Tuesday, May 31, 2016

UFT Elections - Mike Schirtzer on Why and How MORE Won the High Schools

We don’t come in with empty promises. We offer advice from seasoned chapter leaders that have seen it all. Sometimes we had success, sometimes we do not, but the support that MORE offers has filled the void that has been left by our union leaders. We do not proclaim to be a romanticized savior, but we have been practical in the way we help our union members.... Mike Schirtzer
Schirtzer puts some red meat on the table even before he gets his Peter Luger steak. He makes a strong case for the work MORE did on a broad range of issues putting to rest some of the laughable charges of MORE not being interested in defending teachers. Mike and I are reality based organizers and activists. I will follow in a few days with my own version with more details on the work we did. I am never as optimistic as Mike is but I am an old curmudgeon.

Why MORE Won!
By Mike Schirtzer
Social Studies Teacher and UFT Delegate Leon M. Goldstein High School, UFT Executive Board Member- MORE caucus

MORE won seven positions on the UFT Executive Board, elected by teachers from New York City’s public high schools. It is important that we reflect on how we got here. It didn’t happen by a miracle; it was constant organizing since the day the last election was over. We sat down at a diner with a small group of dedicated members and asked what next? We came together, did some analysis of where our caucus was and where we were capable of going. Multiple meetings followed that, phone conferences, long discussions, hours were dedicated to spreading the word about who we are and what we stand for, but eventually, we did it.

We have to start with the fact that many UFT members feel like nobody has their back. We’ve heard complaints from teachers who have chapter leaders who side with their principal or AP, whose calls to UFT offices often go unanswered. In disheartening moments like this, they’ve reached out to MORE. We held local meetings where we offer mutual support and share how we deal with similar issues in our schools. This is the fundamental purpose of any union, but too often the leadership has failed at this and we have had to fill that void. We don’t come in with empty promises. We offer advice from seasoned chapter leaders that have seen it all. Sometimes we had success, sometimes we do not, but the support that MORE offers has filled the void that has been left by our union leaders. We do not proclaim to be a romanticized savior, but we have been practical in the way we help our union members. We’ve held meetings in person, over the phone and through our chapter-leader support email list-serve. One of our most successful events was in summer 2013 when Chapter Leader Julie Cavanagh led a standing room only workshop based on her widely circulated article “The Noose or The Sword” explaining how the new evaluation system was going to be implemented and the MOSL choices offered. This is the kind of work that the paid staffers from UFT should have been doing. This is the kind of work that MORE does and believes in.

We also became heavily involved in the chapter leader/delegate elections and followed-up with our own successful trainings. MORE believes that organizing begins in each chapter. We must first have our own core organizers be democratically elected members of their chapter. In order to get the support necessary to win the Executive Board we had to have a base of support in our schools. MORE held several trainings on how to win your chapter by Kit Wainer, one of the longest serving Chapter Leaders in NYC. He gave point by point strategies that led to several victories for many of our folks. This past summer we held chapter leader trainings and into the fall we led trainings on the nuts and bolts of being a chapter leader and expanded on how to organize your chapter, use consultation meetings, SLTs, and other techniques for keeping your chapter mobilized and administration in check. They were led by young and veteran chapter leaders such as Dan Lupkin, Yelena Siwinski, Patrick Walsh, and Norm Scott. It is critical that chapter leaders in each school feel like they have the support they need when their UFT District Representative does not have the answers or does not offer alternatives. MORE decided collectively to focus on the chapter-leader elections and then follow-up, as we will continue to do so this summer.

No one can ignore the terrible contract we signed after 5 years of waiting. No UFT member I know is happy with this contract, nor are they happy our own union leadership neglected women on maternity leave or those out on sick leave who have not received their retroactive payments. It is simply outrageous that we got paid less than other city unions, retro deferred to 2020, and skyrocketing medical costs. MORE was the only organized union group telling the truth about the contract, while UFT representatives from Unity caucus made statements saying “this is the best we can do”. It wasn't; we could and should have done better. The article “The Contract We Do NOT Deserve”, which was widely circulated and even went viral on social media, was the basis of a flier we created leading the “Vote NO!” campaign against the subpar contract. We held happy hours to inform our fellow members about the contract, explaining the details of PROSE, how ATRS were being treated as second class union members, and why it was unfair compared to other city unions. We answered questions in person, over the phone, through email, on our blog, social media, everywhere and anywhere. UFT members came to us for the sad truth, because they knew their local UFT hack was selling them a bill of goods. MORE organized a large presence at the Executive Board meeting and Delegate Assembly to lead the delegates in voting no. Our own James Eterno, chapter leader of the now closed down Jamaica High School spoke strongly against this contract. In an attempt to persuade the delegates, our 2013 presidential candidate Julie Cavanagh was left without the opportunity to speak, as UFT President Mulgrew purposely didn't call on her. There were at least 5 speakers for and only a couple against the contract, before the Delegate Assembly voted for it. The contract passed, but there were 20,000 votes against it. This effort against an unfair contract was only led by MORE. An unfortunate circumstance, that led to our victory. We now have the moral imperative to press for a good contract in 2018.

