Friday, June 22, 2018

School Scope: The UFT, Janus and Democracy - The WAVE June 22, 2018

Published in The WAVE - June 22, 2018

School Scope: The UFT, Janus and Democracy
By Norm Scott

Unions nationwide are awaiting the Supreme Court decision in the Janus case that will turn New York, one of the heaviest pro-union states,  into a right-to-work (RTW) state, along with the entire nation. Mandatory union dues will become voluntary  while those who join and those who do not, still get the same benefits that those who remain in the union would continue to receive. The expectation is that the court will rule against the unions. I find it interesting that the usual conservative argument for states having more power ends up being reversed in this case. If New York State wanted to continue agency fees it would be against the law of the land. But don’t discount some creative solutions to protect unions which are often viewed as partners rather than foes by government agencies.

The UFT leadership, under control of the Unity Caucus Party since the founding of the UFT in 1962, is pushing hard to organize people to remain in the union and keep paying the $1400 a year dues. The leadership has been supported in this endeavor by most of the organized internal opposition groups like New Action, ICEUFT and MORE.

Angry voices of the disaffected have been urging people to leave the union as a way to punish the leadership. Why pay for services they do not get they argue? They feel the union  has been an enabler of Department of Education policies considered abhorrent and has been unable, or unwilling, to defend UFT members from the assault these policies have effected on the teaching profession. The counter argument is that even if not perfect, a much weaker UFT will be harmful to everyone, including students. Look at the massive problems in the right to work states where teachers have been in revolt, not only over low salaries, but over the monstrous cuts to education that have harmed students.

A few of the disaffected have called for people not just to leave the UFT, but to pool their resources and find another union to represent them, an unlikely outcome.

For the 25% of those who vote against the Unity Party in UFT elections, this is a conundrum of sorts. The fool-proof system of control set up 55 years ago by UFT founders who use Unity Caucus as a mechanism to control the union, is impregnable. Alternate voices have little room to gain a foothold for their views in the UFT other than to lobby the leadership. Sources inside Unity say there is no democracy internally either, as a few people at the top make all the decisions and the rest of Unity becomes a rubber stamp. This iron-clad control by so few people making decisions in their own little bubble is harmful to all UFT members who have little recourse to change policy which can become a justification for some to leave the union.

Will the issue of democracy resonate with UFT members when they have to make a decision on voluntarily joining the UFT? That only roughly 30% of the membership actually votes in general UFT elections is a sign that democracy is not an issue that resonates with most UFT members.

High school teachers, on the other hand, have voted for opposition parties on the UFT for most of the past 30 years. A few talk about separating the high school division from the UFT and having their own union similar to pre-1960 when the UFT was formed. Will this talk die down or accelerate if the Janus decision goes against the union?

More on the high schools and the opposition next time.

Recent  columns on Janus:
The UFT and Janus: (May 25)
Is the UFT in Danger from Janus as Staff Layoffs and Retirements Loom? (June 8)
The UFT and Janus: Better Service, YES, More Democracy, NO (June 15)

Norm wastes his life away blogging at

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