A few days ago, New York State’s Unity Caucus, the controlling caucus of NYSUT and the statewide extension of the UFT’s Unity Caucus, published a piece on their blog attacking PJSTA President Beth Dimino. In the post Dimino is accused of working for her own political gain while attempting to “squelch the voice of educators, SRPs, those working in higher education and health care professionals.” The post goes on to label her “anti-union” and accuses her of siding with the Koch brothers and “other right winged-politicians” with the goal of killing the union.
The comically misguided post is clearly an attempt to discredit a respected labor leader with a well earned track record of being outspoken in her defense of public education and unionized teachers. From trying to paint her as being on the side of the Koch brothers to the use of the word histrionics, whose use is rooted in misogyny, the Unity henchman was clearly trying to paint Dimino as a voice who should be ignored. The reason surely being that Ms. Dimino’s ability to speak truthfully about the leadership of our parent unions, NYSUT, the AFT, and the NEA, has caused an increasingly large number of members to reduce their contributions to NYSUT’s political action fund, VOTE-COPE.
Ms. Dimino’s track record as an advocate is fairly well known. She has been a vocal and visible proponent of the opt-out movement. She is a conscientious objector, refusing to administer New York State tests. This video of her lambasting former NYSED Commissioner John King has made her fairly well known in public education circles. She has spoken all over the state as an advocate for teachers, students, parents, and communities. I am sure Long Island Opt-Out founder Jeanette Deutermann or our friends at NYSAPE would vouch for Ms. Dimino as somebody who works tirelessly for teachers, students, and public education in general. If you don’t believe me you are welcome to ask them. None of these things tend to be characteristic of the circles that the Koch brothers travel in. None of them are synonymous with anti-union activity.
Let’s now contrast Ms. Dimino’s record with that of the Unity Caucus. Unity Caucus, for nearly the entire existence of NYSUT, has benefited from being the only party in a one party-system. The caucus has always chosen the presidents and each of the other officers. When they decided you were out, then you were out, as they have always been able to use the 800 UFT-Unity delegates as a voting block to elect who ever they have wanted to or to enact any changes within NYSUT that they have decided to. You may be wondering why 800 people always have to vote the same way? Well that would be because the 800 Unity-UFT delegates have signed an oath pledging to vote as they are told to. Currently, every NYSUT officer and every member of the UFT’s executive board are members of the Unity Caucus. Let’s take a look at some of their greatest hits from just the past few years…
- Most recently, Unity Caucus has been using their twitter account to advocate for #TeachStrong, the newly formed group of ed deformers that our national unions have inexplicably partnered with, including Teach for America and Educators4Excellence. These are the same groups that have helped to finance legislative changes that have done tremendous harm to teachers over the past several years. Unity Caucus members will make the argument that “the tide has turned” and that these groups now want to work with us. They should try telling that to the teachers in Buffalo in receivership schools who just had their contracts thrown in the trash in the name of “reform.” If you are wondering what that sharp feeling is in your back, it’s the knife that the Unity slugs are pushing into it. Here is Marla Kilfoyle of the BadAss Teachers take on #TeachStrong. Here is Peter Greene’s take on the Curmudgucation blog. Here was the renowned Michelle Gunderson, a leader in the Chicago Teachers Union, with her reaction…
— Michelle Gunderson (@MSGunderson) November 11, 2015
- John Flanagan, the senate majority leader in the New York State Senate, and the former education chairperson in the senate has been another friend of Unity Caucus. Yes, the same John Flanagan who has declared opt-out parents a problem, claimed that charter school parents are the best parents there are, and whose highest campaign contributor is an ed deform group. While NYSUT did not vote to endorse Flanagan when he last ran in 2014, that didn’t stop Unity Caucus’ Andy Pallotta from giving Flanagan money anyway. Flanagan, who has received over $40,000 in VOTE COPE dollars over the years, received $7,750 in 2014.
- Just this past spring Unity Caucus used their might to defeat a measure at the NYSUT RA that would have allowed all NYSUT locals to participate in NYSUT elections, as opposed to the 30% who did in the last one. Unity Caucus doesn’t want any of that pesky stuff called democracy interfering in their ability to guide the union in the direction they want to guide it in.
- In 2014, at the AFT Convention, the Unity Caucus’ Michael Mulgrew gave his passionate defense of the Common Core when he stated “I’m gonna punch you in the face and push you in the dirt,” if you took away the Common Core. At the same convention fellow Unity Caucus members Karen Magee and Leroy Barr also stood up at the microphone in defense of the Common Core. You can watch it here…
- Later in 2014 the Unity Caucus’ Michael Mulgrew marched in the New York City Labor Day Parade with Andrew Cuomo amongst “Labor for Cuomo” signs.
I could go on, but I am not really sure that’s necessary. There is a clear divide between the top down, business unionism model that is represented by Unity Caucus and the grassroots, member driven unionism espoused by Ms. Dimino and the Stronger Together Caucus of which she is the chairperson. Still the blog post on the Unity website was written because of the fact that Ms. Dimino has openly advocated for the idea of NYSUT members reducing their VOTE-COPE contributions. The blog post implies that every PJSTA member did that simply because they were told to. I am here to tell you that is not the case.
I have been a PJSTA member in good standing for 14 years. I tend to think of myself as being fairly independent minded. I don’t do things because my president tells me to. I generally do things because I believe them to be the right things to do. Members of our executive board can vouch for the fact that there are many times I disagree with Ms. Dimino and I am not shy about it. Like Ms. Dimino, I am not a right winger and anyone who knows me would assure you that I am not anti-union. Throughout the first 12 years of my career I gave faithfully to VOTE-COPE. As much as $10 a paycheck for a few years. Last fall, fresh off NYSUT’s decision not to endorse Zephyr Teachout, a clear advocate for public education, in the Democratic Primary I decided to reduce my VOTE-COPE contribution to $0. I did so because I no longer had any trust that a Unity Caucus controlled union would represent me or the interests of my fellow classroom teachers very well. In addition to giving money to candidates who hurt us and falling on the wrong side of so many of the important issues facing public school teachers, I got sick of seeing NYSUT’s legislative action wing be so woefully ineffective. Whether it be the creation of Tier 6, the creation of test based teacher evaluations, the inability to get allies of public education elected, or the inability to prevent such a disastrous and harmful state budget from passing last year, I simply have no confidence in a legislative wing controlled by Unity Caucus’ Andy Pallotta. Instead I donated my money to Zephyr Teachout, purchased NYSAPE Opt-Out signs, and used some money in ways that directly benefited students. I was in control of the money and was, therefore, confident it was going to causes that I believed in.
So if you are on the side of Randi Weingarten (who came up through the Unity ranks), Mike Mulgrew, Andy Pallotta, #TeachStrong, Common Core, and test based teacher evaluations, then support Unity Caucus (you can’t join, it is invite only) and keep funneling your hard earned money into VOTE-COPE. But if you are like me and you are tired of your profession being trampled while your union “leaders” compromise and collaborate with coroporate privatizers who seek to destroy public education, then go ahead and reduce your VOTE-COPE and join STCaucus (open to any NYSUT members). It literally is about the only say you have in your parent unions.