2005-10-21 / Columnists

School Scope

Contract Mania Oct. 21, 2005
By Norman Scott

WOW! The last time I left you kids two weeks ago I was predicting a 70% vote YES on the proposed UFT contract and said I would be happy with that. Well the worm sure turned fast. I finished the School Scope column on Wednesday and by Friday the proverbial “you know what” was hitting the fan. It seem that the more people read the contract the BloomWeinKlein team had come up with the less they liked it. And the battle was joined between the forces of the evil empire led by UFT President Darth – er – Randi Weingarten – and the rebels urging UFT members to vote down the contract and send BloomWeinKlein back to the negotiating table. As I write this I give it a 50-50 shot.

My computer has been burning up with emails flowing in from all over the city. And my computer has responded admirably, sending out numerous flyers explaining why the contract was bad for UFT members. Thank goodness I had nothing to do with it – that computer sure has a mind of its own.

I left you last time with the VOTE NO! Rally outside the Delegate Assembly coming up Oct. 11 at the Brooklyn Marriott. That meeting was attended by an unprecedented 2200 out of the 2900 delegates. The rally attracted about 200 or more non-delegates. My car was like a war room, loaded with 5000 flyers of various kinds. A few days before, the UFT sent out a notice to all delegates that an attempt might be made to disrupt the proceedings and extra security would be hired. This notice caused even more outrage as people considered it part of the UFT campaign to smear opponents of the contract. Jeff Kaufman of ICE contacted the UFT to assure them there would be no disruption and requested that space be made available for all non-delegates to observe the proceedings. They agreed to set up a special room with a TV monitor for these non-delegates to follow the proceedings. I must say they went out of their way to make that work as UFT staffer Gary Sprung, in charge of the operation, arranged for refreshments, though I never did get that macadamia nut cookie he promised. (Gary, by the way, is a frequent visitor to Rockaway and wants to buy a house out here. If I help him find one I get that cookie next time.)

The growth of interest in this rally had been building for days. A group of about 10 teachers from PS 261 in Brooklyn started meeting because their union rep was trying to sell the contract. They formed Brooklyn Teachers for a Fair Contract and met on Columbus Day, the day before the rally, to write a press release. While in Staples they met other teachers going to the rally. What surprised me about this group was that they were all fairly young teachers, a group that was expected to be in favor of the contract. One of them said, “I work in a very good school with a very good principal but my first year I worked for a psycho and there are a lot more of those than great principals. I don’t want to leave my colleagues having to face these people without protection.”

Some visitors decided to stay outside on a peaceful moving picket line while others chose to go in to watch, for most of them the first time, democracy inaction (not a typo) UFT style. With numbers of people who wanted to speak, UFT President Randi Weingarten who was “chairing” the meeting – and I use this term very loosely – spoke in favor of the contract for 45 minutes despite attempts to make a point of order that the chair is supposed to be neutral under Robert’s Rules of Order. Randi “suspended” ol’ Robert’s Rules in the name of democracy (Robert is turning in his grave) but then reinstated them when a union-employed rep called the question with about 40 people waiting to speak. And with all those people waiting – people who never get up at these meetings – Randi made sure to call on UFT officers, also full-time employees of the union.

One independent chapter leader wrote, “The leadership of our union conspired to shut down debate and silence opposition to this proposed contract, and I find their conduct reprehensible. When debate was cut short and the microphone literally taken from the hand of the next “con” speaker, I changed my vote to a NO on the spot. A middle school chapter leader who was sitting with me and our delegate, did the same… In the end, the resolution passed about 60-40. (Uft.org says that more than 80% voted yes. That’s not what I saw.)”

Since the Delegate Assembly is packed with Unity Caucus members, opposition forces consider 60% a big victory and you can drop 10% off the total when the rank and file in the schools gets to vote – thus the sense that a rejection of the contact is possible. TJC member Kit Wainer said, “What strikes me is the extraordinary disconnect between the cheering for this contract here at the [delegates’ assembly] and the extraordinary anger that is out there among the membership. They’re angry because they think their union should be fighting to reduce our workload, not to increase it!”

