Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Norm in the Wave: UFT Election Season: The Game is ON as Mulgrew Ducks Debate

April 5, 2013

UFT Election Season: The Game is ON as Mulgrew Ducks Debate
By Norm Scott

Recently a reporter asked me why a 10-year retiree is still doing this UFT union stuff. “I’m crazy,” I told her. Probably as a result of hitting my head while attempting to walk under my house to see if it meets flood standards.

Every three years, the United Federation of Teachers holds an election for 12 officers, 89 Executive Board members and some 700 AFT/NYSUT convention delegates. With ballots going out on April 3 and due back by April 24, we have reached that point once again. Full disclosure: I am a member and activist with Movement of Rank and File Educators (MORE) a new group challenging the ruling Unity Caucus party which has held onto power for over 50 years, a longer run in power than any banana republic dictatorship. Unity controls 100% of every single elected position in the union, the kind of control that excites the envy of people like Pinochet and Putin, who aims to turn what’s left of Russian democracy into the UFT model, one reason I check my food for radioactivity when I dine at UFT Executive Board meetings.

So, I have these 60,000 MORE leaflets in the back of my car, all of which must go into the school mailboxes of teachers all over the city. Luckily, there are many people taking most of the leaflets off my hands, leaving me to handle most of Rockaway and Howard Beach schools. I have such joy running around to schools and I make sure to treat myself to a snack after each school visit. By the time I lose the extra weight we’re ready for the next election. This is the 4th election I’ve worked in since 2004 and here’s hoping I get a life before the next time – yikes – 2016, when we’ll be preoccupied with the Hilary Clinton presidential campaign.

MORE’s presidential candidate is 13-year special education teacher Julie Cavanagh, the first time an elementary school teacher has run for UFT president. Her opponent, Michael Mulgrew, was appointed to take over the union by Randi Weingarten when she jumped to the AFT Presidency. Mention Randi around Mulgrew supporters and they say, “Randi who?” Ah, such short memories of the woman they backed on every single position as she took the UFT down the dangerous road  of collaboration on ed deform.

When Julie Cavanagh challenged Mulgrew to a debate, he didn’t respond. The NY Post headline called him “chicken” and reported, “a top aide to Mulgrew confirmed that the incumbent would not debate Cavanagh. Instead, Mulgrew’s political handlers offered to have one of the subordinates from his Unity Caucus debate her.” People who have seen Cavanagh in action in local, national TV appearances and in other venues understand Mulgrew’s reluctance.

Cavanagh in an email to Mulgrew said: “While we have differences and disagreements concerning education policy and union democracy, we both are committed to our union and the children we serve. In that spirit, we should be able to engage in an open conversation during election season so we can ensure our fellow members are informed and engaged. To this point you have ignored outreach regarding your participation in a debate or question and answer town hall with me. I would like to directly and formally ask you to participate in such an event. I believe that our members deserve the opportunity to ask questions of their presidential candidates and I strongly believe this kind of open and honest discourse strengthens our union: an educated and engaged membership that is listened to and participates makes us stronger.” My guess is Mulgrew will opt for an uninformed, non-engaged membership that is not listened to.

Putting together MORE over the past year has been an adventure, blending a variety of  multi-generational teachers. 50% of NYC teachers leave within 5 years. Once past this point people start thinking like lifers which changes one’s perspective. Some think about getting out of the classroom, especially given the assault on classroom teachers in the attempt to hold them accountable when the sun doesn’t shine. Some see becoming a supervisor so they can torture teachers instead of being tortured.

Julie Cavanagh, four years ago, was headed in this direction until she witnessed an invasion of her school by a charter school run by the son of a billionaire with influence with Bloomberg. That gave her an up-close-and-personal look at the Bloomberg privatization agenda. The lack of response by the UFT to the needs of her school opened  her eyes to the failures of the union, leading to an understanding that the monster of corporate education deform cannot be fought until the UFT throws all its weight into the battle. That will never happen until there is a progressive leadership in charge.

Norm blogs at ednotesonline.org


  1. I think Sandy Feldman was also an elementary school teacher.

  2. Sandy Feldman taught for a year before getting a full time job at the UFT. Less than any TFA -- not to disparage her but between her and Randi the teaching experience was mighty slim.


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