Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Opening Day Chaos - UFT Leaders Under Attack for Deal, Losing support of rank and file, Weak School Safety Inspections left Chapter Leaders Out

 Until today, everyone could put blame on the DOE and de Blasio for the chaos with secondary blame going to the UFT. But now the UFT has signed up as a full partner to the chaos and the blowback will be deep.

Norm here -- September 8, 2020, 1PM - and heading to an empty beach.

Yet, I am more angry at the union than I am at the DOE.  -- -----Anon teacher recently activated by the crisis.

Teachers like this - rank and filers and never active represent a major threat to the union leadership.

You should not run a union top-down. You cannot organize a strike top-down....But even if a strike had been effective in shutting the system, a weak strike would have done incalculable damage to the union in the long run......  All the safety issues matter – but we still will have schools with students arriving – and our plans are not good enough to make them run. Yes, we don’t have the staffing. And no, that does not give the DoE pause. September 21? They will blame on the principals.....jd2718  - Jonathan Halabi

Jonathan is a longtime activist - but if you unite the newly activated with the older activists (as I'm seeing signs of) - whoa, Nellie.

Reports have been coming in all morning with how bad things are in so many schools. I'm on some private chats with people sending in reports and photos on non-working ventilation systems certified by the DOE and UFT.
PROTEST OUTSIDE A BRONX SCHOOL - We have our first report of a day 1 picket from a high school in the Bronx. Remember how President Mulgrew said no meetings in auditoriums?
I've been monitoring school chatter from many directions since the pandemic began and for the first time in my over 50 years in the UFT I'm detecting signs of a big defection from the Unity Caucus leadership that goes deep into the rank and file, especially escalated since the UFT deal with the DOE where they made certain guarantees to the membership.

Even within Unity (if Unity ever cracked, it's Katie Bar the Door time).
Hello. My name is ........ and I am the Chapter Leader for ........ High School in Brooklyn, and I am requesting the assistance of every UFT member on this page to demand transparency from our union regarding our safety.

(Full disclosure, I’m a member of the unity caucus, but I do NOT work for the union. I work for my members.)

We were told from the beginning to listen to science and not politics. Our union had a stance until a week ago that certain scientific aspects were necessary if we were to reopen safely. Then Monday, it changed, allegedly because the scientific experts said so.

I sent emails to two different people requesting to see IN WRITING that the scientific medical advice from Northwell Health and Harvard had changed, from those two institutions. I got nothing.

I then spoke to someone at the UFT who told me my request was one person’s request out of hundreds of thousands of members who have other concerns.

So, let’s make it hundreds of thousands of members.

Please call and email the union (not your CLs!!) to give us written proof that their change in demands was not political negotiation, but something scientifically valid and that we will, indeed, be as safe as scientifically possible.

Ugh, I’m gonna so get in trouble for this
Saturday, September 05, 2020 4:39:00 PM
I'm betting she won't be in Unity for long and not for being tossed out but the disgust at the union leadership may be the shove.

And this from a long-time teacher who has become activated in this crisis (as have been many other rank and filers).
.....am going to bed very angry. I have no choice; I don't think I will get less angry any time soon.
I am remote. But I am concerned about my friends and my colleagues. I am not speaking specifically about my school's safety report. So far, I haven't heard about anyone coming out smelling like a rose. Some are worse than others. Many contain information that points to a lack of safety. Many contains too many things that are still unknown. The reports are inconsistent, from one school to the next.
Yet, I am more angry at the union than I am at the DOE. Why? I don't necessarily expect the DOE to keep me and my friends and colleagues safe. I do expect my union to do that, though. Yet, the email that comes with the report, boilerplate basically, says that "between Sept. 8 and Friday, Sept. 18, you, your principal and your school’s COVID-19 building response team will work to address the issues flagged in the UFT school safety inspection. Schools must pass all items itemized in the school safety plan by Monday, Sept. 21, the day students return for in-person instruction. If the school buildings do not pass, staff at that school building must remain remote.
So let me get this right: at least insofar as the boilerplate goes, we are told that it is fine for us to go into the building on Tuesday but that if the buildings do not pass for when students return, school remains remote. So, kids should not be in an unsafe building, but it is okay if WE do.
Moreover, it talks about "if the buildings do not pass..."
I do not see ANY opinion on the reports about whether the buildings passed now. What is the criteria to pass? If we gave our students assignment but did not tell them what the criteria for passing is, children and parents would be up in arms. But teachers are expected to risk their lives for professional development and planning that can easily be done remotely without even knowing what the criteria is for buildings being safe?
These comments are Threats to Unity Caucus hegemony

The UFT is on the cusp of the current situation having a long-time impact on the union where in the next series of UFT elections, Chapter leaders and delegates next May/June, and UFT general elections in spring 2021where for the first time if there is a serious non-divided opposition challenging Unity and a serious campaign is run, some deep inroads may be made though Unity would still win due to the enormous retiree vote which goes to Unity by over 85% - and will not wear away very much because retirees are so happy - though some of those forced out by the virus may be pissed. MORE which had been sort of floating along for the past few years has been juiced by the pandemic and is on a roll - MORE Daily Bulletin #1 -). And even sleepy Solidarity has taken court action. (UPDATES FROM UFT SOLIDARITY ON COURT CASE). 

