Sunday, January 25, 2015

Why Cuomo and Mulgrew Are Both Wrong

Governor Cuomo and Michael Mulrew have been waging a war of words in the Daily News, each accusing the other of not caring about the kids of NY. Here's what they've said:

Cuomo referred to the teacher unions and the entrenched education establishment as an “industry” that is more interested in protecting the rights of its members than improving the system for the kids it is supposed to be serving.

Mulgrew: “If he truly believes that, it’s the clearest piece of evidence that he does not understand the people who choose to make their life’s work teaching and educating children."

I believe they are both wrong, and I hope I can articulate why without sounding as if I don't care about kids. I most certainly do care about them. I've spent the vast majority of my adult life working for and with children. And part of the problem is that I felt the need to say that before the rest of what I have to say. Because if you are a teacher, and you say that anything matters to you other than the children you teach, you run the risk of being labeled a monster.  Because God forbid if teachers want to make a decent living while serving the community. How dare we?

Perhaps the best way to approach this is to remind myself, and everyone reading, what the purpose of the union is. And this applies to any union, not just teachers.

The purpose of a union is to give individual workers the ability to collectively bargain and to make a better life for themselves.

Cuomo is wrong because he believes that it is the union's responsibility to improve education. It is not. It is the state's responsibility, as part of the constitution, to provide each child with a "sound, basic education". The governor is attempting to shift the burden for this responsibility from the state to the union. If he can make people believe that the union is responsible, then he can blame teachers for all his own failures, especially the failure to address the inequality of school funding.

Mulgrew is equally wrong because he seems to confuse the union with the membership. They are, in fact, separate entities. The union is made up of teachers, of course, and it is our job to educate children, but it does not therefore follow that it is the union's job to educate children, which is what Mulgrew seems to be saying.

Frankly, I wish Mulgrew saw the union's role differently. It is absolutely the union's job to protect the rights of its members. PERIOD.

That doesn't mean that the membership shouldn't advocate for children. We should. In fact, we must, because there are wealthy forces out there looking to destroy public education for their own profit.

The reason that teachers pay union dues is so that the UFT can advocate for teachers--to protect us from abuse, to negotiate fair contracts with adequate compensation and benefits, and to ensure that we have good working conditions.

What Mulgrew needs to make clear is that by protecting teachers, the union is freeing us to do what's right for kids. No one goes into teaching to get rich, or because the job is easy (half of all teachers leave within the first five years, which clearly speaks to the difficulties teachers face). We go into teaching because we are called to it, because it is an honorable profession, and because if we do our jobs, we can make a definite impact on the lives of children and the world we live in.

I think it's high time the Mulgrew owns what the union is. But he needs to make the case that a strong union is a benefit for children. He has allowed the politicians and hedge fundies to hijack the conversation by conflating the role of the union (protecting teachers) with the role of teachers (educating and advocating for children).

He needs to make the case that when the union is strong, education is strong. When teachers feel respected and safe from unjust evaluations, we are free to do the job we were hired to do. Bright and capable college students will be attracted to teaching, and veterans won't be looking to flee as soon as they are able.

Unions working on behalf of their members helped build this country and its middle class. Instead of fleeing from this basic truth, Mulgrew should embrace it.

Unionism helps teachers help kids. That should be the message.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Political Theater, Cuomo Style

It's no secret that Andrew Cuomo seeks to crush his political foes. If you run afoul of him, watch out. The Working Families Party buckled under to him, as did the UFT by choosing not to endorse pro-teacher candidate Zephyr Teachout for governor over Andy boy.

Now let's look at recent events. Yesterday, Cuomo pushed the most anti-teacher agenda of any democrat governor in these 50 states. It's well known that he took a lot of campaign money from groups like StudentsFirst and others, then lo and behold, a series of virulent anti-education "reforms" make their way into Andy's SOTS speech.

The very next day, the man who would have stood in the way of Andy paying back his political donors, Sheldon Silver, was arrested by the Feds for corruption. Pretty neat, eh? Quite the coincidence there.

Now let me say here and now that if Silver is actually guilty, he should go to jail. Of course, he is innocent until proven guilty, but this undoubtedly taints his reputation and weakens his power in the Assembly at a time teachers need his support the most.

