Monday, August 17, 2015

UFT Election 2016 Advice: Ignore the Retiree Vote

With 52% of the total vote in the UFT 2013 elections coming from retirees,
Happy retirees - of course
the largest voting block with the highest ballot return rate, there often calls for something to be done. Here I will argue for nothing to be done in addressing the retiree vote - at least until the opposition shows it can get more votes than Unity amongst the working teachers - and we are far from that at this point. When the opposition gets close to winning in the schools and can claim that the retiree vote is the difference, then it is time to go to the membership and demand changes in the UFT Constitution. Last resort- go to court.

I've never met an unhappy UFT retiree
I also hear calls to go out to retirees and organize them to vote for the opposition. Here is why that is a bad idea and a wasteful endeavor. Groups running against Unity should focus on the roughly 108,000 active UFT members, 92% of which voted in the contract vote.

There are about 60,000, mostly happy, retirees who don't face the daily pressures and are given incentives and some perks. Other than the internal UFT politically conscious retirees and some of the recently angry pushouts, what is the incentive for voting against Unity - or even voting at all?

In the 2013 election around 21-22,000 retirees voted, with about 18-19000 going to Unity.

Think of it. Before the election begins, the opposition must make up a 10-1 deficit.
  • 23,000 count for the election – Unity has upped number from 15000 to 18000 to 23000 to assure themselves a cushion. 
  • 85- 90% retirees vote Unity. Think of it - over the 60 years of the Unity machine, there are thousands - maybe as much as 10-20000 retirees who were in Unity Caucus and they make up a solid block of votes. 
  • Most opposition votes against come from long-time opposition – ICE/TJC/New Action voters in past plus some newly angered retirees. Maybe 2000 with a possibility of 3000 in a good year. They barely make a dent.
  • Incentives to vote Unity – lower dues, SHIP benefits, low cost courses, trips. I hear the courses are fabulous - in every borough and for about 5 bucks - do working teacher dues supplement the retiree incentive?
  • Unity networking chapters in other states, plus Westchester, Long Island, etc hold events.
  • Regular events with Mulgrew and other Unity leaders as they make junkets to major pockets of retirees.
  • Iron control of UFT retiree chapter where meetings are worse than the Delegate Assembly.
  • Almost total inability for opposition to reach retirees. The major opportunity was the spring 2015 chapter election (every 3 years) where Retiree Advocate ran against Unity. Voting turnout in this election is much lower than in the general UFT elections. It is the one golden opportunity to get a piece of literature into the hands of every retiree but I feel RA blows it every time (I considered running a MORE slate but it wasn't worth the time). RA does not go after Unity and focuses on retiree issues instead of exposing the Unity machine. Because most people don't give a crap, RA does get their people out to vote and often get about 25-30% of those who do vote-- their own loyalists. This is pretty much a finite number of maybe 2000 at most.
This is the reason I recommend that due to opposition's scarce resources – ignore this factor and concentrate on 108,000 working UFT members and aim for the positions on the UFT Executive Board that retirees don’t get to vote for.

I'll get into the weeds on the at-large (retirees vote) and the non-at large positions in a follow-up.


I was at the 2013 vote count with some Unity Caucus (and UFT) leaders and even if it was clear that Unity won, when the 52% retiree number came in they did not look happy. The low turnout of working UFT members was clearly an embarrassment, especially since they had made more of an effort to get out the vote with robocalls and reminders from their massive Unity Caucus machine in the schools - pizza parties, prizes, stuffing every mailbox in the city numerous times with glossy Unity literature. Clearly the low turnout was a rejection of Unity. But it was also a rejection of the opposition which could not really capitalize on the increasing loss of confidence in the union leadership.

I have lots of theories as to why this is so, including that until there is one caucus going head to head with Unity, some members will say - if they can't get together between elections into one group and only run together as separate groups, why should we trust them? At least Unity is homogeneous.

Well of course Unity is homogeneous - when you have all those perks to give out and a loyalty oath, it is easy. The hard thing for an opposition party is to figure out how to grow within the context of a democratic- non Unity type framework. Why replace Unity with another top-down loyalty oath caucus and fall into a "new boss same as the old boss" syndrome?

Thus, the push 3 years ago - really beginning in 2011- to create one umbrella caucus under the MORE brand - which has had some rough spots - but that is still the goal I am committed to.


