2002-06-15 / Columnists

From the Editor’s Desk

By Howard Schwach

From the Editor's Desk
By Howard Schwach

Can you imagine the PBA saying that one of its major goals is to make life simpler
for those who are arrested? Can you imagine the firefighters union campaigning for
lower insurance rates for building owners? Can you imagine the ironworkers union
arguing for lower rates for those who purchase girders? Can you imagine the American
Medical Association arguing that patients should have a greater say in their own treatment plans? Can you imagine lawyers urging their clients to take charge of their own defense?
Neither can I.

I am reminded of those things each time I hear Randi Weingarten, the president of the
United Federation of Teachers (UFT) speaking about improving the school system and
bringing parents into the process, I wonder if she remembers what a union is for. A union,
any union, has a pretty simple mission statement. A union should be dedicated to three
things: Better working conditions, better benefits and a higher salary. That should be the
UFT's president's only goals. Better pay, better working conditions, better benefits.

Despite the contract she and the mayor just negotiated, however, Randi has been a
disaster as UFT president. She had done just about everything wrong, and everybody
who teaces in New York City is suffering for it.

After the Abner Louima Case â013 certainly a tragedy and a crime by any criteria, but not
an act that should have indicted everybody on the job â013 she wrote, "UFT members have
a special concern and interest in the case because we educate the same young people of
color who often express fear of â013 and indeed suffer from â013 police abuses."

What was she thinking? Was she saying that a largely white police force makes it harder
for a largely white teaching staff to do its job? If so, then she has it backwards. It is the
fact that the schools allow kids to do anything that they like without sanction that makes
it so hard for the cops to do their jobs. Her comments angered many of those who work
for a living in this city and gave the police another reason not to work closely with teachers
and administrators.

Randi's political expertise also needs a little fine-tuning. She backed the wrong horse
three times running in the last mayoral election. Three times! It was an embarrassment for
union members to watch her back the most liberal candidate when everybody else in the
city knew that he did not have a chance. Then, she went to the next most liberal and so on. Finally, she had to deal with Bloomberg and did not understand why he did not jump right
in her lap (metaphorically speaking, of course).

She lost a lot of credibility and even more political clout because she had no understanding
of how the city works and how the "regular New Yorker" feels about the candidates that
she backed (of course, neither does the Democratic Party).

Her "victory" over Rudi Giuliani in the last contract is well documented.

Giuliani wanted to (make that needed to) give the teachers a contract that included no
raises for the first two years. He needed that to keep the pattern that he wanted to follow
with all of the municipal unions â013 among which the UFT is arguably the strongest).

In order to entice Randi to take a contract with "double zeroes," he had to offer something
she really wanted, something that would be the equivalent of a "sell-out" on the city's part
so that the she could sell the contract to her members.

What did teachers get to balance off the double zero contract?

You've got it. Teachers did not any longer have to do cafeteria duty or hall patrol.

Most of the teachers know that it was not worth it to trade two years with no raise for
a chance to walk away from the cafeteria. Under the contract, teachers were ordered to cafeteria duty only one year out of three and then only for that one year. Was that worth
$10 thousand bucks? Most teachers do not think so.

Under the contract just agreed to, principals can entice teachers back into the cafeteria
with per session money and with reduced teaching loads. Many teachers will take that
deal. They would have taken it the first time around and teachers could have received
a raise.

So, teachers will go back into the cafeteria and all they lost was about $10 thousand
each at the top salary over the past three years.

Then, we come to the hip-hop show last week. I don't know what Randi was thinking
when she invited a number of hip hop acts to take part in what was supposed to be a
rally for a new contract.

Whether hip-hop music helps or hinders education aside, it was a dumb thing to do in
a long line of dumb things that she has done.

With radio stations blaring the word that those groups would be at the rally, thousands
of kids left school to see the rally. Those kids were not there to support the teachers,
they were there to hear the music.

Performances, by the way, were illegal because the permit for the rally allowed only
speeches, not musical performances.

When one performer was arrested for trying to perform after being asked not to, there
was a mini-riot that brought on a Level II mobilization.

Weingarten and the union were embarrassed once more by the riot that came out of
a rally.

Teachers all over the city are embarrassed to say that they are union members.

Thousands of teachers are leaving the system. Those that do often have to wait up to
six months to get their first pension checks. There has been no contract for years, until
this week, when a mayor who had come out on top of the heap could afford to drop
some largess on Randi and the union members. Weingarten is an embarrassment. The
union has now been tied to a riot.

What else can go wrong?

Stay tuned. Randi still has a couple of years to go as president of the UFT and that
gives her plenty of time for further embarrassments.


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