And New Action is still functioning - I and other ICE retirees meet up with some of them regularly. Gee - imagine putting all the energy together into a real challenge to Unity - but don't count on it - caucus nationalism takes priority.

Now if the leadership manages to get fed up enough by DOE incompetence they have a small window to recover. But don't expect it - expect them to act more like the DOE than a militant union.

Now we activists in the UFT have never trusted the leadership and always saw them as complicit with the DOE just as they were in March when they initially backed deB attempt to keep the schools open.

I assumed that the leadership at least had some sense and knew the political costs internally of they screwed up again. But I guess not. I don't necessarily disagree with Mike Schirtzer's comments (Mike Schirtzer, Lone Ex Bd Vote NO - 99-1 - He Explains) that there are some good intentions in the leaders. I hear from some sources that in many ways they are so distant from the members, their good intentions disappear into incompetence and ineptness. And clueless as to how to really organize people to fight back. Ideologically they believe in the chain of command which puts they too far from the members,

Many UFT critics have dogs in the race so the attacks on Mulgrew sound like propaganda and paint him as evil. I tend to see the UFT leadership, in power for 60 years, with a level of arrogance but also without the DNA for serious resistance. This goes beyond Mulgrew or Randi -- Shanker would have done us no better at this time. (After the big 60s, Al lost his nerve post 68 strike.) My 1975 experience gave me so many clues as to how the leadership operates - and it hasn't changed in many ways. (see the NYT headline from Sept. 17, 1975 - https://timesmachine.nytimes.com/timesmachine/1975/09/17/issue.html for a hint of what to come when cuts hit us

Their ability to respond effectively is extremely limited. Strikes and militancy (bombast from the top is not militancy) have been bled out of the fabric of the leadership.

Jonathan Halabi,  co-chair of New Action is long-time CL and activist 
His latest makes some important points about the DOE and UFT. They Did Not Keep Us Safe in March; Do Not Trust Them Today!
Andy Cuomo took way too long in March to start shutting things down. Remember him overruling de Blasio’s “shelter in place”?
But the Mayor wasn’t better. In March Bill de Blasio kept the schools open when they needed to be closed.
Chancellor Carranza heard reports of COVID-19 in buildings, and he and his cronies hushed them up, and didn’t close the buildings.
Someone, maybe everyone on the 14th floor of 52 Broadway knew we had confirmed cases in schools, and went to court to force the closures…ok…  But in the meantime allowed UFT members to walk back into those buildings.
In May I examined their record from March, and suggested putting protection in place for September. It did not happen.
Who is keeping you safe tomorrow?
How true -- all summer people have been talking about DOE/DeB incompetence and I have taken the position the UFT was gathering public support to keep schools remote. Then they just made a deal and that deal is not looking great on the first day.

Since this post is more about the UFT than the DOE and the impact on the union let me take you back a few days to Jonathan, who actually takes the time to analyze some of the reasons for the seeming UFT paralysis without polemics.
JD2718.  One his interesting recent posts dug deep. Read it all but below are some excerpts:

Jon gets right to the DNA of dysfunction in the UFT. Call it the chain of command.
What happened? (https://jd2718.org/2020/09/05/what-happened/)
September 5, 2020 pm30 1:40 pm
That’s easy. You should not run a union top-down. You cannot organize a strike top-down.
By August 27 and 28 it was clear to many that this was not going right. Instead of vagueness about a schedule for voting, discussion was filtering to the members that it would be Exec Board 8/31 and Delegate Assembly 9/1, and there was not time for a membership vote. After the DA , the move would be to court for an injunction against an unsafe opening.
I was worried about what was going on. I wrote to Mulgrew and the officers, urging them NOT to skip a membership vote:
BINGO 2.0 -- the leadership is either afraid of a membership vote of just clueless.

Why the deal?