That vote and the rally frightened UFT leaders enough to start a vicious campaign against ICE and TJC calling them everything from liars to terrorists. One email went out under the heading: “Read and vote without the terror tactics out there.”

This campaign may be backfiring as we see in this response: “Without getting into the specific merits of this contract versus what might be possible, using the term “terror tactics” in the subject field is reprehensible. TERROR TACTICS??!! To what shadowy, nefarious terror organization does the writer refer? Suggesting that differing with current union leadership is ‘terror tactics’ makes the writer guilty of fear-mongering himself. By all means read the memorandum and make an educated vote, but ask yourself who is trying to manipulate whom with emails like this?

The main tactic being used is to tell people a NO vote will result in a strike. While other unions use the strike to threaten the employer, the UFT uses it against its own members. Most members are not aware there is no chance of a strike because the loss of dues check off would cause the massive numbers of 6-figure salaried UFT employees to end up having to go back to the schools and actually work under the contract they are espousing – and they get the 14.25% raise without having to worry about the givebacks in the contract – unless Randi makes them stand in the UFT cafeteria as a symbolic gesture of solidarity with their fellow UFTers who will be doing lunch duty. The UFT is clearly not equipped to strike and people cite the fact the leadership is pushing such a retrograde contract as proof.

Another tactic is to talk about the anti-union “Climate of the times” as an excuse for the union to cave in. Are they trying to tell us the climate is worse today than it was in the 20’s and 30’s when they busted people’s heads for joining unions? The unions got organized in that climate. Furthermore, didn’t the UFT help create the climate by its unabashed support for giving control of the school system to an anti-union mayor? The weather-has-changed argument is just a different form of the same excuse UFT’ers have heard for the 30 years since the 1975 fiscal crisis. Remember the crying about how anti-union Giuliani was as the excuse for the 5-year contract with the first 2 years of zero raises? They bragged that we got removal of lunch duty in exchange. Well guess, what? Lunch duty is baaaack! That contract was also voted down which forced a renegotiation that at least reduced the maximum from 25 to 22 years.

So, what is the option if the contract is voted down?

Voting NO keeps the current contract, which stays in effect, and people continue to get their normal step raises. When the 14.25% is calculated against the extra time, especially the 37.5 minutes extra teachers will work from Mondays to Thursdays (TGIF’s should be packed) and the extra 2 days before Labor Day – there goes that joyous last free weekend of the summer – the current system seems better. The UFT mantra is that if the contract goes down there won’t be another contract until Bloomberg leaves office and the UFT gets its own personal mayor, Bill Thompson.

But there are many signs Bloomberg wants a contract even if he wins. Bloomberg has already blinked as reported by Dave Andreatta of the Post about a secret deal between Bloomberg and Weingarten to “gage” the reaction of people to the contract and if there’s opposition (ha! ha! ha!), offering to “revisit” the letter in the file issue if there are excessive numbers of letters.

The hostility to this contract scares the hell out of Bloomberg and Weingarten. It belies the idea that teachers are up for sale - that 15% will buy anything. What’s happening is that the chickens are coming home to roost. The U-ratings blitz, unfair observations, etc. are making people see that the cost may not be worth it. Plus of course the extra time. Hey, I could negotiate 20% just by selling off preps and more of the summer vacation. And of course an even longer day. But that’s for next time. At what point do people say ENOUGH! That point is very surprisingly being reached by more and more people.

One sign is that Bloomberg and his avid supporters the NY Post and Daily News want this contract to pass so badly. The NY Times said Bloomberg could never be a successful educational reformer without cooperative teachers. He wants docile teachers to bend at his will. This contract gives him what he wants. The tiger has been aroused, the cage door is ajar and one paw is out the door. Will they be able to slam the door shut? There will be a “Send The Contract Back To Negotiation – Vote No” rally at UFT headquarters (52 Broadway) on Friday, October 21, from 4 to 6 p.m. All teachers who are opposed to the contract are urged to attend to show the union leadership their anger.

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