There is no “I” in union. Well, actually…there

UFT Executive Board Report – 1/23/23 By Farrah Alexander

If you are a human being and living on this earth, you must have already figured out that there is very little you can accomplish COMPLETELY alone.  That is not a jab at your abilities and strengths; you are lovely, amazing & capable of great things.  😊 That is just to say that we need each other, and we need others.  As an educator, chapter leader, and union activist where would I be without the support of my colleagues, members & union siblings?

On my way to the Executive Board meeting on January 23, 2023, I noticed that on every available surface sat stacks of posters in varying degrees of distribution announcing the upcoming teach-in on January, as well as other pro-union sentiments.  I personally love when WE, as a union get to flex our organizing & mobilizing muscles to the masses.  At the marches, the campaigns, the parades, the meetings, the trainings et. al. I feel that #unionstrong #unionproud power. 

The poster that stuck out to me from those stacks, the one that I kept returning to in my mind’s eye during this meeting is the one you see above, “I AM THE UNION.”   I am the union, but I am not the union alone. WE are the union, and we do the work, together. 

I am not ashamed to say that I am hopelessly optimistic and my goodness(!) give people the benefit of the doubt.  So, let’s stick with that theme then, shall we?   Let’s look at these reports through the lens of glows, grows, knows, and throws (John Miller, Agile School).  I am a teacher first and foremost after all.

I thought the message was clear on this Monday evening.  Particularly at the end of the meeting with the short but inspiring preachment by Secretary Leroy Barr.   “As part of our union, will you be there?   If there is a call to get onto the streets to fight for what is fair?  Will you join the fight with thousands of members to answer that call?” 

What glowed?  What did we do well?

There were some great questions throughout this meeting about the contract, negotiations, resolutions, and the CAT teams from our Exec Board who are “boots-on-the-ground” rank & file members. 

In the President’s report, Mr. Mulgrew talked about our collocation fight with Success Academy & Eva Moskowitz, the city budget & education funds, healthcare, and increasing rights & benefits without it costing us.

He gave kudos to all involved in the Success Academy fight because this was a great showing to the city including the Mayor & Moskowitz that the UFT will be there to fight their attempt at co-locating charter schools.  Like I said before, ways in which we can show our unity and passion around what our students and our members, their families, and the communities we serve are inspirational.  It is also an effective exercise in using our collective voice.

The healthcare issue, which we all know is a hot-button topic was also reported on.  There are many unions negotiating contracts currently besides the UFT (DC37 & PBA to name 2).  We are all up against hospitals and insurance companies fleecing the working people out of their hard-earned money.  We are not going to stop fighting for what has been part of contract & contract negotiations since the inception of our great union.  Affordable healthcare! President Mulgrew used a metaphor about homework to intimate the consequences of not doing it.  Passing a resolution without doing the fiscals would not be smart.  After the fiscals were done – we realized it would “blow a hole” in the state budget.  So how do we push for something we know will hurt us?  

Joe Usatch reported on the Shanker scholarship accepting applications from all regardless of immigration status. 

Mary Vaccaro reported on Fair Student Funding Task Force & the 3 main points they are focusing on 1. If there is breakage, there is an appeals process that is expedited & to start in August    2. Students in temporary housing get $$$ directly not funds from some other bucket, and 3.  SPED/ELL funding won’t be taken out of any other buckets. Presentations of these points at all CECs starting next week.

Carl Cambria reported on the great success of all the teach-in trainings with the CAT teams.  Over a 3-day period, 1200 members participated.   Comparatively to other events online and in-person where people register and don’t show, these events had a 90% attendance rate.   Snaps to Amy Arundell, Brad Alter, Emily James for leading these.  I participated in one of these trainings and can report that the energy was high.   High energy, high levels of support & encouragement late on a Wednesday night even though it was after a delegate assembly and a full day of teaching.  That to me speaks volumes.

Adam Shapiro and Ashley Rzonca reported on the success of their UFT outing to a Mets game in May in honor of them uniting their boroughs, Brooklyn & Queens.  They sold out 663 tickets!  400+ more than their last Mets game!

Ilona Nanay spoke about a great opportunity to become a librarian.  T2L Teacher to Librarian certificate which is a scholarship opportunity as well. 

Amy Arundell – Brimming with pride, spoke about the campaign in Queens against the collocation of Success Academy in two Queens schools. The community including parents, teachers, students, politicians & UFT reps from all boroughs showed up in force and in opposition of this. Big shout outs to Washington Sanchez(QHS), Rana Quanmina(D29), Bruce Zihal(D28), Dana Faciglia(D11).   This could not have been done without the SLT teams and the unity of all the parts of the school community and the community outside the school.  The support of all these groups, once again, shows what we are capable of when we are united with and supported by the people who believe in educators who want what is best for our students and the schools we serve. 

