Sunday, August 23, 2020

The Biggest Sickout In the History of New York City

A heated presidential election?

Social unrest and turmoil? 

An Impending recession?

Unacceptable terms from a mayor who is seen as screwing it all up?

A possible New York City Teacher Strike?

I'm sure that sounds like 2020 to you.  And this year does, in fact, have all of those components. But I'm actually describing 1968. 

During that year, the sitting president announced that he wasn't going to run and the leading candidate was murdered in Los Angelos. During this same year, millions of Americans found themselves facing job loss due to an impending recession and let's not forget the turmoil of America's most famous year.  This was the same year that the mayor, John Lindsay, supported community schools at the cost of basic due process rights for teachers, causing the most famous teacher strike in New York's City history.

That strike was difficult. The union, after making the decision that they had to go (Fred Newman had been fired without due process and the community board refused to acknowledge it) needed to convince all of the other teachers (across five boroughs) to walk out as well. Most did. We didn't lose due process.

That strike lasted for 36 days. This one won't last that long. 

I would imagine teachers in 1968 showing up, picketing around their school during their ninety-minute or two-hour shift, maybe attending an end-of-day rally and going home. Between those appearances, they probably had to scrimp for food and gas in the car and then call all of their friends when they got home to find out how their day had went. When it was all over, teachers had to make up those days for no money. They worked the day after Thanksgiving,  the day after Christmas, the day after New Years and missed most of the vacation days just because the terms of the settlement included making up for the lost days. 

That generation had it rough. 

Ours? Eh ....

Look, the last prediction I made was that they would close schools and that was right. So let me make another prediction: There *will* be a job action next month. They mayor (who, like Lindsay is a 'profile in weakness'. he micromanages. He bickers. He pits subordinates against each other and, after seven years of dealing with the governor's pettiness,  rarely communicates outside of what has come to be a very tight circle) will not avoid opening schools. He promised a nurse in every school, but he didn't say when.  He promised everyone would be safe, but he he hasn't said how. And let's not forget, a lot of people got sick because he kept those buildings open last Spring. But he is bending over backwards to try to look as though he meeting some demands. But the UFT's demand that everyone test negative before they enter a school is one demand that he may not be able to meet. The tests are taking too long to process and, thanks to the mayor taking so long to get us to this point,  there is no way close to one million people can be tested in tine. So I put the chances for a job action of some sort at around 80% as of today.

But what, exactly, will be our action? 

Shanker had to convince thousands of teachers to get up, leave their house every day and report to their picket site. Mulgrew will be asking us to stay at home. 

Now this is for many reasons! One reason, obviously, is COVID. But another reason is that it isn't exactly illegal to tell us to not report to a place where it is unsafe. In order for the Taylor Law to be evoked, the mayor would have to file an injunction with the courts here in the city. If there isn't a hearing then, there will be one on appeal. It seems pretty clear the UFT will bring evidence that one or more schools aren't safe. And if the court refuses to issue the injunction, then it isn't exactly a violation of the Taylor Law). (Read section 210 - 212 here and see for yourself). 

But no one in New York City is stupid enough to call a teacher strike because schools aren't safe and then ask us to report to our schools to picket. It's just, I'm sorry, really, no one is that stupid. We'll all be remote picketing this time through.

All of this will happen over the period of several days, not several weeks. The mayor wants school to start. The union wants school to start. Hell, I want to school to start. We all need school to start. So here is the way it is going to go: either the mayor, or a court, will decide to keep the school buildings closed for a while longer as the city does what it should have done last Spring (its job). Once the buildings are safe, we will all (er most) go in and perform the duties that we love so much. 

But we will be in our homes while it is happening. We will be watching it on TV. We will be zoom conferencing, group texting and keeping ourselves glued to social media as it is happening (you know. Just like we all do now 😃 )

And, if my prediction is right, what will happen on September 8, 2020 (or soon thereafter), will be nothing short of the largest sickout in the history of New York City. Tens of thousands of New York educators (or more) will simply not report. Remote teachers will not log in. In-person teachers will not walk in. The buildings aren't safe. 

We will all stay home, watching all of it. The heated election, the social unrest, the slow coming recession, a bungling mayor -and our own "strike". That is how solidarity will look in the year 2020. 

And, with any luck, it will all be resolved by that (very important) Friday. 


  1. A demand that we return only when schools are 'safe' is a logical demand. Who would object to kids and staff being 'safe'? To add data and science (and to avoid the appearance of operating on emotion and hysteria) we must provide data-based metrics for a safe reopening:

    0 new cases in the NYC metropolitan area for 60 consecutive days and/or a universally administered and 100% effective vaccine.

    Given those metrics, this school year will be remote.

