UFT Guest Post #1: James Eterno

Earlier we told you about our upcoming series on the leadership of the UFT.  Our first post is from James Eterno of the UFT’s MORE Caucus.  We have admirably mentioned MORE on this blog for quite a while now.  This post has also been published at Mr. Eterno’s blog, ICEUFT.

 

MAKING SOME SENSE OF THE NYSUT LEADER SPLIT

Many New York City teachers view New York State United Teachers (NYSUT) as the group that offers UFT members discount insurance. It is so much more important than that.  NYSUT is all of the local unions in New York State combined into a state-wide union.  NYSUT matters as a great deal of educational policy is made at the state level.

These days there is an internal rift among the leadership at NYSUT.  How this feud plays will have a large impact on UFT members and just about every education stakeholder in New York State.

It is strange how the press has only paid scant attention to this NYSUT leadership dispute. Full coverage has been provided by Education Notesthe Port Jefferson Station Teachers Association website and Perdido Street School.  Outside of these online union sources, onlyNew York State of Politics  has touched on the story.

Here are some of the basics:

There are five officers in NYSUT. One of them has split from the other four.  Who is the rebel?  He is Vice President Andy Pallotta, a former UFT District Representative from the Bronx. Pallotta’s job in NYSUT in large part deals with which politicians get our voluntary COPE money.  Apparently, Andy encouraged a lot of COPE money to go to Andrew Cuomo recently.

Dick Iannuzzi is NYSUT’s President.  He is from Long Island but in the past he was supported by the New York City UFT.  Lately as the internal rift has exploded, he has taken aggressive positions in opposition to state education policy driven by Governor Andrew Cuomo, the State Legislature and State Education Commissioner John King.

Do you think the UFT by itself would call for a no confidence vote on State Education Commissioner John King as NYSUT did yesterday?  Just last year UFT President Michael Mulgrew was asking the State Legislature and Governor to allow King to arbitrate our dispute with former Mayor Bloomberg over the NYC teacher evaluation system.

Who is really behind the row in NYSUT?  You probably guessed right if you said it is our own UFT leaders.  Mulgrew is supporting the so called insurgent slate called Revive NYSUT. This is ironic as he won’t give dissidents in his own union the time of day.  I think he has responded to one email I have sent him over the past five years.

As for the NYSUT election, it is basically as rigged as UFT elections. The election for NYSUT President and many other positions is in April in NYC.  Most NYSUT members won’t be permitted to vote, however, as only NYSUT Representative Assembly Delegates are given the franchise to elect the five NYSUT statewide officers and the 82-member Board of Directors. To be a NYSUT Representative Assembly Delegate from New York City, by far the largest union in the state, one has to win the position in the general UFT election that takes place every three years.

In the most recent UFT election in 2013, less than 20% of active teachers voted. Members received a booklet in the mail with over a thousand names on it.  Most people who did vote chose a slate, which means they voted for all of the candidates from one caucus (political party) with one mark.

The party that has controlled UFT politics for around half a century is the Unity Caucus, the Michael Mulgrew-Randi Weingarten faction of the UFT. Their huge base of support is among retirees, who now make up a majority of the UFT voters.

There is no way for dissidents (the Movement of Rank and File Educators in the last election) to reach those retirees who live all over the place, other than one ad in the New York Teacher newspaper every three years.  Union officers, on the other hand, have complete access to the retirees.

A major union leader told me that when they visit schools during campaign season, they don’t campaign officially but everyone knows that they are there to run for office. How is it that UFT officials manage to visit Florida retirees during the election season? Challengers, who have to teach here in New York City, do not have any access to the masses of voters.

The opposition MORE slate and quasi opposition New Action slate combined won a majority of high school votes in the last UFT election.  That netted the two groups zero representation in NYSUT’s RA.

Membership to the Unity Caucus in New York City is by invitation only.  To be accepted into the caucus, one must sign a statement pledging to support the decisions of the caucus in union and public forums (the so called Unity loyalty oath).  There is no public dissent allowed.  In exchange for absolute loyalty, Unity members get all expense paid trips to the AFT Convention and the NYSUT Representative Assemblies where they vote as an enormous bloc. I very much doubt that the smaller locals in New York State have the funds to pay for their Delegates to travel to the RA and stay at the Hilton.

The party discipline Unity has would make Mao envious. I can just about guarantee that those 800 NYC Unity representatives at NYSUT (around 40% of the total) will be supporting Andy Pallotta and the Revive NYSUT “insurgent” slate. They would vote for a bologna sandwich if Mulgrew told them to.