While Unity and Mulgrew support high stakes attached to standardized testing, common core standards, and test based evaluations, MORE has steadfastly opposed these from the start. From the creation of our group we were intent on organizing around the fact that these policies existed only to destroy public education. It has become quite clear that our students’ interests are not served by any of these corporate influenced policies, created without consulting with classroom teachers, and with the real impetus to bust our union. Politicians bought off by privateers that are looking to close down schools and open up “not for profit” charters were going to use these standards and test scores to further advance the false narrative that “bad teachers” are to blame for “failing schools”. MORE has been dedicated to exposing these lies and working with parents to support the Opt-Out movement. Chapter Leader, parent, and our UFT Presidential candidate Jia Lee was on the forefront of this battle to protect our children from unfair and unnecessary testing. TIme and time again from small meetings in her school, to larger district panels with parents, to appearing before a United States Senate Committee (without the backing of UFT/Unity leadership) she was the mom and teacher telling everyone that would listen (and those that would not) that these tests are only meant to harm our children and could never be a valid measure of good teaching.

The agenda to push testing is based on the same agenda to close down public schools. MORE has fought to stop the privatization of public education. We have built alliances the parents, students, fellow unionists, and community members of Change The Stakes, NYC and LI Opt-Out, PJSTA, Stronger Together Caucus, Class Size Matters, NYSAPE and so many other pro-parent, pro-public ed groups. This is what we call social justice unionism.

We would be remiss if we did not discuss our organizational structure and how it has helped us organize. MORE is a healthy, thriving union caucus. We all walk into the group understanding that our UFT card is what brings us together. Our shared values are our love for public education and firm belief that the best way to tackle economic, racial and social inequality is through our unions. With that being said it is a group where there are many voices, and therefore disagreements that sometimes may find consensus, and sometimes not. We see this array of diverse voices as our greatest strength. We learn from each other and work to persuade others to our side, all with the best of intentions. This is where our union is severely lacking. UFT Leadership makes decisions that impact the daily lives of working teachers and school based educators without open debate, discussion, and dissent is certainly not welcome. MORE has a set of bylaws that ensures member involvement, we want the same for our union.

Now this is not to say that all disagreements are handled perfectly or all other organizations that send members to MORE are always transparent, but we hold our members accountable. It is not easy being part of a group where you have to get along with others who do not always see eye to eye with you, but our core members stuck together. Some have left, some formed their own caucuses, and others came back when they realized an open democratic organization is a strength, not a weakness. We have a caucus that is open and welcome to all. Our friends in Unity Caucus lack the flexibility and openness that our core organizers have kept and is the key to our success. MORE is independent and can not, nor will not be swayed by any one person or outside group. Our independence is what attracts rank and filers to our cause, because we aren't beholden to outside forces.

Finally we must focus on high schools, where we won over 54% of the vote. When we lost by only a few hundred votes in 2013 we immediately saw an opportunity and we took it. We put together a dedicated high school committee led by chapter leader and renowned education journalist Arthur Goldstein, listened to our members, colleagues in other schools, and those that communicated with us online and responded to their concerns, The newsletters and election literature represented their concerns. High school teachers know that Mulgrew is to blame for our deteriorating working conditions and student’s learning conditions. We called him out for not having our back and being complicit in policies that have hurt our schools. We’ve spoken to members who feel that the union leadership constantly lies to them, claiming that Common Core is wonderful, that teacher ratings are the way to go, that parents love tests, and that this contract is the best we can do. However, when they met with us or read MORE’s literature, they saw the truth about Mulgrew and Unity caucus, the lack of support for Chapter Leaders, their strong belief in test based evaluations, and how they negotiated away the rights of ATRs. As one teacher commented, “It’s refreshing to see a group of leaders telling the truth”. High school teachers know that MORE will represent real working teachers and other school based professionals. Unlike our union leaders, we are in the schools each day, and we have to deal with the consequences of their acts. This is what has led MORE to where it stands now: we speak with you, we know what the real issues are, and we have a plan to solve them.



Anonymous said...

I think that hottie Mike Schirtzer should run again in 2019 this time for UFT president against that nottie Mulgrew..

ed notes online said...

Thanks for commenting Mike.

Anonymous said...

I don't see a MORE revolution in the results. In fact, UNITY came closer to the vote totals of the opposition in HS division this year vs 2013. It looks like UNITY screwed themselves in HS when they tossed Shulman overboard. In Presidential totals, as well, Mulgrew got 4,000 more votes this time despite losing the NA votes. Jia gained those votes and a bunch more, but her gain seems to be in line with the overall vote trend, namely 2 to 1 Mulgrew. So, the increased turnout seems to have benefitted neither side. The only re1volution I see here is in MORE increasing their overall support to 24% total (33% active). This is an impressive gain, and worthy of congratulations, which I offer. But the HS victory was handed to MORE as a result of the UNITY/NA split.

ed notes online said...

I pretty much agree with you. But one thing about New Action - they had 440 last time but their totals had been dropping. Unity went up 450 in the high schools - MORE/NA together went up 350 or so and it the Portelos votes are added (which you can't really know for sure - the anti-Mulgrew vote in the hs matched their rise.
That Jia got almost 11,000 is a signifant break. Mulgrew dropped to 75% - for me anything under 70% would be victory.
In the long run there is no chance to dent the retiree vote but MORE needs to develop a strategy for elem and ms plus functionals.
If MORE stands pat it will lose the high schools next time. I understand the lifecycle of caucuses. ICE and TJC and NAC have aged out -- Key MOREs are hitting 40. Can they sustain the caucus for a 3rd election cycle? Some don't seem to want to - rather focus on their pet issues and turn MORE Into an internal lobby group in the UFT. I mean if your analysis is that the best you can do is win the high schools than that makes you like New Action from 1995-2001 before they succumbed to the Unity offer.
The alternative is developing an effective strategy to go after the MS and Elem divisions.