    1. Those aren't metrics the UFT has laid out. Those sound close to the metrics that one caucus in the UFT has laid out. But those aren't the metrics the UFT has laid out. They want
      Testing dor everyone
      Safe buildings

    2. Scientists have said that this virus will be with us forever in one way or the other. With that said:

      1) we may never have a 60 day period without a positive test ever in our lifetime

      2) no vaccine is 100%. Scientists are happy with 50% effectiveness.

      These parameters are ridiculous, uneducated and unattainable.

    3. No cases for 60 days???! Why stop there. It’s unsafe when kids bring the flu and other diseases in with them too. By your logic we would never go back and if it’s just Covid - like the flu this could last for years Hopefully in check but still lasting for manny years.

    4. I agree with 3:09 and 2:51. We have to get back. I don't think we will ever have a time where this virus isn't with us at all. Teachers need to get back to making a difference again. Students need to get back to learning and growing again. Schools need to find a way to be open. I would love to go back to how things were, without having to worry about this virus, but the truth is that schools won't be without this forever. The other truth is that there is no such thing as acceptable deaths and the I think the city's current plan makes that conclusion.

      I also agree with 7:59's premise .. if we can't trust the city and DOE (and we can't because they have already gotten many people sick) then clear, safe standards should be made. Folks may not be able to trust the city but they sure can trust something like 'no new cases'. So the shear existence of the demand he or she is making is a reflection on the city. Not on the union. We need administrators of rules (which is what local government is supposed to be) that we can trust. Period.

  2. Just for the record, Fred Newman was not fired by the Ocean Hill-Brownsville school board: he was transferred out of the intermediate school where he was chapter leader.

    While still a gross violation of the contract and something any self-respecting union would be obliged to fight, it's nevertheless different from the Unity continues to tell about 1968.

    1. Without first double checking, I can day that's my memeory of Podair at work. Not Unity (many of whom don't even know the name nowadays). I have a pretty clear recollection of the letter being reprinted in the book with theb word 'termination'. I'll double check later this evening.

    2. Funny, I'm basing my comment on my recollection of Podair, as well.

      It might also be that the local school board sought Newman's termination, with the Board of Ed "compromising" and transferring him...

    3. I really get how generations of UFTers were able to hide from any role in racial division for so long. After all, this topic remains so complex, that we're hashing out facts of it to this day. I think I may go back and read Podair again (I honestly think 2020 may take the crown as America's most turbulent year and some 'historical context' may help me along).

  3. The city Covid rate is less than 1%. The parents of NYC are NOT going to back us if we do a work action. I also believe that there are plenty of young and older teachers who will not support a job action. Young teachers need money and will be scared of getting fired. Old teachers who are close to retirement want to get the hell out with no stress. Last time there was a strike teachers lost tenure for a year. The problem is that nobody knows how the city will react to a job action. Will a sick out be considered a strike in the eyes of the city? If so, a lot of teachers can kiss their careers away. Why would the city rehire veteran teachers after they get fired for a job action? Please note, I am not some right wing nut job. I am a 25 year veteran teacher in NYC and I want to get thought my last few years in peace before I retire. I do not want to mess up my chances at a decent retirement. However, if we vote for a strike or a job action and it passes, I will support it.

    1. I can't say I disagree with the sentiments here. Only that I could care less who supports us. This whole city could be lined up against us and I would still not want to walk back into a building until I was sure it was safe. If parents don't understand the depths of the dishonesties last February and March and mistakenly blame me for walking, then so be it. We cannot trust the people who enforce these rules so the union developed these three demands. It's just that simple (for me, anyway).

  4. I don't support a strike for 2 reasons:
    Unity's demands are stupid: Demanding the testing of 1 million students is never going to happen. These parents could not even be bothered to fill out a simple survey or these parents don't care about the conditions of the schools - this is consistent with what teachers have experienced year after years.
    Unity - should have demanded that instructional lunch / isolation rooms are off the table. These rooms are truly hazardous to the
    health of whoever has to sit in them.
    UNITY - should have asked for full remote, denounced hybrid model, exposed the falsehood that keep falling out of DeBlasio's mouth!!!!
    Also, Mayor's plan is going to fail. Let him fail. Striking helps Diblasio - not UFT.

    1. I think someone called them "the most conservative union in the United States". OMG I laughed so hard my sides hurt. But that's our union and, for all of the crap we give them (as well we should), they have managed to leap frog Chicago as the highest paid urban teachers in the US and even leapfrog a few suburban districts out here with regard to pay. And those medical benefits are looking sweeter and sweeter to me every year. So .. IF they go out .. I'll be standing with them and the thousand other teachers. Because, think about it, if *the most* conservative union in the United States says we shouldn't go in because it's not safe, then how can anyone (I'm looking at you 2:06) doubt them on principle or fact?
      My two cents. Thanks for dropping your thoughts!