  1. Hey, our courses are now $10!!!! We should not be allowed to vote but we still are paying dues.

  2. If the retirees get to vote, then all cacuses should have equal access to reach out to them. New Action filed a PERB complaint for access to the info, but it was denied from the stand point that retirees are not covered under the Taylor Law. This gives Unity a tremendous advantage. I completely disagree with you concerning the retiree vote. They are voting at a higher percentage than active members. If you focused only on the retirees, (assuming you could get access to their data), and won them over - you wouldn't even need the apathetic active members. This is part of the strategy Unity has been using and winning with for years. The work you are doing is important, but ignoring the retirees will make it all for naught.

    1. I think you are missing the point. Retirees are out of the system and don't have the same concerns as working teachers - do the really give a damn on the whole about you getting a raise or your working conditions? Only the most politically conscious do - and they don't have to be won over.
      Unity has a massive block of retirees who vote - probably 15000 - or more. Retirees want their pensions assured - and trust me - Unity will go to the mat on that issue while letting all of you sink.
      And Unity might give you access to all 60,000 retirees with their addresses - what will you do with that? Spend enormous money to send them a flier as to why they should vote for the opposition which they may see as putting their energies into defending working teachers? They are only voting at a higher percentage than active people because active people don't give enough of a crap.
      Any opposition caucus must win over active teachers - You mean you want to win an election with retirees like Unity and have them rule over the contract? How is that better than Unity?
      This isn't about winning power in a vacuum - it is about filling the vacuum.
      I want to openly run on a platform that retirees votes in the election should be limited - not a popular choice amongst retirees I would bet -- but the right thing to do.

  3. How many of these retirees went on strike in 1968 and 1975? Dang, they should give a damn about what is happening to us in 2015. They should be angry at the capitulation of the UFT the last 15-20 years.

    A since deceased friend of the family who went out on strike both times would say to me every time he saw me, "you schmucks have given back everything we fought for." He's right and the retirees wrong.

    1. These were Unity led strikes - and built loyalty to Unity -- You must understand the mind of Unity people - they think they are doing a great job. They don't see UFT capitulation but buy the cooperation line - they are indocrtinated - and as I pointed out a great number of retirees are former and current Unity people - they even have 300 Unity retirees in the DA. And these people are organizers for Unity in the retirement communities.

  4. Maybe a campaign by all active members to reach out to retired members to inform them how Unity I'd harming all?

    1. I keep trying to make the point - unsuccessfully - that Unity is NOT Harming retirees at all - and is in fact benefits retirees in many ways. Other than the most astute and aware politically who give a crap about what is going on, most are very glad to be free of having to deal with this. My colleagues from my school who are with me when we were working have no interest now and don't even vote or pay attention. It is the Unity people who still care about the caucus and do not agree UNity is harming them all- just read the comments from Unity people - they believe that stuff.

    2. I recently ran into a retired member. Seemingly smart well read guy. Retired maybe 8 years ago. Had NO CLUE how bad it is for active teachers. Says he goes to Teacher Center all the time and thought Unity was doing right by active members

  5. I get it, Norm. More than 10 years ago there was a chapter leader I would speak with at district meetings. When she retired she got a mentor job and arrived at my school one day for a meeting. She praised the UFT for all they do for retirees and tried to convince me that I shouldn't be so harsh on UFT Leadership---that I would see the light when I retired. My response then is the same now: Teachers shouldn't have to tolerate complete and utter neglect from their union for 25 or 30 years before they come to the attention of UFT leadership in retirement. Of course this conversation was back when teachers were confident they could make it to retirement under tier IV. That promise of reaching the wonderful world of UFT retirement is waning fast for our younger members. The retired mentor had a tier 1 pension and like all retirees would not be subjected to the era of teacher abuse we are working under now. UFT leadership doesn't earn my approval by being good to retirees because that's what they are supposed to do. They're also supposed to look out for the rest of us but have failed us miserably. I could also argue that Unity led UFT has been quick to accept lesser tiers for our newer members so they've already sold out the retirees of the future. But I suppose as long as Unity ensures that the working conditions of active members continues to worsen, a tier 10 retiree will still feel they are better off. You made your point clearly and it's a point I agree with. The active working membership must awaken and demand better for anything to change and it's the burden of like minded individuals to network in their schools and get that message across. Roseanne McCosh

  6. We are actually get calls and are having conversations where retirees are telling us they ARE NOT happy with Unity.

    1. I'm a retiree and have not been happy with Unity as were the many retirees in ICE. MORE got over a 1000 votes last time and New Action over a thousand. Unity got 19000. Check how many retiree votes you get in the election.


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