Sunday, September 11, 2011

The Jim Callaghan Files: The UFT and Race at the Top

I'm going to be putting out a series of posts by former UFT NY Teacher reporter Jim Callaghan who was fired in the summer of 2010 for attempting to unionize. I'm not going to claim I agree with everything Jim has to say but they deserve an airing.

I once told Randi Weingarten she had done more to promote people of color than any UFT leader before her. I was referencing the UFT Exec Board and what looked like a lot more diversity in Unity Caucus. So this is a very interesting commentary from Callaghan on the UFT and race at the top (not bad, eh - the old brain cells are still functioning). I never thought of race being a factor in the UFT but Jim from his unique perspective gives one food for thought. It reminded me of this point:

Jim left out that the original heir apparent to Randi was the very popular Michelle Bodden (who seemed to really think like a teacher), the elementary school VP, the highest ranking black in the union hierarchy. Elementary school teachers, mostly chapter leaders, who attended her meetings told me they were the most useful and least political (in pushing the union line) meetings. Then one day Bodden was replaced by Michael Mulgrew and disappeared into the UFT elementary charter school as principal . Hmmmm!
Weingarten and Mulgrew refused to let me write a story about Racqnel James, a black teacher at Fordham  HS for the Arts who was railroaded-accused of leaving a death threat in the principal's mail box two years ago by the principal Iris Blige. When the main accuser turned on Blige and wanted me to write the story clearing James, Weingarten and Mulgrew refused and refused to let me take a vacation day to attend her trial.

Ms. James was fired and two years later, after being indicted for a misdemeanor -think Tucson- still hasn't had a trial. The Bronx D.A. - elected with help from the UFT - has asked for 17 postponements. Blige was later fined for telling her A.P's to recommend Unsatisfactory ratings  BEFORE  teachers were observed.

The main decision makers at the UFT are almost all white.

While people like Mulgrew and his top staff make $200,000 to $300,000 per year, the starting salary for a secretary is $23,000 –constantly abused by Hickey – they are almost all black and Latina women.

Weingarten filed a phony lawsuit years ago claiming that firing para professionals – black and Latinas- was racist. After she got her headlines, she dropped the case.

The $50 per day free UFT parking spots given as rewards to UFT insiders are given predominantly to whites. That is a $100,000 per year- the cost of parking downtown – perk to Unity Caucus loyalists – money that could have been used to upgrade the salaries of the low paid mostly Black and Latina staff.

When a long time UFT Unity Caucus activist – a black woman, complained about shakedowns and fraud in the Staten Island rubber room by security guards, Weingarten and Barr ordered me out of the room- which is a five minute drive from my house. Weingarten had told me to investigate, but a Brooklyn UFT official -who was sending my emails to the DOE- wanted the probe closed down. The company guards who were working the racket  are employed by a company owned by a billionaire who is a close friend of the mayor. So much for loyatly to a black woman.

Weingarten and Mulgrew fired or demoted five consecutive black writers, forced out a competent black lawyer, took the Safety Dept. away from a black man and replaced Leroy Barr- a black man -with two whites because Weingarten said he was incompetent. He was allowed to keep his title and salary.

Mulgrew fired his press secretary - a black man with 19 years experience at the union who used to appear as a union spokesman when Sandy was President, with a white guy (Dick Riley- Maureen Salter's friend) who had quit the union years before right after his five year pension vested to go to work for Harold Levy. The black man was given a bullshit title in the communications department. Randi had once told a staff meeting she made a mistake in passing him over all those years. [Ed note: Riley has been back and forth at the UFT like a yo-yo.

Anyone see a pattern here?

On Election Day, 2008, -I was suspended for two days without pay because Weingarten, my editor Deidre McFadyen, staff directors Barr and Ellie Engler, Garry Sprung, CFO David Hickey were off the wall with rage  that I sent a pro-Obama article to UFT staff the week before the election - which writers were always allowed to do. Weingarten was still bitter about her close pal Hillary losing and wanted to sabotage the Obama campaign. Weingarten refused to allow the members to vote for the 2008 presidential endorsement because her internal polling showed overwhelming support for Obama. She promised Hillary it was in the bag with the executive board.

When it appeared to UFT staff that there was a predominantly black presence in the rubber rooms, Weingarten and Barr refused to let me do the story.

When a progressive black woman sought the UFT endorsement for a City Council race in Staten Island, Weingarten endorsed a conservative Democrat in 2005 who later backed Bloomberg. She repeated this shanda in 2009, endorsing and even more Conservative Democrat. The black woman won.

Weingarten and Mulgrew sold out Bill Thompson for mayor in 2009 -like she did with Carl McCall for governor, telling the Unity Caucus that Bloomberg promised her two, four percent raises- using public funds as a bribe- if the UFT stayed out of the race. The members clearly were for Thompson. Have Teachers noticed the increased take home pay as they come up to two years without a contact?
Coming soon: Callaghan blows the lid off the collaborations between the UFT and DOE as he's pulled off stories that might embarrass Bloomberg cronies and Weingarten shares pre-pub copies of one of his stories with Dennis Walcott.

1 comment:

Philip Nobile said...

As long as color is on the agenda, let me add my conflict with LeRoy Barr. As chapter leader at the Cobble Hill School of American Studies in Brooklyn, it was my custom to send hand-made XMAS cards to my colleagues. In 2008, my cards were illustrated with color copies of the New Yorker's portfolio of witty parodies of President-elect Obama.

Artist Barry Blitt admiringly portrayed him as Michaelangelo's Adam on the Sistine ceiling, Jackie Robinson sliding home, the First Couple as the farmer and daughter in "American Gothic," etc.

Principal Ken Cuthbert, an Afican American, seized the occasion to accuse me of racism. It was a retaliatory gesture owing to our many run-ins over school issues including my report of his arson cover-up a few weeks before XMAS. A nimrod OSI gumshoe substantiated Cuthbert's complaint.

Reflexively, I reached out to Barr at a DA meeting. He told me to call his office for an appointment. But before we could meet, he emailed his refusal to intervene without the courtesy of an explanation. I ripped OSI's art criticism in memos to OSI and the Superintendent that killed the sleazy complaint without even a letter to file--no thanks to Barr, whose lack of solidarity proved again that every brother is not a brother.