Monday, February 15, 2016

2 UFT Dissident Slates Close Ranks Behind Lee: The Chief Features MORE's Jia Lee

Ms. Lee said she wasn’t afraid of the two dissident tickets splitting the potential opposition votes because she considered it a sign that more members were ready to challenge the status quo... The Chief

Good point by Jia. All votes for either slate will count against Unity in this election without the confusion over the past 10 years.

The Chief:

Underdog Takes on Mulgrew

2 UFT Dissident Slates Close Ranks Behind Lee

Posted: Monday, February 1, 2016 5:00 pm | Updated: 5:04 pm, Mon Feb 1, 2016.


Citing her opposition to top-down leadership and standardized testing, two dissident slates—the Movement of Rank and File Educators and the New Action Caucus—recently nominated Jia Lee to challenge United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew.

Ms. Lee, a special-education Teacher at the Earth School in Manhattan since 2011, said the union’s leadership has often disregarded rank-and-file members in favor of political considerations such as adopting Teacher evaluations.

‘Give Teachers a Voice’

“It’s really about establishing some democracy within our union,” she said. “There’s very little in the way of giving Teachers voices in the decision-making that happens within our union.”

The 15-year veteran said she would do more to encourage parents to have their children opt out of Common Core-based standardized tests. After a campaign by parents and the New York State United Teachers, 20 percent of students statewide sat out the math and English exams last April. But in New York City, where the Teachers union advised parents to not withdraw their kids, the rate of opt-outs was less than 2 percent.

In 2014, she and other educators at her school refused to administer standardized tests to fourth- and fifth-grade students. Ms. Lee said she helped draft a letter and position paper to the DOE and got support from her Principal, but not her union. “They basically said I was on my own,” she said.

Francesco Portelos, a Staten Island educator and activist, is also running to unseat Mr. Mulgrew on the UFT Solidarity Caucus slate, which is advocating for school staffers who feel ignored by the Department of Education.

Both candidates—who are running slates seeking to also gain executive-board seats in May—face an uphill climb in mounting a significant challenge to Mr. Mulgrew. He was selected in 2009 to succeed Randi Weingarten, who departed the local to lead the American Federation of Teachers. The following year, he was elected over James Eterno by 41,521 votes to 4,075. He was re-elected in 2013 with 35,913 votes to 5,708 for MORE’s candidate, Julie Cavanagh. The New Action Caucus endorsed Mr. Mulgrew’s Unity Caucus that year.

Critical of Wage Deal

Since Mayor de Blasio was elected, the UFT has developed a closer relationship with City Hall and his Schools Chancellor, Carmen Fariña. But MORE, billed as the UFT’s “social-justice” caucus, protested the contract reached between the union and the de Blasio administration in May 2014, saying that Teachers deserved raises more generous than were offered in the agreement.

Ms. Lee, a chapter leader for seven years, said the union should fight against the Teacher-evaluation system. “It feeds into the ed-reformers’ rhetoric of the bad Teacher, and which is part of a bigger agenda to basically bust our union and privatize the public-education system,” she said.

She testified last year before a U.S. Senate Committee that was debating the successor to the Federal No Child Left Behind law. She also proposed an unsuccessful resolution last year at a UFT delegate assembly to express “no confidence” in newly appointed State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia.

Approximately 30 officer and executive-board positions are up for election, she estimated.

“The UFT is a democracy,” Mr. Mulgrew said in an e-mailed statement.

Unfazed by Split Challenge

Ms. Lee said she wasn’t afraid of the two dissident tickets splitting the potential opposition votes because she considered it a sign that more members were ready to challenge the status quo. She added that even if her campaign, which is driven by word of mouth and local organizing, didn’t propel her into the presidency, it would still be a success if it engaged less-active members.

“The true test of what we’re doing is really whether or not we’re able to help build our rank-and-file-led push within our union,” she said. “And if we can get more Teachers to feel empowered—to organize at the school level and within their communities and to have a voice—I think that is the true win.”


  1. Somebody asked a question... What would MORE be without Norm Scott?

    1. Thanks for asking. Fact is MORE would be doing fine without Norm Scott, a good sign of health. The difference in the work I had to do in ICE is massive. I pretty much have nothing to do with running MORE. I do no organizing since I don't work. I don't set up events or do social media or produce leaflets. I do some running around as an errand boy and in the elections I handle the petition work. All I have to do is sit at home and blog. I am also a critic of MORE internally. I am not always listened to but I try. I think some of my advice in moving to local organizing is being followed though at a slower pace than I would have liked. Empowering people to do their thing without overly central control seems to have been a breakthrough from the early days when people were just getting to know each other and were paralyzed at times in waiting for "instructions." I would say that after the difficulties of a year and a half ago, over the past year MORE has righted itself. Most people stuck it out and no matter what the complaints saw that the 3 years spent trying to put every group in the same room should not go to waste by splitting into fragments. Even the point about holding firm until New Action, inevitably, broke with Unity is working out. The hope is that they will keep their identity but also join MORE and help build it like ICE and TJC have done - though TJC didn't stay as a separate group. There are still some blocks and factions in MORE but I see that as a good thing so different than Unity. The MORE bylaws are designed to control the ability of one block to gain too much control and the democratic structure of 6 month steering committee elections with 1 year term limits is fluid enough to allow new room for new voices to grow.


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