Wednesday, February 1, 2023

The UFT Teach-in. Part 2: The Flex


This has been adapted from a thread on Twitter.  You can read the second part here.


To understand the flex, we should chat briefly about the strength of any union. Generally, strong unions follow a 3-step process. 1. They grow their numbers. They do this by getting a lot of members to join together over something. That brings them power, so 2: They grow their power. This power lies *somewhat in tens of thousands of members wanting & talking abt the same thing but it *mainly lies in management seeing this and becoming concerned. 

That fear is institutional, not personal. But it lies at the heart of the union’s new found power. Check out step  2 in action. Take the 1.3% that I mentioned in my earlier post as an example. This 1.3% means that, whatever  happens moving forward, the union now has 1000 more *active* foot solders within its ranks than it did before this happened. In a labor movement on the wane, any management would see this as an outlier and that management would be concerned. That’s step 2. 

Step 3 is simple. After having earned that power, 3. Become strong. After a while, a union begins to exert its power by getting great deals for all of its members. For unions, these great deals come in the form of great contracts. This is when all the magic happens.  Most of our rights came from a contract signed in 1965.  We didn’t even strike that year πŸ˜‚!! πŸ˜‚πŸ˜‚That’s not exactly power.  That's strength. That’s rule 3.


Now management is part of the trained eye. Please know this! They usually do their best to foil a union at step 1. They do this by pitting teachers against teachers over a copy machine or some overtime, or by keeping friends away from each other on lunch break or by harassing, retaliating or scaring the loud teacher so much that the other teachers will watch and will become too fearful to gather for a union event (sound familiar?). 

The list of their tactics they use goes on and on and I refer to them as doenuts because, frankly, there is no other thing to say about them. But that's them stopping us at step 1. That's the typical dynamic in NYC schools. 

Every so often, though, a union does reach step 1: They do find a way to grow their numbers. This doesn’t  happen often these days but when it does, it means something special is afoot: It means that management’s first line of defense has been swept away by the tide of upset employees. Let's be real here; who the hell cares about getting trouble at their job if their job isn't even putting food on the damn table? 

Management never realizes this until it is too late. The bosses never realize something is up until it's just too late. The DOE is no different than any other management when it comes to this. On January 26 (at 6 in the evening!) the  DOE OLR sent this missive out to all principals in NYC (click to enlarge from the Twitter version of this post)

Important to note that they sent this five days before the event took place and only *after* learning that 1000 teachers had already  showed up to be trained to go back to their chapters and do this unionism thing. 

That shook them enough for an after hour email to every Principal in NYC.  

Each principal is assigned their own school attorney. The attorneys could have provided this advice and in fact, much of a school attorney's day is spent offering advice just like this about employee rules and laws. That this email came straight from OLR hints at the urgency with which it was sent. They didn’t have time for proper channels! So they just sent it out to everyone they could. That urgency came partly from the late arriving realization that something involving a very large number of teachers was about to happen and that they could not stop it. 

And therin lies the flex: The union grew its numbers of active members across all 5 boroughs and the DOE was powerless to stop them. It's now documented that 1000 school based union leaders were christened last week. Those 1000 members then turned and christened between  17,5000 and 34,000 members into dignified, honorable, legal unionism this week.  And management could not stop it.  In fact, it all happened right in front of the DOE's eyes -and all they could muster to stop it was an urgent, after hours email. 

This reaction was on school levels, too. At least one school in LIC, Queens, opted out of the teach-in because, as the chapter leader put it, “the principal got an email that there about this whole thing so , yeah, we are staying away from that”. (Quick side note: This is scary business and most of us who would have held the teach-in anyway fully understand this concern).

Getting management to react in this way helps unions grow their power. The trained eyes saw the doe react. The trained eye knows what it means when you get your opponent to react: it means you have that power. 

That DOE email helped the UFT reach step 2. We grew our power. (They, literally, helped us do it. (This also happened in that school out in LIC: those teachers went home and saw colleagues from all across the city did what their chapter leader said shouldn’t be done. There is power in that, too). Because that same chapter leader sent an email out to all members the very next day assuring folks at that one school that they would find a way to hold the teach in sometime this week. (That Chapter Leader's email isn't part of the flex. It is a result of the flex).

Now, in order to more fully describe this flex, I am going to have to explain why this teach-in was such a smart move. Given the legal, political and cultural environment surrounding NY schools these days,  I'm going to have to explain the brilliance behind the idea of a teach-in. Look for that explanation in a few short days. 

1 comment:

  1. I gotta disagree with this. Principals, the DOE, and school building lawyers do not negotiate contracts. We have always been allowed to hold UFT chapter meetings during lunch. The bottom line is that we hold no more "flex" today than we did yesterday or 10 years ago. This teach in did nothing to empower us at the bargaining table. Furthermore, the negotiation committee is a sham. The real contract negotiating will be done behind closed doors with Mulgrew, Adams, Banks.