From the mayor’s side, there really are serious problems with the plans. September 10 (which had been scheduled to be the first day with kids) was looking like a disaster. He bought time, and he bought labor “peace” without much cost. From the UFT leadership’s standpoint, the strike threat was not nearly as effective as they had presumed it would be, and they did not have confidence they could pull off a job action. Under those circumstances a deal might not have been such a bad move.
An alternate explanation comes from Mike Schirtzer, one of three non-Unity Caucus members on the Executive Board, and the only one to vote against the deal:
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.
I [Jon] agree with most of Mike’s reasoning, and appreciate his willingness to speak openly about it. But I don’t agree with his assessment that the threat was effective (and I dismiss the UFT leadership’s similar assessment as self-serving)
I also don't agree with Mike but I may disagree with Jon -- I don't think the UFT ever intended to pull of a strike and would be willing to eat a bowl of shit if it was put in front of them --- But I did think they had the public, politicians and most teachers with them -- I mean they could have used scare tactics to gain support but didn't. They are just not capable of organizing and running a strike especially in these conditions (picket lines? 25% of teachers home anyway with conditions? travel issues?).

What would have happened if the UFT had moved forward towards a job action? 

Given the very tight tolerances for scheduling (unworkable, actually) a school might not be able to function, even if everyone shows up. But 30% staying out (beyond those with accommodations) might have shut a school. And the real number would have been higher. But how much higher? Some schools, maybe not all, but probably most, would have been unable to function. A strike, even with the preparations looking half-assed, would probably have shut the system.
Here is where MORE differs with Jon - they want any kind of strike - even half assed -which actually would help MORE - the more chaos in the UFT, the better they do.
A strike might have shut the system, would probably have shut the system, but without any guarantee. And a few entire schools might have kept working – a few at first. With time a weak strike (and there would have been time) could have easily become weaker.
But even if a strike had been effective in shutting the system, a weak strike would have done incalculable damage to the union in the long run. It would have divided us. It would have made member bitter at member, and further diminished trust in the leadership. A short term win was possible. But a long term, expensive loss was in the cards.

Couldn’t there have been a better threat?

Yes. But that would have required a different approach.

What’s in the Deal?

Random testing, of a pretty big chunk of staff and students (UFT had wanted 100%, before school began)
Delayed opening, teachers 9/8, remote for sign-in purposed 9/16, full instruction 9/21
(Vagueness warning) – some ability for a chapter to have safety issues addressed before going into a school to walk out.
This where I like Jon's analysis - a balanced approach

Is this a sellout?

This deal? No. Each one of those points is something we should want. Better testing. More time to prepare for the year. And some ability for chapters to
We can be disappointed that it is not nearly enough. It is not.
But we also know that we averted a risky strike that could have weakened us in the long run.
Of course, there is more. We still have plans that won’t work. We have unnecessarily risky maskless instructional lunch. We have 1800 plans devised by 1800 principals, some of whom I wouldn’t trust to tie their own shoes.

Are we done?

This is not the last deal for this year. If schools open September 21 there will be huge problems and issues all over the City. But we have a few more days. We want to teach. We want the teaching to work, as best as it can under these circumstances. And we want to keep all of us, ourselves, our families, our schools, our colleagues and our students, safe. We will ultimately need to be remote.
Jon is certainly right -- there may be further deals being cooked up right now - and when the first outbreak hits, the lack of trust in the DOE and now increasingly in the UFT may lead to -- how do you spell


Some sites to check out


  1. The retirees know nothing about any of this. I have a few friends that try to let the retirees know in Florida. Retired ATRs hate Mulgrew, as do the retirees forced out because of the UFT handling of this virus with deB. I believe the rest knew isome would reject Mulgrew. Most wouldn't believe it - they think Mulgrew is a Mother Teresa like superstar - struggling against all odds for downtrodden teachers. If they only knew the truth. Why isn't this retiree voting scheme challenged by the rank and file? It can't be by opposition because retirees aren't covered under the Taylor Law, but a case can be made from the rank and file as it's undemocratic to the core and represents a malignancy that invalidates the UFT as a union. Mulgrew may be indifferent in anticipation for a jump to the AFT, but his handling of this will bring those dropping out up to 15% next June - if there isn't a Wildcat Strike. It will save the union by jump starting the comatose rank and file.

    1. Look at the voting pattern. 85% for Unity. There must be 20,000 Unity retirees. We don't challenge - yet - because if they didn't vote we would still lose badly due to elementary and functional chapter votes - ie- Paras. etc.
      My goal over the past 20 years had been to put together enough people to win elementary in addition to middle and high schools - which we always won until this past election - ask MORE why. That would give us 23 Ex Bd seats - retirees don't vote for divisions - about a quarter and a block to build into the functionals. If we can win enough of them and get people to vote we can actually beat Unity even with their retiree vote -- they are capped at 23,000 but always try to raise that cap and have done so numerous times. But if they did that would cause a challenge in court.


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