Dissecting UFT/UNITY's Dirty War Against Therapists and Their Chapter Leader
Machinations behind the OT/PT Contract Rejection has deeper implications
Unity/UFT will not willingly give up power even if the opposition wins an election.
Recent events in the OT/PT contract vote controversy help make the point, but there's precedence in UFT history. Too much is at stake in that NYC Unity Caucus through sheer size control the state (NYSUT) and national (AFT) unions and are a core component of the corporate wing of the Democratic Party structure. A loss by Unity would be cataclysmic for certain forces way beyond the UFT.
The current attack on the OT/PT chapter leadership is part of an overall plan to prevent insurgencies in the UFT from gaining a deep foothold, and part of a longstanding practice by Unity since its very foundation.
Is the UFT leadership anti-union by refusing to bargain?
Can an oppressive union leadership that refuses to bargain be viewed as anti-union?
Well, when UFT/Unity refuses to bargain and calls for a revote on a contract that was voted down overwhelmingly, what else can you call it?
I saw connections between the Starbucks fairly successful campaign to stamp out the fledgling union before it takes root as I read in an article in the NYT.
By attacking the non-Unity leadership of the chapter, Unity wants to stamp out the roots of a fledgling movement in the functional chapters where the NO vote in some units (paras for instance) was higher than ever. Signs of erosion in the functionals are an existential threat to Unity control of the UFT.
When stories sympathetic to Unity opponents hit the press, panic sets in at UFTHQ. Claudia's article appeared in The City and Chalkbeat.
A few excerpts:
By Claudia Irizarry Aponte, THE CITY
Jul 28, 2023, 7:45am EDT
Concerns about salary gaps between therapists and teachers are a major source of contention, according to chapter leaders and rank-and-file members who spoke with THE CITY. The gap is considerable: by January, a therapist with a master’s degree and 10 years of experience would earn $17,463 less annually than a teacher with the same credentials and experience, Chalkbeat reported, citing UFT documents.
“We are trying to get the city and DOE to come back to the bargaining table,” he asserted in the letter even as he highlighted demands from members for an immediate revote.
That position puts him at odds with the therapists’ leadership: By a vote of 5-1 with one abstention last week, their executive board decided against a revote.
In a meeting with the therapists’ chapter on Wednesday afternoon, Mulgrew made repeated attempts to persuade members to give up on pursuing a stronger contract and to persuade them to join in a revote, claiming he had heard from 1,200 members who had demanded a new tally. Melissa Williams, the therapists’ chapter leader, asked Mulgrew for guidance on where and how the union’s constitution lays out rules for revotes.
Mulgrew also urged members to give up on trying to get a better deal. “The city isn’t interested in getting back to the bargaining table right now,” he said, noting that other legal maneuvers could potentially take years. “I can’t express this clear enough to all of you. We don’t have an avenue to get back to the bargaining table right now.”
Rank-and-file workers and union activists who spoke with THE CITY, however, said that union leadership should not entertain the prospect of a revote, but press on in trying to strike a better bargain with Adams.
Pursuing a revote of a certified election, Williams said, “calls into question the integrity of the entire process.
“I just feel bad for the people who took the time to vote,” she said in an interview with THE CITY. “I trusted that this vote had integrity, now I see that it’s wrong. It feels like a moral injury, to be honest.”
A revote without fresh contract talks was never entertained as an option after the chapter rejected the agreement in 2018, three chapter members and two union activists told THE CITY.
One reason for the standoff now with Mulgrew, activists say, is that the union’s constitution does not lay out a procedure for renegotiating rejected contracts.
“The chapter voted, and the chapter voted pretty much 2-to-1 against the contract, and to go to a revote sort of negates that process,” said chapter member and DOE physical therapist Chris Griffin, who noted she’s “not a huge ‘no’ advocate.”
Discussion of a revote “undermines that process, which was done according to established rules,” she added.
“His job is to negotiate on our behalf, not to justify the city’s stance. So I feel like he’s using that to scare us into voting yes.”
Daniel Alicea, a teacher and UFT activist, told THE CITY that the union’s leadership should convene a constitutional convention that clearly lays out a renegotiation process for rejected contracts so that “things aren’t done arbitrarily and haphazardly.”
“If we acquiesce here, this can happen in local chapter elections, it can happen in our next general election — that if they’re not happy with the result, they will find some other means.”
