Thursday, September 3, 2020

Mike Schirtzer, Lone Ex Bd Vote NO - 99-1 - He Explains

I believe Mulgrew and UFT leadership are trying to do everything in their power to ensure our safety. I’m just not sure its enough, hence the vote NO... Mike Schirtzer
Norm here, Sept. 3, 2020, 2 PM

I'm trying to sort out the competing points of view on the recent developments in the return to school as NYC is the only big city that is not going full remote. And we just heard that Eva Moskowitz is going full remote until December -- but I believe it is about money -- why should she spend for PPE and cleaning when she gets the same amount of money for zooming?

Mike Schirtzer calls himself the 1% - the one out of a hundred Ex Bd members who voted NO on agreement and he also was part of the 18% who voted NO at the Del. Ass. Mike is one of two non-Unity Caucus Ex Bd members.

On August 23 Mike wrote a piece on NYC Educator

He had harsh words for the mayor:
Our union and all unions were built on the belief that an injury to one is an injury to all. The sacrifice you would make for your loved ones is the sacrifice we take on for our union brothers and sisters ask of you.
Will we let another UFT member die? Will we let another of our family members die?
Will we allow our students to walk into conditions that aren’t safe or secure? Will we allow them to risk the health of their family members if they are asymptomatic?
Will we let a mayor that refuses to work with the teachers, principals or parents of NYC force open schools that have no business being open?
We joined a union. This means we never walk alone and when we stand, we stand together.
I thought the Strike or Die point was a bit over the top but reflects the real fears people have, if not for themselves, for family members. Yesterday I was texting with a prominent UFT activist who lives alone with her 71 year old mother who she helps care for and is frightened for her mom if she has to go in to schools.

There are calls for a strike until there is more testing along the lines the union called for originally. When I heard Mulgrew's original testing demand I thought it was absolutely impossible and was clearly a bargaining demand. I also mocked the inept contact tracing, especially with this much testing.

Could Mulgrew have gotten a better deal on testing? Possibly. Would people strike for a better testing deal? I wonder what a membership vote would show.

Mike Schirtzer was asked by someone who condemned "Mulgrew's betrayal" to provide some illumination to what is going on. Mike is clearly ambivalent, as are so many others. At times he seems to be arguing both sides. People who wrestle with issues like these as opposed to push-button ideologues often find a path that works for them.

Have Mike's views changed since Aug. 23's Strike or Die and what caused them to change? Mike is clearly ambivalent and these two articles only ten days apart reflect the agonizing choices facing most of you.

The other independent (non-Unity) Ex Bd member, Arthur Goldstein, is also ambivalent. He felt schools should not open and was absolutely prepared to strike and points out that as Chapter leader of a 300 member school, he spent the past weeks getting his colleagues ready to strike. Arthur put up piece after piece this summer tearing apart the plans to open.

Have things changed? He gives his recent take at NYC Educator. Arthur apparently did not vote NO and in this piece his title somewhat mocks the idea of a sellout:
The Big Sell Out --
For the last day or so I've been inundated with messages on Twitter that this agreement is a sell out, that we shouldn't have done it, and all sorts of other things. I understand the feeling. I also understand what our asks were, and what we got. I'm not entirely sure all the critics of what we did have that clear. For the record, I came into this debate wanting only online instruction. I wrote an op-ed in the Daily News back in June saying the hybrid plan made no sense.  I've learned more about it since. For example, we will not be teaching from classrooms and zooming at the same time. Still, I stand by my assessment of the hybrid plan. If anything, it's even worse now that we have this blended learning remote nonsense. This system is poorly thought out, and it will collapse under the weight of its lack of vision.
I hear a lot of this -- that the second we see spread, the plan will collapse. But Arthur also pinpoints the flaws in the concept even if there is no spread. Reading both Arthur and Mike gives us an important perspective that must be added to other voices out there.

Here is Mike's piece.
Why I supported a strike if necessary and voted NO on the agreement, by Mike Schirtzer, UFT Ex Bd, teacher Leon Goldstein HS.

Our union was threatening to strike because we demanded safety protocols in place in every school to protect our communities from COVID and a testing process to ensure we can do robust contact tracing, while keeping those that test positive out of school until they test negative to prevent community spread.

The mayor was steadfast in his opposition to anything our union proposed and would not even meet with the leaders of our union to negotiate.

It was the very threat of a job action and litigation by our union that forced this mayor to come to the negotiating table to address the issue of keeping our children and educators safe. Before that point he wouldn't budge.

Why did we have to come to the brink of a strike to have a mayor sign on to a safety plan developed by scientists and medical experts?

It was our union leadership and rank and file that brought the mayor to the table, because they were willing to say our safety is important enough to strike, as it should be.

Now that I am a parent with a little one to feed, nurture and take care of, I understand the loss of pay or the loss of a place to send my child so I can go to work is something that would have a great impact on myself, my wife, and my child. 

I fully understand the power of a strike threat and the willingness to go on strike has a wide impact that lasts well beyond the strike into future negotiations in addition to building union solidarity among the rank and file. Despite the frightening aspects of striking, there is also a level of excitement for the union - a badge of honor for being part of a massive event. Labor activists understand this full well but the majority of members do not necessarily see beyond the immediate issues at hand. Now if the leadership had engaged in a full education campaign of the membership on a continual basis, things might be different. But they're not.

A strike is not a game, nor should it be taken lightly or with such gusto that the strike, not the reasons we are threatening to do so, becomes the main goal. Union activists that I worked with and struggled with are often guilty of this, as was I before I was a parent with a family. 

On the other side we have a union leadership and staffers that have spent years treating the strike as a boogie man. It was as we should never mention it. It was a thing of the past. "Nowadays we settle everything at the table with our political partners”, was the prevailing wisdom.