Mary Vaccaro – District 11, Dana Faciglia got all the CL’s involved for 113 rally to tell the community about the collocation fight.  Similar showing of unity and support from all parts of the community

Seung Lee – Robert Burns poetry night, tenure training & other social events great and highly attended.  An amazing jump-off point to discuss the teach-ins.  Building unity and comradery and pride in the UFT.

Where to Grow? Where can we improve? Where do we make changes?

Where to Grow: How does a person grow? And then for that matter how does a collective – a UNION – grow so they can do better for themselves, their members, their students? We set goals, we develop skills, we read, we encourage others, we practice gratitude and maybe most importantly we KEEP PERSPECTIVE.  On a basic level & beyond, we know this.  We know this because we are all teachers, and we teach students how to do these things so they can succeed.  That makes us successful too.  Whether you are in the classroom, if you are support staff, if you are in the field or full-time UFT staff – it applies to us all.   Keeping perspective while gearing up for contract negotiations is paramount. Knowing that the very people we will be negotiating with want to see us divided so we aren’t successful is part of that perspective. Being under pressure makes people distractable. Let’s not get distracted by the things that divide us and focus on what makes us stronger, better, and the best versions of ourselves. 

What to Throw?  What isn’t working for us?

United we stand, divided we fall. There are so many quotes & proverbs about division.  So why don’t we heed their warnings?  I think it behooves us all, for the sake of us all to stand together and throw out the finger pointing, coupled with disruption for the sake of disruption.  I thought that Secretary Barr and Exec Board Member at Large Ronnie Almonte actually were saying quite a similar thing.  We are here to work together. Healthcare is a mess. Division is an enemy to us ALL.  We are all ready to take to the streets.  Debate starts with good intentions on both sides.

Now We Know?

Division is dangerous, but we already knew that didn’t we? The union’s strength is in its UNITY. It is in the name! A union is an act or instance of uniting or joining two or more things into one.  Let us act as one.  There is more power in UNITY than in division. (Emanuel Cleaver)

Special Order of Business for NYSUT RA resolutions

Here are the resolutions that came to the floor.

Mike Sill rises in favor for NYSUT’s consideration of these 4 resolutions:

  1. Observance of a moment of silence for 9/11 at NYC schools
  1. Resolution for reducing turnover for our nurse siblings.
  2. Resolution on respect for Diwali, observance of it and how to make it work with their school calendars
  3. Resolution on FMLA – the DOE had previously expanded FMLA coverage to all UFT members based on the number of hours worked. But there’s a technicality that makes the school year too short to qualify. There is a presumption in the law that teachers meet these 12,050 numbers of hours. DOE had extended that presumption to OT/PT’s, paraprofessionals, then it was suddenly stopped.  We’ve been able at the UFT to negotiate.  Resolution asks NEA & AFT in lobbying appropriate powers to make sure that people who work in schools, regardless of title, are covered by that law.

Motion carries.

Resolution to Keep GHI Premium Free

Alex Jallot brought a resolution to keep GHI Premium-free.  The gist being that “GHI has been offered premium-free to UFT members for decades.  The UFT will use its power in the MLC to keep GHI premium free.  In the effort to preserve GHI coverage as premium-free, the UFT will not use any strategy that makes contractual concessions or reduces the healthcare quality of retirees and/or in-service members. “

Geoff Sorkin rose in opposition. His frustration palpable.   He voiced his belief that the intention behind this was misguided. He pointed out that for 50 years, we’ve had premium free coverage. The efforts of the MLC and UFT. We’ve been fighting to continue for premium free coverage. That is our goal. This resolution pertains to both in-service members and retirees. He pointed out the implications of how a resolution like this would tie our hands from doing certain types of negotiations.

Vincent Gaglione made a motion to table this.  There was a brief question about what tabling a motion means and a description.  2/3 of the motion carried and so it was.


Final Thoughts

I want to end by saying that I have revisited the words that Secretary Barr ended the meeting with often since Monday night.  I DON’T believe leadership wants to hurt their members, I DO believe that they want to help members and I will never understand people who question every little thing and every move because they believe it is with malintent.  I believe people become teachers because they love and want to help children, students, families, and communities.  I DON’T think we do it for the cash and prizes.  I DO believe teachers become union activist because they want to help teachers.  I DO believe in the right to engage in civil discourse with your brothers and sisters.  I DO believe in the right to peaceably assemble.  I am the union. And so are you.