Dirty War: Friday, Aug. 4, 2023
When the OT/PT situation broke out in the press in a favorable way for the chapter leadership, it must have sent shivers down the spines of UFT/Unity leadership. And Chalkbeat reprinted, so it got double coverage. Unity can live with the blogs even if they annoy them. But reaching the media with a headline like School therapists want a better contract deal. The UFT wants them to give up is a hit and very bad PR. When a union repeatedly behaves like management, it is a hit. Remember the recent Hoffa regime in the Teamsters reversed a NO vote and eventually lost control of the union to a more militant group which last week won an historical contract. The lesson? Unity must go.
Some of my pals, more recent to the opposition, think the UFT leadership/Unity Caucus' dirty war against the elected leadership of the UFT therapist's chapter (occupational and physical - OT/PT) opened a new chapter in the Unity Caucus war against democracy in the UFT. In some ways this is true and opens the gates to call for a revote on a regular basis. Like if we got hundreds of the 25% of the teachers who voted NO on the last contract or those who never voted or who didn't even get a ballot called for a revote, would Mulgrew listen? You don't have to answer that.
I have the signatures of thousands of UFT members calling for a referendum on health care changes --- do you think Mulgrew would hear those voices? Again, you don't have to answer, but if you haven't signed yet, UFT MEMBERS FOR PREMIUM-FREE QUALITY HEALTHCARE.
To me and other long-haulers, the undemocratic actions of the Unity power block are of no surprise.
Here is some historical analysis.
As an over 50 year opponent of Unity, I view their reaction to the OT/PT contract rejection as a pattern of response we see in almost all oppressive regimes, from the national to the club level. The desire to hold onto power at all costs requires a strong response to any real and perceived threat. The obsession with holding onto power in autocratic institutions often borders on paranoia. Unity Caucus/UFT, in control of the UFT since its inception, has been a model for the mantra of "hold onto power at all costs."
Unity rarely loses, but when they do...
Now, Unity doesn't lose on levels above school chapter leaders very often, but when they do they try to co-opt their opponents and if that doesn't work, try to undermine them and if a real threat, they engage in open warfare. Let me repeat, co-optation is their first move and often works.
Note there are former oppo people in Unity, many with union jobs.
I recently chronicled a few incidents from the past (Unity History of Trying to Cheat a Vote), including the call for a new election when the New Action Coalition's Mike Shulman shocked them by winning the high school VP election in 1985.
After 15K in legal fees, Shulman gave in and agreed to a re-vote - and won by a bigger margin. How much fun would it be to see that happen if the hold an OT/PT re-vote?
More pertinent was how they treated Shulman when he won the revote many months later by isolating him and focusing on making sure he would not win the next election and then by changing the rules to allow all UFT members, not just high school, to vote for VPs.
Another case was the repeated victory for Manhattan HS District Rep in the 90’s for a decade by Bruce Markens, a known critic of Unity. I spoke to Bruce the other day and he talked about how he spent a decade as District Rep in isolation with even people who liked and respected him, fearing retribution from the leadership.
One story: When I became CL in 1994 I went to the weekend training and hung out with Bruce and another guy who we met who had just been elected, defeating a Unity Caucus heavy hitter. The three of us had a great time. Years later he told me the story that he had hopes of getting into Unity and never realized Bruce and I were persona non-grata and he was being observed. He said his hanging with us that weekend delayed his getting into Unity by years, till he proved his loyalty.
But Norm, Unity has not protested when they continuously lose the 7 high school exec bd seats, some Unity hack will maintain.
The reason is that 7 out of 100 Ex bd is an annoyance, but not an existential threat to their control, though if you read through the reports on Ed Notes, ICE and New Action, you can see a level of escalating attacks, especially on Nick Bacon based on the fear and loathing inside Unity toward a defector.
When Shulman won one of the 12 officers positions in Adcom, THAT was a threat.
What a current trigger would be, aside from the oppo winning the entire election, I can't say. If the oppo won all three divisions - elem, ms, hs - it would still only have 23 out of 100 EB seats. There are less than 70k teachers (19k HS, 12K MS, 36k elem) There are 60 thousand retirees in the RTC functional chapter and another roughly 50K in the other functional chapters, with about 27k in the para unit. Thus, the overall teacher vote is a minority. So even if Unity lost that vote, they could still control the union through the retiree, para and other functional votes.