This is a federal indictment, so it could not have been orchestrated by Cuomo. Well, at least not entirely. But is it beyond the realm of possibility that Andy's fingerprints are all over this?

Remember the Moreland Commission--which Andy created to "fight" corruption in Albany, but which he mysteriously abandoned? Is it possible that the Moreland Commission got the goods on Silver, and then was disbanded before they got too close to the governor's mansion?

I have no proof of this, of course. But the timing seems like the entire thing was staged to discredit Silver at a time when Cuomo was determined to butt heads with him.

Would anyone be surprised if that's what happened? I know I wouldn't.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

NYPD: Being Attacked, Or On The Attack?

Some comments my blog post about how Mulgrew and other municipal union leaders have turned their back on de Blasio got me to thinking. Before I even delve into that, however, there is an important question to be considered:

Should city unions stick together no matter what? My own view is that most of the time, we certainly should. When it comes to raises, seniority, equal treatment, layoffs, and most other reasons for which unions exists, we absolutely need to stick together.

To me, the current situation feels different. It's not about any of those major union issues--the current conflict stems from the fact that most of the NYPD is far more to the right politically than other city unions and would like to take Mayor de Blasio out if they could. Simply put, the NYPD fares better under Republican mayors (as we have seen time and again over the past 20 years) and other municipal unions fare much worse (ditto those 20 years).

Here's what one anonymous commenter, ostensibly a teacher, had to say: The attack on cops is just like the attack on teachers. It is an attack on middle class union jobs. People keep forgetting to mention that the PBA are working without a contract. Lynch is busting his behind to get a decent contract for his members which is something that the UFT has not been able to accomplish since before 2005.

Frankly, I don't see it that way at all. The mayor has not threatened to lay off police, bust the union, privatize policing, or anything of the sort. In fact, the PBA is in binding arbitration, so nothing Lynch does will have an effect on the contract. What the mayor has done is limit the ability of the police to stop and frisk whomever they please--a position supported by the 73% of voters who elected de Blasio knowing one of his major priorities was to sharply curtail that practice.

Another commenter said: There is and has been a war on policing as a profession. New retirement tiers have been created, new massive oversight of Complaint Board, fights to try to get all cops to live in the 5 boroughs, ticket and arrest quotas, and yes, their pensions are also under attack. It is not as bad as the war on teachers but it seems to me that cops are becoming the new punching bags for the hedge funders to get their hands on.

There are several points to be made here. First, the new retirement tiers affect teachers, too, so that's not just an attack on cops. And even more to the point, Bill de Blasio is not the one who instituted the new tiers, so how can he be held accountable? If there's a war here, it was waged by Bloomberg during his 12 years (which the NYPD supported) and Andrew Cuomo.

As far as the complaint board, residency requirements, and quotas, I admit I don't know much about those issues, but I do know that they were not instituted by de Blasio, the man who police are waging war on. Frankly, it reminds me of when we were attacked by Al Qaeda and President Bush decided to wage war on Iraq.

Are the police the new target of hedge funders? I don't know enough to be sure, but I do know how teachers were (and are) being treated when the fundies got the idea of "reforming" education. As I commented: Are they (the police) being put in rubber rooms? Unfairly evaluated? Threatened with layoffs? Having their seniority taken away? Having their pensions questioned? Is someone trying to privatize the police department? Is there a "Cops for America" corps taking jobs?

Those thing are not happening to the NYPD, and I can't see them happening under Bill de Blasio.  However, based on the antics of PBA President Pat Lynch, you can bet that the fundies are just salivating at the idea that they can paint the NYPD as a bunch of out of control armed union crazies, and attack police rights for that reason. Lynch is just playing into their hands. And sadly, the fundies will paint all municipal unions as a bunch of insubordinate louts.

