Anyone who paid attention to the news coming out of the NYSUT RA which was held this past weekend in Buffalo, likely heard of the standing room only crowd in the Stronger Together Caucus (STCaucus) meeting. As a matter of fact I had several delegates approach me and tell me that the caucus meeting was the highlight of the entire RA for them. Approximately 500 NYSUT delegates, representing locals from all corners of the state, registered as members of the caucus. On Sunday, following the RA, membership in the caucus was opened up to all NYSUT members, whether they be delegates or not.
If you are not a NYSUT delegate you may be wondering exactly what a caucus is and why you should consider joining STCaucus. I’ll attempt to answer those questions for you in this post.
By definition the term caucus means “a group of people with shared concerns within a political party or larger organization.” Within many of the larger unions in the country, whether they be a local representing teachers in a specific city or a statewide union like NYSUT, caucuses exist. Quite often these caucuses represent different visions and philosophies for how their union should be governed.
Prior to this weekend, NYSUT has always been a union dominated by one caucus, the New York State Unity Caucus. At the state level Unity Caucus is an outgrowth of the UFT Unity Caucus in New York City which is an invitation only caucus in which all members sign an oath to vote as their leadership instructs them to vote. It is an exclusive club which severely impairs democracy within the UFT, NYSUT, and the AFT whose largest voting contingent is made up of NYSUT delegates.
There are very fundamental ways in which STCaucus differs from Unity Caucus. The first, most basic way is STCaucus’ mission to create a more democratic union that is inclusive in nature and truly representative of it’s members. This can be demonstrated by one of the amendments that STCaucus authored for consideration at this year’s RA. The amendment would have had NYSUT elections take place through regional voting. NYSUT delegates from around the state would vote at their local regional offices, rather than at the RA. The amendment was created because only about 30% of NYSUT locals participated in the last NYSUT election. One of the primary reasons being that many small locals from across the state simply cannot afford to send their delegates to stay at the New York Hilton in Manhattan where the elections are held. The amendment would have allowed for more locals to have had a say in the election, thus furthering democracy within the union. Unity Caucus came out against this amendment and helped to vote it down.
Another fundamental difference between the caucuses are their leaders. Most of, if not all of the members of the STCaucus Executive Committee are currently classroom teachers. For example. committee chair Beth Dimino is currently an 8th grade science teacher in the Comsewogue School District. Compare that to the current NYSUT officers, or the UFT’s Mike Mulgrew or Leroy Barr, all influential within Unity Caucus at the state level. Most of those individuals have not seen a classroom in years. Being disconnected from the classroom, while limiting who is permitted to be a part of your caucus is no way to get the pulse of where our members stand on the issues important to our profession.
Arthur Goldstein, the blogger who runs the NYC Educator blog, recently asked me to write a piece for him on the significance of the development of the STCaucus. That was published yesterday over at the NYC Educator blog. I also re-published it here. I encourage you to give it a read as it has a more detailed look at how STCaucus impacted the NYSUT RA this past weekend and it’s potential impact going forward.
You can join STCaucus by printing out this registration form and mailing it to the address at the bottom of that form along with a $10 check.