More than 2,000 elected school reps joined the January meeting by phone, a 40-percent increase over participation last spring that undoubtedly reflects a craving for information in circumstances that remain so fluid. However, the UFT delegate assembly was meant to be more than an information session. .... --- Solidarity Caucus Letter of complaint in letter to The Chief, posted on ICE Blog:
My next to last pre-pandemic day in the city before heading back to Rockaway was March 11, 2020 when I attended the last in person UFT Delegate Assembly. Outside the meeting a chapter leader of one of the largest schools in the city told me his school had more cases than the DOE or UFT was admitting to and his complaints to the union were landing on deaf ears and he was thinking of going to the press. (I think he did and those articles put pressure on the DOE and UFT). Earlier that day my wife and I had attended almost empty classes for retirees at 52 Broadway that were cancelled for the rest of the year, it was clear things were going bad. The night before, March 10, we went to a crowded Broadway play - Broadway shut down 3 days later. Schools were shut shortly after though teachers were required to come in the next week without children for "training." Over 70 ended up dying. And the Delegate Assembly has only met remotely since then.
OK, that's some background but the intention here is to open a discussion on democracy at the UFT Delegate Assembly, currently and in the near and distant past. John Lawhead, one of the authors of the Solidarity letter, has been running a UFT history study group which has been fascinating and I've gotten a good handle on how a very democratic institution was turned into what it is today. Look for follow-up posts.
But the reality is that there are often less than 600 in person - for from a quorum which makes meetings technically illegal, but who's counting? And Unity caucus people naturally dominate the crowd, especially when you add in retirees even if only 100 attend.
A key feature of the DAs, especially since Randi Weingarten took over have been long filibuster president reports that often take up to an hour and eat up time.
So by its very nature, DAs are undemocratic in practice. The pandemic has changed things and the union has had to adapt.
The current situation is that many more people are attending the DA - I think I saw some 2000 at the January DA. Imagine zoom meetings with thousands and electronic voting which they have no way of controlling.
How do you do democracy in that environment? Most importantly, the number of eyes on the DA is itself more democratic and that has made the union leadership very nervous, even though they can easily shut people they don't want to hear from out. But I think the transparency is a bigger threat to them and I bet they are dying to get back to normal smaller DAs. But they have figured out a way to restrict democracy even further.