So, to my fellow city workers in the NYPD, here's what I have to say. When it comes to pay, benefits, retirement, job protections, work rules, etc., I am on your side. However, when you try to wage war on de Blasio, the only pro-union mayor we have had in decades, I will not support you. The outrageous antics of your union president give all unions a black eye, and I do not want to see a return to the bad old days when the city was run by those whose main interests were breaking the UFT and other municipal unions.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Mulgrew Turns His Back on the Mayor

How many of you remember the last 20 years when teachers were under the boot of Rudy Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg? I know I do. I could make a very long list of the ways they degraded the teaching profession, but you probably know them all. So my question is:

How many of you want to spend the next 20 years under similar or worse bullies after the next election?

I don't. I hope you don't either.

But that is precisely what is going to happen if PBA hothead and provocateur Pat Lynch  has his way. He has groomed anti-de Blasio sentiment in this city with stunning expertise.

Luckily, I do believe that a backlash is beginning. Many people are not happy that the police disrespected the funeral of Officer Liu by turning their backs on the mayor yet again. And I can't imagine that too many people are thrilled about the de facto police work slowdown.

Speaking of which, while not getting tickets may seem nice, refusing to make arrests is beyond the pale. When someone is inevitably murdered, raped, or robbed because the police refuse to so their jobs, will Pat Lynch have blood on his hands?

And where is Mulgrew in all this? Let's not forget that Mulgrew endorsed Thompson for mayor, not de Blasio. Yet our mayor did not turn his back on teachers. He continued to fight, and still is fighting, against charter schools in this city. He succeeded in establishing universal Pre-K, which may yet turn into the greatest education boost for underprivileged kids this city has seen. He settled a contract with us quickly, which will give us the raises and retro money we deserve. (For the record, I voted against the contract due to the ATR issue, but that is something Mulgrew apparently agreed to.) He put a much more teacher-friendly chancellor in place--and while I do not by any means think Carmen Farina is the best choice, she is light years better than Joel Klein or Cathie Black.

Don't kid yourselves--if Pat Lynch triumphs in his crusade against the mayor, de Blasio will not be succeeded by a teacher-friendly Democrat. His successor would almost certainly be a right wing, pro-charter republican, or worse still, a faux Democrat like....dare I say it?

How does Mayor Moskowitz sit with all you UFT members?

So the question remains--why has Mulgrew turned his back on a mayor who has had his back for the last year?

Mulgrew doesn't have to oppose the PBA to do this. He needs to show his support for de Blasio with public appearances and praise for this mayor. He needs photo ops shaking the mayor's hand, and a new initiative or two that will help change the perception that the mayor has lost union support. And make no mistake, that is the public perception, because not a single union chief has come out in support of this mayor since Pat Lynch seized control of the narrative.

If he keeps turning his back on this mayor, he may turn around in three years to see Eva Moskowitz staring him in the face.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

A Tale of Two Unions

For twenty years in New York City, cops have gotten a free ride. In that time, we have had two Republican mayors--Giuliani served eight of those years and Bloomberg the last twelve. And for those twenty years, the right leaning PBA has been sitting pretty, while the UFT has been systematically attacked and disenfranchised. Cops are seen as heroes, which teachers are seen as incompetent bunglers who probably aren't qualified to be in the classroom.

How did this happen?

There is no doubt that our respective unions played a role. Randi Weingarten and Michael Mulgrew have had a single strategy--to get a "seat at the table" in order to--unsucessfully--get a say in how teachers are treated. Pat Lynch, president of the PBA, isn't interested in a seat at the table. If he doesn't get what he wants, he upsets the table and throws things into chaos regardless of who he hurts.

The cops loved Giuliani (most of the time). Rudy was seen as a law-and-order guy, and an ardent defender of the cops. He was so ardent, in fact, that he supported the police when they tortured Abner Louima by sodomizing Louima with a nightstick. As in the Eric Garner case, Louima was accused of resisting arrest, so as far as Giuliani was concerned, he got what was coming to him. Guiliani continued his support of the police throughout the Amadou Diallo case, in which Diallo, an unarmed black man, was shot at 41 times and struck with 19 bullets. Although four police officers were charged with second degree murder, they were all acquitted. Giuliani presided over this mess, and empowered police who were so inclined to act with reckless abandon, a tradition that still exists today.

Giuliani claims that he made the streets safer by harassing small time criminals, but the truth is that crime dropped more dramatically under David Dinkins than it ever did under Giuliani, and crime dropped nationwide during his tenure due to factors that had nothing to do with Rudy's policies.

