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UFT--A Pretend Union with Pretend Meetings
Have something to say? Sing along with Mike, or shut the hell up.
Imagine you’re one of the kids on the Barney show. Imagine you want to sing a song. Well, too bad for you. Barney’s in charge, and your job is to sing whatever he tells you to. Surely it will be some song in the public domain for which the producers don’t have to pay royalties. But if Barney says, “I love you, you love me,” that’s the way it is, whether you like it or not.
Of course, loving one another is not a bad thing. Still, having watched a kid grow up on Barney, I find his music relentlessly nauseating. (If I have to listen to kids’ songs, I like Raffi a lot better.) This being what it may, I don’t go to my union hall to declare unconditional love. I go there to try and make life better for my union brothers and sisters. Unlike the kids on Barney’s show, I’m not paid to be there.
When you pay people to be there, they tend to do what they’re paid for. And if you have a union hall full of people paid (or hoping to be paid) to agree with Michael Mulgrew, you have something that doesn’t remotely resemble worker voice. Some people are there voting the way they believe. More are there voting to protect or upgrade their jobs.
The fact is the way to get ahead in the UFT is to join the elite, invitation only, Unity Caucus. If you’re a member, at step one, you can go to conventions all over the country for free. At step two, you can be a PM UFT staffer. At step three, you can get a full-time union job and kiss that troublesome classroom goodbye.
If that sounds good to you, all you have to do is sign an oath to never, ever publicly disagree with UFT leadership. If they want to degrade your health care, you say great. If they want a contract that doesn’t even come near inflation, you jump up and down to celebrate. If they decide there’s little or no member participation at union meetings, you nod solemnly and act like that’s a normal thing.
How did it come to be that so many chapter leaders have agreed to promote whatever Michael Mulgrew tells them to? Well, it’s tough being a chapter leader. I know. It’s very nice that the union brings you to a fine hotel for chapter leader training. If your District Representative should say, “If you like weekends like this, join the Unity Caucus,” you may be tempted to do so. Many, many are. Many do.
The problem is that it’s a conflict of interest. If you’ve sworn to support absolutely everything Michael Mulgrew tells you to, what do you do if he suggests something that’s not beneficial to members? What if, in exchange for a new contract, he decides to just give away a billion dollars, from the fund for your health care, to the city? What if he later decides to save the city 600 million a year, and dumps your health care program in order to do so? What if he doesn’t even bother telling you, and dumps it into some appendix in the contract that no one’s even seen?
Well, he’s done all of the above. Has your chapter leader said anything to you about it? Right now, the UFT is planning to dump GHI/CBT for something 10% cheaper. I don’t know about you, but I lost a bunch of doctors on GHI because they felt they weren’t paid enough. Exactly how the UFT plans to organize a plan 10% cheaper without losing more doctors is a mystery to me.
Michael Mulgrew told the UFT Delegate Assembly that the new retiree Advantage plan would be just as good as Medicare. He said every doctor that took Medicare would accept this new plan. He later had to clarify, saying not every doctor that took Medicare would accept it. I originally thought it would not be so bad, but the more I heard, the the more sceptical I became. And a NY State Supreme Court judge has stopped it, at least for now, declaring it would cause “irreparable harm” to retirees.
I’ve been a UFT member since 1984. I have never gotten a vote on changes to health care. In fact, as a retiree, I now have no voice whatsoever in contractual decisions. That doesn’t bother Michael Mulgrew. Not only does he think he knows what’s best for me, but last week he told the Executive Board that anyone who disagreed with him was doing the work of union enemies.
I am not an enemy of the union. I am a great supporter of union, especially the UFT. However, I have observed that the Delegate Assembly, supposedly the highest decision-making body in our union, is a scripted event, allowing Mulgrew unlimited time to pontificate, and almost no time set aside for spontaneous member participation.
I went to my first retiree meeting last week. When they needed to cut time, what they cut was member questions. Member participation should be the most important part of a union meeting. To UFT Unity, it’s the least important, or why would they have eliminated it?
Clearly they don’t want to hear word one about what they’re doing to our health care. Tom Murphy not only quashes the majority view, that members DON’T want Advantage, but also finds the time to say we should be “guardians of civility.”
If I ran my classroom the way Tom Murphy ran the RTC chapter, I’d be up on charges. We need a democratic, participatory union. We need chapter leaders who represent US, not the bosses. We need to move ahead. If your chapter leader doesn’t represent your point of view, find someone who does, or better yet, run yourself.
It is not our job to find savings for Eric Adams. It is our job to make life better for our union. It is our job to set an example for even non-union workers to follow. With our current leadership, we are failing miserably.
This year, you will get to vote. Make sure you select a chapter leader who will fight for you, and not just battle for some self-serving patronage gig.