Anytime someone from opposition, a dissident like myself, or rank and file member dared to mention strike, we were provided a summary lesson on Taylor Law, why it's illegal and how much it will cost us. I understand the UFT's desire not to strike, yet I don't understand why we ever took it off the table as an option. President Mulgrew threatened strike and was building towards it not because he wanted to provide the membership with a unifying experience with future negotiations in mind, but because we were forced to have a safe reopening plan in place.

As a union it was difficult to transition from scaring everyone away from mentioning the word to trying to actually preparing our members to walk out together. We also have to take into account there is a membership that actually exists, not one that we, those in opposition or dissidents, want to exist. 

Whether we like it or not we have a very divergent membership covering a wide political spectrum. A sizable contingent supports Trump and does not take COVID as seriously as they should. Some would not support a strike and we have to get them to even agree to wear a mask, never mind strike for COVID testing. The UFT leadership held some very contentious meetings with some schools where there was a big push back.

How many of your members and friends would be willing to walk out for a more stringent testing protocol? When this agreement is characterized as "caving in" how many chapters are willing to strike for universal testing, rather the 10-20% percent we agreed to?

Also these are negotiations. I know UTLA (LA teachers union) and CTU (Chicago) are viewed as militant success stories and did use the strike threat to accomplish full-time remote, and having already struck this past year helped, but they too gave up some to gain some. Such is the nature of negotiations. 

This should not have been a management vs. labor issue to begin with. The union wanted to work with the mayor to develop plans during this pandemic. That feeling was obviously not mutual because he did his own thing without the UFT or CSA  - up until now. It is clear that the union leveraged the power of the rank and file to get the mayor to the table to agree to a safety plan, much better than anything we had in place. I hope our union leadership, officers and staffers learned a valuable lesson in the power of rank and file organizing and how the threat of a job action results in victory and we shouldn't take this option off the table as the COVID crisis continues and layoffs loom.

By now you must be asking yourself why I voted NO both at the UFT Executive Board and at the Delegate Assembly against this agreement. First and foremost I didn’t see the actual agreement, other than the email I received earlier Tuesday from Mulgrew and Carranza.

When I asked for the actual agreement in writing at the Executive Board, I was told it’s “an amendment to the plan the mayor and DOE submitted to the state”. I still have yet to see that amendment and initial plan, nor have any of the delegates or executive board members been asked to vote on it. We can’t vote for or against an agreement we haven’t even looked at.

An old friend of mine, a retired chapter leader and long-time union activist and a know-it-all of Robert's Rules of Order told me "in that case you should have abstained". My answer to that is, "No, we can not afford to abstain on matters of life and death. I trust that this agreement is made in good faith."

In no way do I believe president Mulgrew would “betray” us as I have read in many places. As I have had the luxury that many others have not, of working with him and his confidants in recent months, from the paid parental leave campaign we won to working to move our union in a direction of more member engagement and social justice oriented events, to dealing with lack of leadership from government at every level in response to this COVID crisis, I have learned Mulgrew is a good and decent man who does put his members first and really cares about our kids. He is a working-class guy, worked his ass off to become a teacher, and like me, did it by working during the day and going to college at night. In no way do I believe Mulgrew or our union leadership, officers or staffers would do anything to put our members in harm’s way.

I feel better knowing that they are confident that this plan will work and to characterize them as betraying members is unfair. I trust them, but in order to vote yes or no I must see the agreement. I need to see for myself the evidence that says random testing or medical monitoring is better than opening with universal testing for all. I believe our plan is far superior to any out there, but I need to understand why the other large cities, even with low transmission rates are still going all remote and we’re not. Even Eva Moskowitz is going full remote with Success Academy until December.

Without all these facts in front of me, without being a scientist or medical expert, I can't willingly vote yes and send my friends - teachers, school-aides, principals, assistant principals, counselor, librarians, secretaries, paras, nor the students we serve into working conditions we can never guarantee won't be susceptible to transmitting COVID. I have a medical accommodation due to a heart condition and I would rather be at school than remote teaching, but I can't dare let my friends or kids go into a situation I wouldn't.

The schools have been given guideline after guideline from the state, city, and DOE. They sometimes contradict each other and at times make no sense. Our school doesn't have the human capital to even make the safety plan we drew up at school work. Schools are left to make these arrangements without a scientist or medical expert on the ground checking it.

The “checks and balances” Mulgrew talked about in this safety agreement are a necessity because March 2020 at the onset of COVID crisis was a disaster. I still don’t understand what that check and balance is, other than contacting your union representatives, as usual. That’s not fair to chapter leaders or district reps that are trained in contractual issues, not COVID response. I’m sure they will try their hardest, but it is not their area of expertise, nor is it mine. I don't want to see anyone else from DOE or otherwise die from COVID.

I believe Mulgrew and UFT leadership are trying to do everything in their power to ensure our safety. I’m just not sure its enough, hence the vote NO.

Solidarity Caucus goes to court --
Teachers Will Ask Judge To Block In-Person Learning At NYC Public Schools - Gothamist
The filing of an injunctive relief was brought by UFT Solidarity, a subset group within the UFT that's criticized the school reopening plan and the narrow
"It excludes certain groups of people, including people who are cancer patients, people who are parents of small children, who may have opted to go remote," said Lydia Howrilka, a teacher and organizer with UFT Solidarity. "People like myself who are caregivers of elderly parents and guardians who unfortunately will be putting our loved ones at great risk if we were to come into work. Educators have been given this Hobson's Choice of choosing between their livelihoods and their health."
Arthur posted the Town Hall report by special guest Mindy Rosier-Rayburn

UFT Town Hall September 2, 2020


1 comment:

  1. I am also a NO.
    BECAUSE I don't think they've done everything in their power.


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