I saw Rudy this morning on TV, boasting that the city needs to return to a mayor (presumably like himself) who knows about security. Does anyone besides me remember that he became mayor immediately after the first World Trade Center attack in 1993, and was in office when the second attack hit? Or that he decided to place the Office of Emergency Management headquarters in World Trade 7, despite it being an obvious target for a terrorist attack? With mayors like him, we all need flak jackets.

Bloomberg was no better. He continued the "Broken windows" policies of his predecessor. Furthermore, he championed the Stop and Frisk policy that was so incredibly racist and divisive that a court ruled it was "indirect racial profiling". This policy, along with "broken widows" before it, made the police feel that slapping a chokehold on unarmed black men like Eric Garner was not only permissible, but their duty.

For the last twenty years, the police have had a mayor who has had their backs no matter what they did. Is it any wonder that they now revolt because we have a mayor who respects the rights of all people of this city, including the poor and minorities? Is it any wonder the police feel compelled to literally turn their backs on a mayor who dares to speak the obvious truth that young black men need to be wary when stopped by the police, because young black men are shot by police at a rate 21 times that of young white men?

Speaking of which, police officers are paid or offered time off to attend funerals of slain officers, and I have no problem with that. I do have a problem with them publicly turning their backs on de Blasio while technically on the clock. I despised Joel Klein, but had he visited my classroom, I would never have turned my back on him and refused to teach. I would have done my job as a professional. Turning my back on him would have led to charges of insubordination and my removal from the classroom.

Why is it OK for cops to make political statements during funerals? Why on earth would they want to turn the wake of one of their own into a media frenzy? What kind of disrespect does it show to the family of Officer Ramos that his funeral was transformed into a political event?

So, to turn back to the main topic here, how did our union, and teachers generally, fare during the 20 year period that cops had carte blanche in this city?

Not so well. Giuliani began the current trend toward privatization of our schools and supported a voucher system. Bloomberg was even worse, taking control of the schools and destroying community school boards. He instituted, or at least tried to institute, virtually every one of the "reforms" that his rich hedge fund buddies supported, and pushed especially hard to promote charters and remove teachers from classrooms on trumped up charges.

So basically, for the past 20 years, we have had a city which used a blunt force system of government. Let the schools be damned, as long as we are locking up people for minor offenses. Why educate children when you can wait a few years and lock them up?

Now, we have a mayor who has the opposite approach. He wants the police to do their jobs, but nothing more. He wants them to respect the rights of the citizens of this city and not treat people of color like criminals through stop and frisk. One of his first acts as mayor--and one of his major campaign promises--was to offer universal pre-K so that all kids would have an opportunity to succeed in school and we could perhaps slow down the dropout-to-prison pipeline that plagues our poor communities.

What prompted me to write this was a perusal of my own Facebook feed, which is made up, unsurprisingly, mostly of teachers. I can't tell you how many have changed their profile pictures to a thin blue line in support of the police and who are blasting de Blasio. Really, fellow teachers? Is it really that hard for you to stand up for a man who has supported our union and treated teachers with respect? Is it that hard for you stand up for a man who has made educating our children--ALL our children--his number one priority?

After twenty years of Giuliani and Bloomberg, it's easy to see why the PBA is upset. It's not justifiable, but it is understandable.

And after those same twenty years of being beaten down by those same two men, it's hard to see why teachers aren't rallying around our current mayor.

You know what I want to see? I want to see Mulgrew hug de Blasio around the neck in a show of support. Hell, I wouldn't object if he kissed him on the lips.

To be clear, I support unions, including the PBA, But I believe that the police are a necessary evil that we must keep in check in a civilized society, while I see public education as a necessary good that should be embraced by all.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Why Teachers Need Guns

It's time to arm teachers.

But not for the reasons you might think. Allow me to explain.

