Saturday, November 24, 2012

Real Questions for our Unity Leaders

Given the union's propensity for writing Q&As whenever something happens that puts them in a bad light, I promised to write some questions for Unity in the wake of the Hurricane Sandy debacle and the surrender of our vacation days without a hint of a fight or any consultation with the union membership. Given that Unity also doesn't answer questions such as these, I supplied their standard answers along with the truth.

Why didn't you fight for us to keep our mid-winter recess when you knew the state legislature was going to waive the 180 day requirement for state funding?
  • What Unity says: The state law is the law. We needed to act quickly to make sure we protected our members who have already paid for vacations.
  • The Truth: This was an easy sell-out. They didn't want the bad press that might result if they pushed the state to do the right thing.

Why are you content to "wait out" Mayor Bloomberg's term before making any serious attempts to get your members a fair contract?
  • What Unity says: The mayor has no interest in signing a contract with us. We are better off waiting for a "teacher friendly" mayor.
  • The Truth: Unity has no interest in a fight. Teachers have already been without contract for three years, and likely five by the time a new mayor signs with us. What are the odds that we will get the 8% we are due for the past two years that all other unions got, plus any other kind of increase over those additional three years of wait time? Besides that, does anyone else recall when Unity told us they were waiting out Giuliani and we ended up with Bloomberg? Or when we backed mayoral control and refused to endorse Bill Thompson when we had a chance to end Bloomberg's immoral third term purchase?
Why did you agree to help get the Race to the Top funds when you knew it would lead to evaluations based on test scores and the use of the Common Core, which has not been tested or shown to work anywhere?
  • What Unity says: We wanted a seat at the table. If we didn't negotiate with the state, they would have implemented their own evaluation system without us and it would have been worse. Besides, we gained 700 million dollars in RttT funds.
  • The Truth: It was a public relations stunt. Unity wanted to look like collaborators, not fighters. We could easily have resisted any attempts to impose an evaluation system on us, because we have a contract that could not be invalidated by state law. None of the money that we "gained" in RttT funds is going to the classrooms as far as anyone can tell, but it will be used to put evaluations in place and testing in every grade and subject area. This will cost FAR more over time than the $700 million the state received. Many districts are reporting that RttT will cost them more than ten times what they are receiving in funding.
Considering the incredible inaccuracy of Value Added Measurements such as the TDRs (Teacher Data Reports) that can vary as much as 85% from year to year, why did you agree that teachers could be rated ineffective entirely based on test scores?

  • What Unity says: We actually did better than the rest of the state. Many teachers in NYS will have 40% of their evaluation based on test scores, while NYC teachers will have 20% based on test scores and 20% on "local measures" that we must sign off on.
  • The Truth: 20% of crap is still crap. In addition, if you are rated ineffective according to VAM, you will be rated ineffective no matter how high you score on other measures, effectively making test scores the sole determinant of whether a teacher can be rated ineffective and subject to firing.
What steps are you taking to make sure that teachers will not be rated ineffective because of a vindictive principal or admin?

  • What Unity says: We have a mechanism in place that allows us to challenge up to 13% of ineffective ratings. That will ensure that we can look, case by case, and determine who has been unfairly targeted and make sure they get a fair hearing.
  • The Truth: Before the union "won" the right to challenge 13% of teacher ratings, 100% of unsatisfactory ratings could be challenged. Any teacher charged with incompetence and brought to a 3020A hearing had the right to due process--this meant that the burden of proving incompetence rested with the city. When the new system is in place, 87% of teachers who are labeled "ineffective" will now have the burden of proof placed on them--in other words, teachers will have to prove they are competent, which is a virtual impossibility given that the DOE controls the data.

What has Unity done for its members lately?

  • What Unity says: We have preserved tenure. We have ended the rubber rooms. We have made sure that ATRs have kept their jobs. We have averted layoffs. 
  • The Truth: On Tenure--when the new evaluation system is in place, tenure will still exist but no longer matter because teachers who are rated ineffective will have to prove their competence (see previous question). On the rubber rooms--they were always punitive in nature and contained a high percentage of older and minority teachers, which was discriminatory and should have been the subject of a massive discrimination lawsuit against the city. On ATRs--while ATRs have jobs, they aren't real teaching jobs. They are working as very temporary subs and abused as they are sent from school to school without hope of landing a steady position. Prior to Unity selling off seniority rights, there was no such thing as an ATR. On layoffs--while there have been no layoffs per se, we have lost more than 5000 positions to attrition in the last several years, which certainly can be viewed as de facto layoffs. These losses have led to greater class sizes citywide at a time when teachers are being held more and more accountable for test scores.
Given the success of the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) in protecting its members through direct action in the great tradition of American unionism, can you explain why teachers should vote for Mulgrew and the rest of his Unity crew, who appear content to lead through passivity rather than strength?
  • What Unity says: Our situation is different than the CTU. Because of the Taylor law, we can't strike. Instead, we will continue some of our usual campaigns, such as asking members to wear red when they are angry.
  • The Truth: Unity is more interested in retaining power than taking any positive action on behalf of its members. If Unity actually educated its members on the issues, and got them to take action, they might wake up and realize that they can also take control of their own union and vote out any caucus that doesn't have the members' best interests at heart. They just might vote for the MORE caucus, whose mission statement seems to be just common sense, but it is completely opposite of the way the Unity caucus operates.
If any Unity official wants to comment, I'd be more than happy to hear what they have to say. I have a feeling I won't be hearing from them any time soon.


Sick of it All said...

PERFECT EXPLANATION! I want to print this out and hand it to every teacher in my building the night before the UFT election. (In fact, I WILL print it out and hand it to each teacher in my building the night before the UFT election.)

MORE Caucus said...

Thank you for your passionate writing, This explanation is well thought out and exposes the sad truths that have been suppressed for too long. MORE wants a union that defends educators and advocates for students right's. Your post expresses how this is currently not the case. We must have a positive alternative to the current leadership. We have learned from the CORE caucus of Chicago's Teacher's Union that a union that fights for social justice, a better contract, job protection, and smaller class sizes is a union that can win. As one of the largest locals in this country we have a responsibility to lead this battle for true teacher led reform. We need a rank and file union that is truly democratic, that builds grassroots alliances not back room lobbying. Lets hope the ground swell from the blogging/tweeting community is the spark our movement needs. In all honesty MORE needs additional help right now, bloggers like yourself and others would be most welcome at the critical moment in labor history. You are all welcome to join our team at We need help with our blog, press releases, youtube, and handing out our fliers in your schools. Please let us know if you or others can help.
Thank you sincerely for this excellent piece and all your literature on behalf of all NYC educators.

Francesco Portelos said...

Don't wait. Start now.