So maybe you are seeing why even the loss of a relatively small (3K) OT/PT functional chapter becomes a threat. OT/PT for a Fair Contract group that leads the chapter has been associated with the oppo United for Change. Unity wants them stamped out - in case their revolt spreads to other functional units.
The retiree and functional (non-teacher) chapter vote
Winning the retiree vote would be an existential threat because the winner gets 300 delegates and that would change the balance of power in the DA. But Retiree Advocate has never gotten more than 30% of the vote. Can it close the gap and even win in next year's chapter elections? With the healthcare issue roiling the waters, it is not impossible. I can imagine the geniuses at Unity working on a plan of action for that election. Would they even allow RA to have a chance to win? Look for all sorts of shenanigans to come, including figuring out some way to break up the 60K retiree unit in a way to give them continued control. How they do that I can't imagine. But RA better be vigilant.
The retiree chapter is lumped into the functional chapters. The other existential threat to Unity is losing control of crucial functional chapters, like the other big one, the paras. In a recent by-election to replace officers who retired, Unity pulled a bunch of stuff, including refusing to reveal details of the outcome.
I wrote about the election in April: Corruption @UFT in Para Election: Full-time patronnage jobs -- Unity is more interested in Unity than its membership.
Assault on Melissa Williams is part of a long-term plan
So view the assault on Melissa in the context of the above. In the 2021 chapter election, Melissa Williams defeated the Unity Caucus chapter leader who had urged a YES vote on the 2018 contract. The chapter rebuffed him by a 2/3 NO vote. It was the first time a functional chapter in the UFT elected a majority of non-Unity on the exec bd. By her very election, Melissa had become a threat, unless she could be co-opted into Unity, which if you spend 5 minutes with Melissa, you know is impossible. Unity knew it too, so they went with their pattern: View her as the enemy and do whatever possible to undermine her and make sure she would not win the next election.
Unity put Middle School VP, Rich Mantell, as overseer of Melissa, who was forced to operate under restrictions (see Shulman case above).
I saw some comments by Unity hacks that all functional chapters are under the same restrictions. But I'd bet none of the Unity CLs were in the same position as Melissa was. Again, think Shulman and Markens as models. It was clear from the very beginning of Melissa's term in office (I was hearing stories back in Sept. 2021) that the goal of Unity was to recapture the chapter and make Melissa's job more difficult.
When it came time for contract negotiations, naturally there was a committee of OT/PT people involved. - supposedly. A major demand was for parity of pay or some progress in that direction. I don't believe the leadership had any intent on filling this demand, even if they paid lip service to it.
The dreaded 9th period (session)
One thing Melissa and the chapter exec bd made clear was that the demands by the DOE to add a non-forced 9th period to the day was taboo because it would allow the DOE to cut costs by not having to hire enough people, overwork them and allow principals to pressure younger, less secure therapists into doing the extra work.
To demonstrate how much bullshit the so-called "democratic" negotiation committees were, Melissa didn't find out about the 9th period until the June 13 emergency meetings a few hours after the announcement of the contract.
I had to meet Melissa outside 52 Broadway at around 2:30 and she was still in shock after finding out about the 9th period a short while before. UFT/Unity leaders had totally ignored a key demand of the chapter and went along with the DOE 9th period demand, almost in spite. This was the emergency negotiating committee meeting, which was followed by the emergency Ex Bd meeting at 3, followed by the emergency DA meeting at 4. Nick Bacon was attacked viciously by Unity hacks for daring to ask to actually read the Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) and was called a liar by Mulgrew when Nick insisted it wasn't online yet (it wasn't).
On the overall contract, Unity engaged in misinformation, scare tactics and threats in a VOTE YES campaign, which worked for teachers and other units - except for the therapists, who again rejected the contract by a big margin. Imagine the shock. Now Unity had to do the work and go back to the bargaining table like they did in 2018. Or did they? They had a problem.
They had to prove that the NO vote was a mistake. If they went back to the table and got even a few crumbs of a better contract as they did in 2018, it would counter their threats. [What Happened in 2018 When they Rejected the contract? Leaders negotiated a new one but in 2023 calling for a Revote].
So the plan was not to go back to the table and blame the city. Of course, normal unions would call the city out for not negotiating. But we are not in a normal union.
