Several years back, when discussing the work of our local union I had a colleague say to me, “If you can’t trust your union, who can you trust?” I, of course, agreed wholeheartedly. Years later I can still agree with this statement in regards to my local union. Over the course of my career the PJSTA has provided me with wonderful working conditions, a good living wage, and excellent benefits. On top of that they have represented my voice well in matters regarding public education and legislative issues that impact our profession. They have advocated for the students we teach and the community that we serve. The PJSTA, over the course of my 13 years as a member has undoubtedly earned my trust. Where things change, however, is with my other unions. My parent unions.
There was a time when I would go to the polls with a list of NYSUT endorsed candidates in my pocket and vote accordingly, believing that they had made endorsements only to those who would be fighting for quality public education. Additionally I would give generously from each pay check towards VOTE-COPE, with the belief that this money was going towards those candidates who would fight for the sort of public education system that I could be proud of. The type that benefited our students and communities. After all, if you can’t trust your union, who can you trust?
Unfortunately I have learned over the past couple of years that I can’t trust NYSUT and I can’t trust the AFT. I say them separately, though the elements that make them untrustworthy tend to be one and the same (The UFT leadership’s Unity Caucus, which controls both NYSUT and the AFT).
As we sit here, a week into 2015, the public education landscape looks bleaker than ever. We have clear adversaries regarding the attacks on our profession and what is perhaps most disturbing is the way in which our parent unions have, in many ways, been complicit in working with those adversaries.
For example, let’s look at Governor Cuomo. Cuomo was a clear enemy of public education throughout his first term in office, even going so far as to say that schools whose test scores weren’t good enough should receive the “death penalty.” By now we all know the litany of other offenses on Cuomo’s part. It goes without saying that Cuomo should have been public enemy #1 for NYSUT. If they were representing the voice of their membership he certainly would be. Let’s take a look at the NYSUT timeline of events regarding Cuomo over the past year…
- April- The Revive NYSUT slate, backed by Mike Mulgrew and Unity Caucus, wins the NYSUT elections while vowing that they are “Against Cuomo.”
- May- The UFT, NYSUT’s largest local and loudest voice, threatens the Working Families Party with dissolution if the party allows Zephyr Teachout to be endorsed over Cuomo.
- Summer- Teachout, with a great platform on public education, campaigns against Cuomo with the intention of challenging him in the Democratic Primary in September. NYSUT remains silent throughout, rather than opposing him. They had an opportunity to endorse Teachout in the primary at their summer endorsement conference. We wrote about the result in August…
There was certainly more than one local president at the endorsement conference who asked for an endorsement of Teachout in the primary. Our own Beth Dimino was one of them. That brings me to another option for NYSUT. Dimino suggested that if Teachout were to lose to Cuomo in the primary, NYSUT should support the Green Party’s Howie Hawkins and Brian Jones for governor and lieutenant governor. We covered their education platform back in May. So NYSUT had two separate options to oppose Cuomo and they chose none. Despite pleas from their membership and presidents from locals around the state, Magee, Pallotta, and the rest of NYSUT’s board of directors decided in their private meeting yesterday that they would not oppose Cuomo.
- Summer- At around the same time NYSUT was failing to endorse and contribute to Teachout’s campaign, it was revealed that the NYSUT officers quickly and quietly worked out a double pension deal that Cuomo curiously signed off on very quickly. (Norm Scott, who broke the story, wondered if the trade off for Cuomo’s support for their double pensions was remaining neutral in the campaign.)
- September- Only days before the primary, AFT President Randi Weingarten (former UFT President and Unity Caucus member), made robo calls in support of Cuomo’s running mate Kathy Hochul, a back door endorsement for Cuomo if there ever was one.
- September- At the Labor Day parade in Manhattan, UFT President, NYSUT Board of Director member, and the Unity Caucus’ Mulgrew marches with Cuomo.
- September 9th- Cuomo and Hochul beat Teachout and her running mate Tim Wu in the primary. Teachout garnered 34% of the vote, Wu 40% despite the fact that Cuomo spent 40 times (!) as much as Teachout. NYSUT was busy throwing their VOTE-COPE money at ed deformers like John Flanagan, who is well funded by StudentsFirst, the pro-charter, pro-voucher Jeff Klein, and the indicted Thomas Libous. They chose not to give a dime to Teachout who could have desperately used the funding to help combat Cuomo’s Wall Street funded campaign. Teachout, of course, could have also benefited from an endorsement that would have gone out to NYUST’s 600,000 members (you’ll recall that Cuomo’s margin of victory was less than 150,000).
- November- Cuomo wins re-election with only 53% of the vote. Of particular note is the fact that he had the Working Families line on the ballot. If Teachout had gotten that endorsement back in May and ran to the left of Cuomo she likely would have pulled a considerable number of Democratic voters with her and severely harmed Cuomo’s chances of winning the election.
The names of the organizations may have changed in the above scenarios, but the faces behind them are essentially the same. Randi Weingarten and Michael Mulgrew pull the strings more than any other. In NYSUT, Executive Vice-President Andy Pallotta mostly does their bidding while the other officers fall in line. Pallotta, Mulgrew, and Weingarten have all taken the Unity Caucus oath and have all benefited from it tremendously. That’s why they won’t act in opposition to Cuomo. They won’t act in opposition to the Common Core. They will do very little to benefit the members (though Martin Messner may save you money on your car insurance!). It’s only a matter of time before the statewide APPR sellout comes. Unfortunately not many of our statewide members benefit from the work of Unity Caucus. Most of us are actually hurt by it. That’s why I can say that I don’t trust my union.
The only way for things to ever change within NYSUT is to defeat the statewide Unity Caucus and their “seat at the table” brand of unionism. We need leadership who is driven by principle, by the desire to see our schools strengthened, and by the collective conscience of our rank and file membership. Not by an oath that they took to vote along party lines.
We are getting pretty late into this game now. Things are becoming more dire by the day. Maybe the coming APPR sellout will be what finally galvanizes our members to stand up and take back their union.