. It is mostly the few people who do the day-to-day hand to hand combat with Unity Caucus who understand the game being played on the membership by the leadership. But it seems to work.

This is not to say that even within ICE, there aren't varying degrees of feeling on this issue. The old hands like me who have been involved for 40 years tend to be the harshest critics, seeing the continuity from Shanker through Mulgrew. But as retirees we have the luxury to feel that way. People in the schools, even those who agree with us, have a different reality and have to walk the minefield of being critics since they often need the assistance of the union. And they often do find people who work for the union who are competent and who assist them in addition to the slugs (read: Washington Sanchez). They don't have the luxury to look at the bigger, long-term picture.

This polemic was inspired by a couple of recent events.

First was a debate I was involved with on the NYCEducation Listserve over my views of the union with no less than people like Deb Meier, Diane Ravitch, Leonie Haimson and others plus some of the internal debates I've been having with people in GEM, many of whom do not take as harsh a view of the leadership as I do, arguing that with a push from the rank and file the leadership can be made to move in a better direction. I totally disagree, thinking that the leadership will do something to MAKE IT APPEAR they are responding but in reality they will continue on the path determined within the narrow confines of the few people (maybe even one person) determining the direction the union is going in. I hope to publish some of the back and forth.

The second was the revelations of Jim Callaghan, not only in the comments section of Gotham Schools, but in private communications to me over the last year since he was fired by Mulgrew last summer. Truly a treasure trove of an array of accounts of cronyism between the UFT leaders and Bloomberg.

Jim Callaghan was the top investigative reporter at the UFT house organ, The NY Teacher. I have thought seriously about the role Ed Notes plays in disseminating this information and have hesitated, especially after the Wisconsin story, even though some of the actions of the union leaders leading up to and through that battle has been disturbing - we WILL NOT FIGHT YOU ON THE BEACHES type stuff until their backs were against the wall.

Sure I'm concerned when Eric Grannis, Eva Moskowitz' husband, tells me he is a fan of Ed Notes, mostly because of the union revelations. But I am on the side of full disclosure. UFT members should know what their leaders are doing behind the scenes and Callaghan is one of the few insiders to come out of the cold. I also think of the charges against Wikileaks. I personally think the amazing stuff coming out there has helped shake up the world for the better.

I don't want to do just a wikileaks like data dump. So I have been trying to parse the info and release it in some order, along with the background information I am aware of to flesh out the information.

Look for parsed releases of both published and unpublished information in upcoming posts.

Here's a tidbit from Jim:
Lots to come about malfeasance, nepotism, favoritism, incompetence, corruption, no-bid contracts and Mulgrew, Hickey and Weingarten allowing one of their top married  aides to  retire -with a Tier One and UFT pension---after he was caught taking kickbacks in the form of free hotel rooms so he could coerce his subordinate  into having sex with him on union time. She said she was going to the press and was going to file a lawsuit if he stayed (on the job). -----Jim Callaghan, former UFT staffer fired after 13 years.
By the way, many of us have known of this story, which took place during a NYSUT convention at the NY Hilton. The amount of money the person being referred to along with relatives took down in salary and benefits would make you scream. Have fun Eric.

Check out Norms Notes for a variety of articles of interest: http://normsnotes2.blogspot.com/. And make sure to check out the side panel on right for news bits.


A former teacher said...

I think that there is nothing wrong with exposing what goes on in the union. I have been a victim of poor union advice and inaction and I have seen other people clearly not helped by the union who is supposed to be defending us. TOO MANY times they just listen and do nothing to help especially with ATRS and now the new crop of denied tenure younger teachers situations. There are many teachers these days who are wondering why are we paying union dues for when we call, no one listens.

Anonymous said...

"The 38th annual Representative Assembly of NYSUT is slated for April 29-May 1, 2010 in Washington, D.C."


"DICK" IANUZZI ACTUALLY said the rooms were cheaper in D.C. than anywhere in New York State- including upstate towns that are in dire need of a shot in the arm?
The choice of D.C. says it all about our union "leaders."
THe "business" is done between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ,then it is off to the races, shopping, ballgames for four days and nights, all with our dues money- everyone gets the same expense check no matter where they traveled from and even if- big scam- they travel four to a car and share hotel rooms. THEY DO NOT HAVE TO ACCOUNT FOR ONE DIME OF THEIR EXPENSES.
Norm, can you find out what this cherry blossom festival junket cost?
so the guy with the hotel room and big nepotism at the UFT forgot rule number one: dont get caught, and dont coerce a subordinate who talks to your wife. but he knew WEingarten and Mulgrew would protect him, saving himself from arrest and the two UFT "leaders" from public shame. (not the first time he was nailed on expense fraud but WEingarten and Tom Pappas gave him a pass on the first one....
HOW MANY OTHER "familiies" are on the UFT payroll?

Chaz said...


I too find myself in the same dilemma as you pointed out. However, as an active member and an ATR I must look to the union to protect my rights and my job and while I agree with you on many points. I cannot agree with you that airing the union's dirty laundry to the enemy is good for the members at a time when the teachers union is under attack.

I know that the union does not put the best people in charge and in my case, was next to useless when I was charges with an outrageously false accusation that the Arbitrator rightly found not to be true but resulted in my ATR status.

