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.