In the UFT, when the leadership loses a vote and sees a way to undermine a non-Unity chapter leader, even if it takes destroying the chapter as a unit, there is another way: Incite those who voted YES along with the other 3 members of an ill-conceived bargaining unit that included 41 supervisors of the therapists, all of whom voted YES, to call for a revote by blaming Melissa for "misleading" them. And oh, the whining from those who didn't vote - they were probably doing their hair.
Now we saw one vicious attack full of half truths and lies coming out of the anonymous Unity Caucus blob: No is Not Enough – OT/PTs Deserve Real Leadership .
I mocked this post with my own paraphrased version: NO to Promised Healthcare is Not Enough – Retired Teachers Deserve Real Leadership
I even used their graphic. (When's the threat coming from their lawyers Stroock and Stroock?)
“I’ve never had a chapter with this many people who are adamantly against the decision of their executive board,” Mulgrew comment on the millions of OT/PT who want a revote on the contract.
This comment was laugh out loud.
Mulgrew hasn't listened to the thousands of retirees who protested their removal from Medicare into Mulgrewcare.
We have almost 10K sigs calling for a referendum on health care changes to our contract. We need another 10K to at least get to the stage of demanding a vote, which of course the leadership will contest. So much for listening to members.
When they are facing a threat to their hold on power, they will take things to the extreme. Observers of Unity think this revote campaign may have put them over the edge. I noticed over the weekend one prominent member of Unity has already quit the caucus. And don't forget, Nick Bacon, a prominent voice in the opposition also quit Unity two years ago over the issue of democracy. And though never in the caucus,
Daniel Alicea, another prominent oppo, did support them in 2019. Whereas Unity often co-opt oppo people, we are seeing somewhat of a reversal as even retiree Unity people have been telling us they will not revote Unity. This came in to RA the other day:
Retirees are really angry, I saw this in the UFT retiree classes that I took this past spring. People who I would never expect to badmouth Mulgrew and his crew and the undemocratic way the leadership (Unity) has been operating, were absolutely furious and clear about who was responsible for the mess we were in.
Unity and Chinese Communist Party run neck and neck for longest tenure
I've watched Unity Caucus operate for over 50 years and have witnessed a steady erosion of democracy, including increasing restrictions and manipulations of the delegate assembly, exec bd, and contracts - how they are negotiated, how they are voted on, and how we can observe vote counts. Over the decades I've seen their attempts to go after chapter leaders or delegates at schools who they felt were having an impact at the DA (me included back in the 70s). See how every oppressive governing body anywhere in the world functions at real and perceived threats. Being in power since the early 60s makes them one of the longest running power blocks in current history, second to the Chinese Communist Party which came to power in 1949. But even in China, we've seen more churn than in Unity over the decades (4 UFT presidents since 1964). China even had a form of term limits for the leadership, until the current leader, who must have been jealous of the way Unity has kept control over 60 years.
Would-be oppressors around the world should come to 52 Broadway to learn how to maintain control.
Some further reading:
Nick compares the recent nurses' victory in breaking the pattern with the OT/PT demands for parity with pedagogues: A Union Finally Beats the Pattern. Plus a few more of his recent posts at New Action.
A few comments:
“Why did I vote in the first place if my vote won’t count because some people are upset with the results? I will never vote again if they are allowed to overturn an election.
This is ridiculous! This was certified by arbitration.” ...OT/PT therapist
While Mulgrew readily admits to his fiduciary responsibility to represent the OT/PT bargaining unit, likely due to his legal need to do so, he conveys in every other respect that he has no intention of getting the job done.... Nick Bacon, HS Ex Bd, UFC/NewAction
Dangerous precedent set: Is it time for the 25% teachers who voted NO on the teacher contract to demand a revote due to rushed vote, botched mailings, schools whose lost votes were never counted - (known oppo schools "lost" in the mail?), Unity propaganda campaign with misinformation on contract, etc.?
To remind you attacks on opposition are not new, here is James Eterno, June 2007 - ICE Blog.
And the comments where I share my bleak view of the UFT and its future - 16 years ago:
For the last two months, we have arrived at Delegate Assembly meetings and received Unity Caucus literature attacking ICE. What's going on here? The election results were counted in March. Why the non stop smear campaign. - Memo to Unity Caucus
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