My read is that current President Dick Iannuzzi, whose vastly improved policies have ironically been strengthened by the internal row, has as much chance of winning as real insurgents do in UFT elections.  For Iannuzzi to prevail, the upstate and suburban locals would have to rebel en masse against Mulgrew’s endorsed team. (Wouldn’t that be cool!)

The UFT has always been the tail wagging the NYSUT dog. This insurrection at the top just confirms that status.  We can only hope that Iannuzzi and company have something up their sleeves that we don’t know about to make this a truly competitive election.

Iannuzzi’s slate might not be perfect but I would place a wager that if we brought the President of NYSUT the resolution that we introduced earlier this month at the UFT Delegate Assembly not to support Andrew Cuomo’s reelection, we might get a sympathetic ear.  Mulgrew’s Unity voted to turn our resolution down and leave open the possibility of a UFT Cuomo endorsement.

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8 Responses to UFT Guest Post #1: James Eterno

  1. Pingback: What’s the Deal with the UFT? | The official website of the PJSTA

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  6. Dave says:

    It’s very interesting that an internal caucus issue is on the top of everyone’s mind but to clarify; from my understanding, a table was purchased for Cuomo’s birthday dinner when current President Dick Ianuzzi requested that he wanted to attend the dinner, which he did attend. It is also my understanding that in the history of working with our legislatures, whether we endorse or not,we continue working with legislatures to ensure our goals get accomplished. We have a responsibility not to burn bridges in order to ensure all of our members are properly represented.
    You are right,UFT is the largest local in NYSUT which is why no UFT President has ever become President of NYSUT. Instead of using this blog to bash Palotta who clearly has been doing his job, maybe you should concentrate more on the facts of why so many NYSUT members are unhappy with the leadership of Ianuzzi. Instead of handling this internal issue privately, he has publicized it which in turn can weaken NYSUT. We need leadership who can move NYSUT forward ensuring that all members are properly represented.

    • thepjsta says:

      Thanks for the comment Dave. You make some good points, but there are some things that should be cleared up… First off the “internal caucus” issue you mentioned plays a significant role in this election and in the direction that both NYSUT and the AFT go from here. While I understand that UFT leadership wouldn’t want it’s structure and undemocratic nature brought to light, it is an essential part of this election. Ultimately whoever the UFT backs become overwhelming favorites to win, as the opposition then faces nearly insurmountable odds. Therefore it gives them enormous influence at the state level. This is why they have always been viewed as they tail that wags the NYSUT dog. However the UFT goes, so goes NYSUT. Given NYSUT makes up an enormous part of the AFT, they ultimately drive that national union as well. Were the UFT giving their entire membership a voice this wouldn’t really be a problem. However any opinions in the UFT that are not shared by it’s leadership are crushed. Ultimately you get state and national union’s driven by a small fraction of the membership. A fraction that isn’t impacted by things like the tax cap.

      You are correct in pointing out that Iannuzzi requested to attend the dinner and ultimately did attend. The PJSTA has never claimed he didn’t. What the Revive slate always seems to avoid is that Pallotta, without anyone else’s knowledge, then added seven additional seats (and an additional $7,000 to Cuomo). Several of those seats were for members of what was to become his slate to challenge the incumbents with. Listen I would have preferred NYSUT not have bought even one seat, let alone ten, but I can at least listen to the argument of why Dick and Andy were there. What will never be acceptable to me is why other members of what was to become the Revive slate needed to be there. They were nothing more than local presidents. If they were there why not other local presidents? Why not the PJSTA’s Beth Dimino? I am sure she would want to wish the Governor a happy birthday, or something along those lines.

      Finally, I thoroughly reject your notion that our union’s leadership desperately needs changes, yet Andy Pallotta is doing his job and doesn’t need to be changed. It can’t be both ways. Andy has been a part of the current leadership for nearly five years. Five years in which we have been crushed legislatively. If anything he has been the leadership’s achilles heel. You can’t have it both ways. Either the leadership has failed and needs to be changed or they shouldn’t. There is no separating them. What has Lee Cutler done, for example, that is worse than Tier 5, Tier 6, the tax cap, and supporting Cuomo? Kathleen Donahue? Maria Neira, who the Revive slate offered to let keep her job if they joined her? The entire thing stinks of Andy Pallotta having a personal grudge and dragging the entire membership into this mess when we can least afford it.

      Thanks again for the comment. I always enjoy a civil discourse on this stuff.

  7. Pingback: Cuomo’s Rigged Common Core Panel | The official website of the PJSTA

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