More troubling is the complete lack of nuance and understanding about the political make-up of their membership. Although Hillary Clinton easily won New York (59% to 36.5%), nearly three million people in New York state voted for Donald Trump. Three million votes, to put this in perspective, is approximately equal to the winning Trump vote totals in Alaska, Arkansas, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, and Montana combined. Additionally, Donald Trump carried most counties outside of New York City.I found this blog called Beloved American published Jan. 4 with an interesting piece on NYSUT. It takes the position that NYSUT should focus on bread and butter and less on social justice issues. I don't agree because our schools are affected by social justice issues.
But the blogger is right that there is a certain level of cluelessness as out national, state and city union leaders go screaming into the night -- Betsy DeVos is coming, Betsy DeVos is coming. Imagine if Trump announced he was pulling Betsy and replacing her with Arne Duncan - a massive cheer goes up.
In the wake of the 2016 presidential election, one in which New York State United Teachers (NYSUT) went all in for Hillary Clinton, NYSUT has a serious message problem. As is evidenced by pre-election tweets and post-election responses, NYSUT simply didn’t believe that Donald Trump would win.NYSUT Executive Vice President on Election Night.NYSUT Vice President on Election Night.
Now, 18 days before the inauguration of president-elect Trump, it has become painfully obvious that NYSUT had no “plan b” should the election not go their way and has floundered in the aftermath. NYSUT has yet to formulate a coherent and considered response to Donald Trump’s election and, more importantly, seems to be missing the point in general.Here is a summation of NYSUT’s actions in the post-election wake:In mid-November, NYSUT and affiliate union AFT, offered counseling to their members who were struggling with the election of Donald Trump.
In early December, NYSUT urged their members to “take action” on January 19th (the day before Mr. Trump’s inauguration) but offered little guidance on how, exactly, to “take action” and, more importantly, why should they (as if it should be obvious)? Suggested actions include: encouraging member schools to be designated sanctuaries for children of undocumented immigrants, demonstrating against Trump cabinet appointees, and organizing members to defend the social safety net.Last week, members were urged to sign a petition demanding Carl Paladino’s removal from the Buffalo School Board after making some admittedly dumb statements about the current President and First-Lady. Paladino had been a very vocal supporter of Donald Trump throughout the election cycle.Lastly, in the wake of Mr. Trump’s election, NYSUT president Karen Magee has made a variety of statements dripping with war and battle imagery that contain little actual substance.More troubling is the complete lack of nuance and understanding about the political make-up of their membership. Although Hillary Clinton easily won New York (59% to 36.5%), nearly three million people in New York state voted for Donald Trump. Three million votes, to put this in perspective, is approximately equal to the winning Trump vote totals in Alaska, Arkansas, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, and Montana combined. Additionally, Donald Trump carried most counties outside of New York City. If you remove “downstate” from the electoral math (Rockland and Suffolk county south), Donald Trump may have actually won upstate New York (1,344,005 to 1,453,871 by my math). Regardless, it is safe to say that many people in New York State voted for Donald Trump and a large number of them live upstate.
Additionally, teacher representation in New York is actually split between two major unions. Although NYSUT technically represents 600,000 New York teachers, approximately 200,000 of these members are from the five boroughs of New York City and are represented by the United Federation of Teachers in most matters. Therefore, much of NYSUT’s power comes from upstate teachers who, if nothing else, live in communities who voted for Donald Trump and may have actually voted for Donald Trump themselves.Simply put, NYSUT has an audience problem. They have lost touch with their members and their political beliefs.Unions are strong when they have a common concern or cause to unite behind. In 2015, when Governor Andrew Cuomo attacked public school teachers, union membership responded. It was an easy sell for NYSUT to make to their members. Cuomo’s agenda was dangerous to students, schools, and teachers. A groundswell of unionism followed which led the New York Post to ask, “Did the teachers unions just break Andrew Cuomo?”.Donald Trump presents an existential crisis for NYSUT from within. Electoral math suggest that NYSUT members, perhaps many upstate NYSUT members, support Donald Trump and his political agenda. There are logical reasons for this. Democratic policies at the state and national level have not exactly been great for teachers in over the past few years (see Race to the Top and the APPR). During the election, Donald Trump claimed he will eliminate the Common Core and the Department of Education.
Regardless of whether those actions are even possible, many teachers would openly welcome them (for better or worse). This is not to say that most NYSUT members are Trump supporters. However, NYSUT has ignored the fact that some members are and partisan demands, like encouraging schools to become sanctuary for the children of undocumented workers, encouraging members to “protect the social safety net”, or lobbying for transgender rights carry partisan baggage that undercuts their message and mandate: represent the teachers of New York State.
By encouraging teachers to lobby their communities to support obviously partisan social justice issues, NYSUT demonstrates their misunderstanding of the political complexities of many upstate communities. Teachers need community support to pass school budgets, support extracurricular programs, and rally for fair contracts. This communal support will vanish if teachers become tangled in the poisonous politics of many social justice issues. NYSUT should focus on educational issues that are on the minds of members like testing, APPR, fair pay, protecting pensions, and other educationally focused issues. This is, and should always be, their first priorities.