Here's what has NOT happened in the wake of the Eric Garner case in NYC:
  • Governor Cuomo has NOT made it a major policy issue to break the PBA, which he clearly does not consider a monopoly like the UFT.
  • He has NOT demanded a new evaluation system of any sort that would help weed out the "bad" cops.
  • Eva Moskowitz has NOT called for the opening of a series of "Police Success Academies" to study best practices for police officers.
  • Wendy Kopp has NOT opened a "Kopps for America" boot camp to train tightly selected individuals to patrol the city's most dangerous streets after six weeks of training.
  • Campbell Brown has NOT called the unrest in minority neighborhoods (ignited by incidents like the Garner case and the cop who twice punched a subdued teenaged boy) the "civil rights issue of our time". 
  • Campbell has likewise NOT called for an end to seniority rights nor job protections of police officers, nor has she filed a lawsuit to end those rights.
  • The New York Post has NOT written stories on a daily basis vilifying police officers.
No, all those things were directed at teachers.

Let me make sure I'm not misunderstood here. I believe the vast majority of cops, like the vast majority of teachers, truly want to serve the citizens of NYC and make it a better place. And I believe when a cop or a teacher violates the trust the public places in them, they should be removed from that position of trust after a fair hearing.

Yet despite both being part of powerful unions, teachers and police are treated very differently by politicians and the media. Why is that?

When Michael Mulgrew threatens to punch people in the face if they mess with his Common Core, I don't think anyone quakes in their boots. But when Pat Lynch, president of the PBA, essentially blames the deaths of two police officers on Mayor de Blasio (while ignoring the culpability of Officer Pantaleo), everyone takes notice. Why?

It has to be the guns. Can you envision Campbell Brown telling an auditorium filled with armed police that they are the reason why minorities can't get a fair shake in this city? Me neither. I wonder if she'd have the guts to say it to a room of armed teachers.

So we must lay down the chalk and pick up the Glock. It's time to kick ass and tell kids to spit out their bubblegum.

It's worth a shot.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Out of Sight, Out of Money

There are many things I remember about my beginning days as a teacher. I had no education training, so I was thrown into a classroom of kids without the slightest idea when I was doing. Worse than that, since I was taking over for someone going on sabbatical, the administration of my school decided it would be a great idea to take the worst problem kids in the entire school and dump them on whoever came to fill the vacancy--in this instance, me. By the time I finished my first year, four of my students were in prison, and one had been committed to a mental hospital. And these were eighth graders. How I didn't end up in a mental hospital myself is a mystery.

To top all that off, I wasn't getting paid. I don't know if the situation is better today, but veterans can confirm that it used to take the DOE forever to get people on the payroll. In my case, it took, if I recall correctly, about 3 months for me to get my first paycheck, and longer than that to get the arrears.

I'm sorry to report that things are just as crappy today as they were then. I have been officially retired now for nearly three months, and I have not gotten a pension check yet.

Oh, they warned me this could happen, with a wink and a nod as if they were only covering themselves. I was told that the reality was probably two months, tops, before I got a check as long as everything was in order.

TRS has this wonderful thing they call "advance payments" which they offer people like me to make sure we don't end up licking discarded candy wrappers in the street for nourishment. Even if they can't straighten out your paperwork immediately, they'll send you some money to tide you over.

What they don't tell you is that it takes two months to get an advance payment. And the check I got was for less than a third of what I was owed. And now, another month has passed.

If you want the gruesome numbers, I have received about $2000 of the approximately $12500 I am owed. Supposedly, I will get my first check along with all the back money at some point, but when that will be is anyone's guess.

If you're an in-service member, you got a large check on September 30 that included the retro money for the 1% pay increases over the last two years. As a new retiree, I have not gotten than money, nor has the union provided any clue when retirees will receive theirs.

So far, it seems that if you're a retiree, you're out of sight, out of mind, and pretty much out of money. I've ended my career just the way I started--waiting to get paid.

It's not a crisis for me, luckily. My bills still get paid, and I have plenty of money saved in my TDA (see Chaz's excellent piece on TDA investments, although I advise keeping it all in fixed at 7%, which, IMO, really can't be beat for steady returns and security). But it would be nice, just once, to get what I am owed in a timely way, and it's a bit discouraging to see that things haven't changed much since I started teaching.

And let's not even talk about how we won't be getting our retroactive payments on the new contract in full for another six years.