Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Calling Andy Stern

A must-read post by James Merriman:

Calling Andy Stern

by James Merriman on March 29, 2010

On Friday afternoon, unionized teachers, staff and leaders at The Renaissance Charter School in Jackson Heights took a long subway ride after school let out to picket and march.  No story there—union members are no stranger to collective action.  The twist here is that they marched in front of UFT headquarters at 52 Broadway, protesting the UFT's anti-charter school policies. Union members marching against their own union is a rare sight indeed, particularly when it is a group of teachers and staff who deeply and profoundly believe in the ideals of unionism. 

The Renaissance teachers have been betrayed by their own union. Despite paying dues—and maybe even more importantly, embodying the very essence of teacher voice deployed in the furtherance of student achievement (and not just their own paychecks) that the UFT always talks about—the UFT has more or less told Renaissance's teachers to eat cake:  the UFT backed last year's unfair, disproportionate double cut funding freeze on charter schools; and despite promises from its former President, it refuses to advocate on these teachers' behalf this year.  Moreover, the UFT has been the prime impetus behind ensuring that charter schools do not access public space and that charter school growth is limited so as not to threaten the union's political power.  This, despite the fact that the funding freeze will hurt the schools that are unionized far more immediately and grievously.

It's not that the UFT hates its unionized members.  It doesn't—at least as long as they are quiescent and willing to take one for the team.  Rather, it's a simple matter of numbers and political clout.  Michael Mulgrew gets elected by the hundreds of thousands of members who either dislike or don't care about charter schools; Renaissance and other unionized teachers in charters can't match those numbers. And elections are nothing if not numbers games.  As that old saying goes:  "It's just business." Or, as Michael Mulgrew has consoled them—no worries, they can always raise private funds.

As I have watched the teachers unions ignore their members, here and upstate, it occurs to me that maybe the UFT and NYSUT need a little competition to remember why they exist.  No better man for the job exists than Andy Stern, a visionary and energetic national labor leader of the SEIU, someone who unlike AFT and NEA leaders, is actually welcome at the White House.

Word is that Stern and Weingarten have a kind of mutual non-aggression pact when it comes to New York State.  But given that the UFT has turned its back on its members (while skillfully deploying a knife in theirs), maybe it's time for Mr. Stern to reconsider and come calling.  I have no doubt that he has some passionate, courageous, wonderfully professional teachers who would be happy to meet with him.

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