I don't very much like writing about union matters. On the one hand, I'm too busy and too occupied with teaching. The students seem to need us (teachers) to do what we do more than in other years. Andso much of my work time has been occupied with that, so I have no time to do so.
On the other hand, unions are set up to work kind of like a car insurance policy and who wants to write about that? In each case, you pay each month and, in exchange, it's supposed to be there for you when you need. Unions aren't always there for you, but they are supposed to be be and, heck, we all pay every month (or payday). This is why I often find myself comparing my union to a car insurance policy.
Would you enjoy writing about car insurance companies in your spare time? I think not. Speaking only for myself here, I don't much like writing about union issues in my spare time either.
But every so often, I come across a 🍩 so big and so ridiculously stupid, that I must literally do my best to try to tell the tale as best as I can.
And our doenut begins with my car insurance policy metaphor. You see, you may hope and trust that your car insurance company will be there for you when you need but, after paying good money each and every month, many folks like to go double check. I search "State Farm" on Google News at least a few times a year -just to make sure my car insurance company isn't screwing around or in some kind of trouble.
In this same manner, a mentally fit person might check in on his or her union a few times a year. Maybe they will read the union newspaper. Maybe they'll join a Facebook group. Or maybe they will read up (via the internet of course) on some of the latest union functions and debates that have been taking place. This is what healthy people do, anyway. And they do it, I suspect, a few times each year, just to be sure that their union dues aren't being wasted.
That money was hard earned. It was earned by a New York City school teacher. That school teacher is doing the very best he or she can, working under a Byzantine system that cares about his or her kind (teachers) less than absolutely nothing else on Earth. No one hates classroom teachers more than the collective group of people who run the NYC Department of Education, period. And that classroom teacher had to work his or her craft through that culture just to earn the money that he or she used to pay that union its monthly dues. That money was hard earned.
And, because of this, healthy people check in on the union from time to time.
If anyone were to check in on the union during its monthly "Delegate Assembly" meeting this week, he or she might feel as though she or he were wasting that money. Here is part of a live blog from the union's last meeting:
A Delegate on the phone says lower class sizes are important contractually or through other means.
A Delegate calls the question on all matters before the house.
Point of Order: This is an important issue asking if the person who spoke previously was on the union payroll. Delegate responds that he is elected and insulted that someone asked this.
A closer look into what the heck happened revels this:
Then, it starts to get crazy when DR William Woodruff calls the question to get a vote on ending the debate. Independent Delegate Daniel Alicea [(here)] shouts for a point of order on whether the person calling for the end of debate on this fundamental issue is on the UFT payroll. Woodruff is on the payroll and makes close to $200,000 per annum as a District Rep so it is a valid question if he represents his employer (the UFT) or the members in the school where he works one period a day.
I'm not going to concern myself with the exchange itself. I heard it was a tough moment for both people involved. They are both grown adults and can resolve their situations themselves. But if this happened at State Farm during one of those times I went to check in on my car insurance company, I'd switch insurance companies.
The fact seems to be clear: One volunteer delegate asked another highly paid delegate a public question about whether or not that highly paid delegate was, in fact, highly paid, and at the very moment that the highly paid delegate was trying to end a debate.
As highlighted above, this was and is a valid question.
For months now, there has been a growing concern that UFT employees have been overstepping the authority (of "union rep") that has been given to them by school teachers.
Many of the people who guide the discussions in the UFT are, in fact, paid by the union as employees. Until recently, this has gone unnoticed. But many people (folks who are a bit more active in the UFT) have observed that these highly paid employees are spending an increasing amount of time policing the social media groups and in the comment sections (and in-person) arguing with teachers using combative tone and words. In some cases the concerns are around whether a school teacher was being verbally attacked by the highly paid reps of their union. These are serious concerns.
I'd like to attest here that many of the more regular folks have found these paid employees becoming more and more confrontational in these spaces. In the past, I have witnessed them accusing people of "being dangerous" because they shared information when it was asked or because they shared a poor opinion of the union in a public space. The ones who are publicly critical of the union have been accused of being "anti union" or of "having problems" just because they choose to spend their free time criticizing the people who run the union. To be clear, these are sometimes very confrontational exchanges -and they are always being initiated by the paid foot soldiers of the teacher union.
This pattern of behavior has lead to a growing chorus of concern over whether the teacher union's own union officials are just defending their 'team' or whether or not they are participating in an unfair labor practice by routinely confronting anyone who dares to disagree with the union's policies or decisions.
When James Eterno calls this a "valid question" he is, unfortunately, correct. It is a very valid question. And it is unfortunate that a question like this is valid.
And that leads me back to the question I posed in my title: Why are paid employees trying to end debate during the union's Delegate Assembly? If there is a good answer, then the union should communicate it. The group who runs the union must have had at least 200 "Unity Loyalists" in the room with them on this night (these are folks who are NOT paid by the union but who are loyal to the union's ruling caucus). Why not just have one of these unpaid loyalists make a motion to end the debate? Embers, when blown, do catch fire, you know. And this hub bub seems to have been easily avoided.
The union could have also played nice. I understand that the whole argument was over a 12 word amendment to one their resolutions (with the resolution being written by the ruling caucus and the amendment being added by one of the non ruling caucuses). It was not, as I understand it, a harmful amendment nor was it an amendment that would have forced the union to change one damn thing. Why not just shrug and say "sure. We'll add it"?
I like my union much more than I like my car insurance company. So I won't be switching or pulling my dues anytime soon. But the time has come to allow these highly trained, highly paid union officials to use their skills to stay behind the scenes. We trust our union employees. We trust them plenty. But these actions are becoming an apparent misuse of influence, power and authority by paid union employees. toward non paid union members.
The Unity caucus has tons of talented teachers who are not being paid to defend the union. Allowing them the opportunity to do things like argue with school teachers on social media and move to end a debate in the union assembly would avoid this disaster of optics and would steer the union, as I know it deserves, away from valid questions about honesty.
The Unity Caucus is filled to the brim with honest people. They need to be seen being honest and acting with fidelity and with integrity. The volunteers of that caucus need to be getting to a mic and asking for debate to end. The employees need to be working on other things. Like helping members, not arguing with them. Like listening to them, not yelling at them. Like not trying to shame them by implying that they are insulting when they are, in fact, only using strategic opportunities to ask extremely important and existential questions.