In other words, I will not give the education deformers any ammunition that could weaken the union.

Remember, "the enemy of my enemy is my friend" Until we get rid of the ed reformers and Obama/Duncan the union, with all their faults, are my friend.

ed notes online said...

I believe the union is weakened by the very nature of the type of accusations being made. We don't need ed deformers to do the dirty work - our leaders in their grasp for total and permanent power have made us ripe for pickings. Taking your cue we have no hope for any change at the top if we can't be critical of the leaders.
That you received so little help from the union that was supposed to protect you means that you are getting precious little for the silence. Reform movements in the union weaken the ed deformers in their attacks as such reform movements grow.

ed notes online said...

So Teamsters for Union Democracy who battled Hoffa SR. should have kept quiet? gus bivona? It's the same argument the labor leaders used against the Kennedys when they went after crooked labor leaders in the MCclellan Committee.

And Roger at the TWU and the reformers in the mob controlled unions like the school bus drivers should have kept quiet?

Its a nice "moral" and stupid stance to take. It is also giving UFT leaders a license to steal and to be whatever they want because they will not face criticism for their perfidy.

If it's not analogous to Vietnam, nothing is. -"you are helping the enemy." or as HAggard said: "if you dont lkie it, leave it."

Seung said...

Glad Norm has recovered and back to his needed criticism of the UFT,

Any democratic organization, or democratic country, needs an open arena for criticism and discussion. Anytime this open discussion is stunted decisions are made by the few, and often-times, at the expense of the others.

This unfortunately is happening in the so called Reform Movement where billionaire's voices crowd out others. This occurs in Mayoral Control of city schools. And unfortunately, this is occuring in the UFT leadership and at delegate assemblies.

The UFT is a pseudo-democracy. On its surface, it sells itself as a democratic organization, when in reality, oppositional voice is stifled. If anyone ever attended a delegate assembly, most of the two hours is deliberately taken up by a long sermon by the President, special anouncements, and dedication ceremonies. Only about half an hour is spent on debate and legislation.

These are just one of the many ways that prevent teacher representatives from actually making their own decisions in regards to their union.

Anonymous said...

I think this is good norm. If ed. notes is going to go down this road, I think it would be good to also provide a vision for what the union could be. To me the more egregious failures (or more disgusting betrayals) are not the petty theft, but the collaboration on sickening contracts that Randi supports, or the co-sponsorship of a merit pay program in nyc. . . .etc. As well as calling out the fact that the absence of internal organizing IS a unity strategy. That they don't do any internal work to build the unions democratic strength IS a corrupt policy, much worse than the cost of a hotel room. And, my 2 cents, as you are calling them out on things, remind people of the work that our orgs ARE doing with no funding, to organize and mobilize the rank and file. We want to get people used to thinking about what COULD be and how they can be part of making that happen.

Susan Lee Schwartz said...

Norm, as you know, it was Ivan Tiger the Manhattan Bureau Rep who said to me when I was incarcerated in the rubber room, "Relax. Do you know how many teachers would like to be in your shoes?"
It was this head honcho in NYC who allowed the District 2 Superintendent to 'find me guilty of corporal punishment," on her own without a hearing or even putting out charges. He ignored my grievances and I hired a private attorney at great cost, and he made them send me back to the school, but I did not return to my famous practice. A new principal set upon me and bullied me daily, with letters to my file, ad documentation of my 'incompetence' despite the fact that my practice was studied by Harvard for the New Standards research in previous years
The site rep had a personal agenda and worked with the principal to slander me. I was utterly alone as the district sought to prove 'incompetence, at the very time that my teaching was recognized nationally and by the NYS English Council which had awarded me the Educator of Excellence.
When the union fails the teacher, that is the end of due process. My final days of humiliation and harassment led my husband to call Randi Weingarten herself, and she 'saved me' by getting me into arbitration. I was 'arbtirated out of my career just before my longevity raise.

I respect Randi on many levels, and I realize she has a pulpit to put forth important ideas. I am grateful that she took time to help me, and we correspond.

That said, I know she was present during the years when the UFT looked away from the grievance process and corrupt hacks like TIger ALLOWED the DOE to push thousands of dedicated, experienced, talented PROFESSIONAL TEACHER-PRACTITIONERS, out of NYC public schools. That is why the schools are failing now, as the voice of the professional has been replaced by the voice of the businessmen that run the city.

But the scandal lies in the human tragedy, as due process disappeared for thousands of Americans who just happened to be teachers. My essay on this subject is available in two parts on Perdaily.com http://www.perdaily.com/2011/01/lausd-et-al-a-national-scandal-of-enormous-proportions-by-susan-lee-schwartz-part-1.html

Perhaps, like many leaders and politicos at the top, she has to play the game to accomplish anything, but it makes it hard to trust union leadership when so much policy and deals are created behind closed doors

Anonymous said...

The Union is working against teachers...and Union members should know it. The UFT sought several million dollars from the city council to move our failing charter school(which very few members even know about) to a new building. So the city council gave the UFT that couple million dollars to shut the f-up and not worry about Teacher Choice money! They sell us down the river every day!