Monday, July 10, 2023

UFT Contract Vote Count: Report from the Front Lines - Judi C.

Transparency and democracy are two things we have to always insist on if we are to do things right. Our voices matter. Chapter members and Chapter Leaders — please ask whether or not your ballots were received and counted. Email your CL, District Rep, Boro Rep. They should be able to get you an answer... Judi C.


Monday, July 10, 2023

I observed the UFT contract vote count (if you can call what we did observing) with Judi C and others for a few hours on July 6 and will issue further reports. Expect results to be published today. My general feeling is we barely got to do real observing. We seemed to be there as a prop to demonstrate they allowed observers.  .... Norm

Judi C. posted this on Saturday, July 7, 2023 and is reposted on Ed Notes with permission from the author. She raises some points about the process.

A Peek Behind the Observation Curtain
I observed the vote-count with a handful of other rank-and-file UFT members on Thursday, July 6, and Friday, July 7, 2023. 

I’m a Chapter Leader in a District 2 middle school. I dropped off my ballots at noon on Friday, July 5, by the 5pm deadline, at the American Arbitration Association (AAA). I heard from veteran teachers that any UFT member who wanted to observe the vote-count could do so. It was to be at UFT offices at 52 Broadway, because AAA offices were too small. (Previously, such sensitive matters were handled in rented hotel ballrooms as neutral venues. Not this time.) I went anyway because I wanted to see what it was like.

Upon arriving at 9AM Thursday, I took a seat in a sectioned off area with a handful of other rank-and-file UFT members. Several UFT staff and officers were inside the counting area without objections from AAA. Yasmin Colon, designated UFT staffer, and Membership Coordinator, and her assistant, were present during the operation. Yasmin was approachable and answered what questions she could. An AAA manager was also present, but we were told she would only answer to Yasmin.

Apparently, much of ballot verification already happened at AAA offices. Reportedly, according to Yasmin, 90,000 ballots came in (assuming from Tuesday June 27, to Wednesday, July 5. All AAA/UFT offices were closed July 4.) UFT offices were also closed for Eid Wednesday, June 28, so if like me, you showed up, you were out of luck.)

At the vote-count, a loud machine opened the outer envelopes (the one where we wrote our names and file number). About 60-75 temp workers in uniform AAA t-shirts sat side-by-side at small rectangular tables, taking the secret (smaller) envelopes out of the bigger (marked) envelopes, and the color-coded ballots out of the smaller envelopes. 

These workers were contracted temp workers bussed in from Philadelphia. There were 15 separate contracts for 15 separate titles, so each worker had to make 15 piles of cards, separated by color. About 3-4 men in front of laptops attached to scanners then inserted stacks of ballots into the scanners. 

Observers couldn’t see well from where we were allowed to sit. But we could see that only two scanners were in use Thursday. Two flat screen monitors displayed the rapid scanning of ballots by title. Teachers and Paras were the titles with the largest number of members. We could see the different markings of Yes or No go by in rapid succession. Each batch took about 30-40 seconds to scan. I asked if it was livestreamed, and the answer was no. (I understand some states do allow live-streaming. Not sure about NY.)

Yasmin told us that UFT gave AAA a master list of all eligible voters so that AAA could cross-reference each ballot as they came into AAA offices. Some ballots may have arrived last-minute due to issues with return postage labels. We don’t know which ballots never made it. AAA doesn’t keep such data. UFT would have had to request that of AAA.

According to Yasmin, all Chapters received ballot kits. But it’s possible some kits got lost in the mail, arrived too late, or didn’t get sent to AAA. This would be important to know, given the magnitude of the postage label problems, and how many functional chapter members reported that they never got their ballots at home.

By 4pm Thursday, using two scanners, AAA scanned about 17,000 para ballots, and 27,000 teacher ballots. Yasmin said the goal was to get this done as quickly as possible. She didn’t want to have to repeat the process. She closed up for the day at 4pm, and said we could come back the following day.

The AAA Director said that one of the AAA Staff would stand guard overnight with the ballots and equipment, which was reassuring. Approximately 44,000 ballots were scanned, with 56,000 more to go. 

The next morning, Friday, July 7, at 9AM, there were only half the number of workers as the day before, and from what I could see from where I was sitting, only one scanner in use. AAA didn’t operate the envelope-opening machine until about 10AM. There were still outer envelopes to open. At separate tables, temp workers continued to remove the smaller envelopes from the larger (marked) envelopes.

At 11AM, we saw the smaller functional chapter ballots get scanned, images displayed on the screens. It seemed to be 50-50 for most titles. Very close.

There were lots of no votes, especially from paras. But still lots of yes votes— more yeses than no’s, about 65% to 35%, in my own estimation, just watching the screen.

Friday, July 7, at 12:30 PM, the AAA Director told the 20-25 temp workers to stop what they were doing (removing smaller envelopes from the bigger ones) pack up, and go home. “We are finished,” Yasmin told observers. It had only been 2.5 hours since the day started. I was surprised.

On Thursday, July 6, it took 7 hours to scan 44,000 ballots using two scanners, and Friday, it took 2.5 hours to count 56,000 ballots. Were there fewer ballots than originally reported? Logistically, it didn’t make sense that 56,000 ballots got scanned with one scanner in 2.5 hours, when the day before, it took 7 hours to scan 44,000 ballots with two scanners. Could it be there were many fewer than 90,000 ballots received? That would make more sense given the return mailing label issues. I wrote Yasmin July 7th to ask . No answer yet. 

Everything got packed up and taken back to AAA. It was over by Friday, July 7, 12:45 PM. 

Yasmin estimated results could be ready Monday, July 10. Would we get voter participation data? What would the results reflect, and how many members’ ballots (of all the ballots) were marked as invalid, and for what reasons. 

Greater voter participation is always better— there are valid concerns that not everyone was able to vote. June was very busy for everyone in schools, and not all chapters got their ballots in time for everyone to vote. Faulty return postage labels for returning ballots were also problematic. 

If you didn’t get a chance to vote, whether by mail or in person, make sure to let Yasmin Colon know: It’s important to report how widespread the problems with ballots were. 

This contract, if passed, would be in effect from September, 2022 to November, 2027. It’s a serious matter that will impact upon all of our lives— for five years— and the lives of our students, especially with virtual learning, which could lead to chronic absenteeism and difficulty tracking students’ lives remotely. 

Transparency and democracy are two things we have to always insist on if we are to do things right. Our voices matter. Chapter members and Chapter Leaders — please ask whether or not your ballots were received and counted. Email your CL, District Rep, Boro Rep. They should be able to get you an answer.

#votecount #contract #tentativeagreement #UFTcontract #nycdoe #UnionStrong #democracyinvoting #uftmember #educatorsofnyc #morecaucusnyc #newactionuft #UnitedForChange


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