Do unions speak for their members? Apparently Steve Light does not think so as he excoriates United Federation of Teachers (UFT) prez Michael Mulgrew and teacher unions in general, for not standing up for their members in contract negotiations. Apparently some UFT members were also not happy about the manner in which the contract was agreed upon. The irony is now, with the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation-won Janus v AFSCME decision by the Supreme Court, these teachers who do not approve of the contract can resign their membership immediately.
More irony is piled on as Mulgrew has been “outed” for taking more than $8,000 in Tennis Open tickets over past years. The whole story is on the World Socialist Web Site.
With four months remaining before the current contract was due to expire, the United Federation of Teachers (UFT), the New York City affiliate on the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), pushed through a concessions-laden contract without giving educators adequate time to study and discuss its terms.
On November 4, the UFT announced that the contract had been passed by 87 percent of those who voted with a two-thirds participation of eligible voters. The “yes” vote, however, was not a vote of confidence in the UFT. It was the result of the campaign of lies and deception and the widespread knowledge among teachers that the union would do nothing to fight for anything better even if they rejected the deal.
Delegates from the schools were called to vote at an emergency assembly the day after the settlement was announced October 11. One of the chapter leaders at a Washington Irving campus high school in lower Manhattan, who did not want his name published, told the WSWS: “I felt disrespected. I received a draft only ten minutes before the emergency delegate assembly and did not have time to read it.”
Above all, the UFT and the AFT were determined to prevent a strike by teachers in America’s largest school district because they feared that such a walkout would rekindle the wave of statewide teacher strikes, which spread across West Virginia, Oklahoma, Arizona, Colorado, North Carolina, Kentucky and other states earlier this year. A strike in New York City would immediately encourage educators in Los Angeles, the nation’s second largest school district, to rebel against the months-long efforts by the Democratic Party and the United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA) to block a strike for substantial improvements in wages and classroom conditions.
The bitter experiences of teachers, however, have demonstrated that Democratic politicians from Obama to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo on down have spearheaded the attack on teachers and public education just as viciously as the Republicans. The difference is the Democrats more consistently uphold the financial and institutional interests of the union apparatus as a reward for their services in attacking teachers, expanding for profit charter operations and imposing other corporate-backed “school reform” schemes.
After the Supreme Court ruling in Janus v. AFSCME, (successfully argued by the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation) which ended the compulsory payment of agency fees by public sector workers who opt out of unions, Cuomo immediately moved to make it easier for the unions to get access to public sector workers and swindle them into joining the UFT and other unions. Writing the dissenting opinion in the Janus case, Justice Elena Kagan, an Obama appointee, argued that the Supreme Court had long recognized there were “important government interests” in “stably funded bargaining partners.”
The union’s attempts to sell the contract as a victory bordered on the absurd. UFT President Mulgrew, who took home $299,119 in union salary, according to a 2017 filing with the US Labor Department, plus whatever other salaries he pulls down from other union, business and political positions, boasted that teachers and support staff were get the princely sum of 7.5 percent in raises over 43 months. Between 2010 and 2014 teachers suffered a pay freeze under the deal the UFT reached with then Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a billionaire. For paraprofessionals, the less than $28,000 annual salary after two years will leave them living in poverty.
One of the most grievous concessions was made on the backs of all new hires, who will be placed in a lower health care tier by losing the choice of health care plans. The unions sought to further divide teachers with the promise for teachers in certain hard-to-staff schools of a bonus of up to $8,000.
Nor does the contract address the oppressive conditions imposed by school management. The welcome reduction of the minimum number of annual observations from four to two will only apply to some teachers. As a teacher in her fifth year at a Washington Irving campus school said to the WSWS: “This contract was not for me. I am not tenured yet. The section that reduces lesson observations to two times a year is only for tenured teachers and does not help me.” Even for senior teachers, the contract does not reduce the superficial 15-minute “drive-by” observations or the unsatisfactory rating by vindictive administrators.
The main opposition to the Mulgrew’s Unity Caucus in the UFT, the Movement of Rank-and-File Educators (MORE), which is politically dominated by the pseudo-left International Socialist Organization (ISO), wrote in a Facebook post on October 30th that “the UFT should be applauded for negotiating minor improvements,” but that “the decision was to cave on core issues. At a time when New York’s mayor is a self-proclaimed progressive in the largest city in the country, we should be pushing for a bold contract.”
MORE makes no effort to explain why the UFT would “cave on the core issues,” boosts Mayor Bill de Blasio’s progressive credentials and claims that Democratic Party can be pressured to do better. The group suggests that the union “publicly demand,”—not strike for—a better contract. When it mentions the teacher strikes across the country, MORE conceals the fact that they were begun as not by the union but through a rebellion against them.