NYSUT News: Going-Pres. Andy Pallotta, Coming - Melinda Person / Who? Has Never Been a Teacher/ Succession or Coup?
Norm Scott of Ed Notes, long time union activist & leader, details and analyzes the retirement of NYSUT President Andy Pallotta and his anointed successor, Melinda Person
Flashback: Putin Cites Mulgrew/Randi Takeover of NYSUT as Inspiration for Crimean Invasion - I admire the Unity Caucus operation tremendously. I only wish I had such control....My next invasion will be Brighton Beach to protect the Russian speaking population in Brooklyn.... I am looking for a condo in Brooklyn as a base of operation but the real estate prices are crazy.... Vladimir Putin
Ed Notes, March 4, 2014
Ed Notes Repost: Sunday - February 12, 2023 - Happy Birthday Abe
Ok, so Putin lied about his next invasion. The breaking news Friday night of a coming change in leadership at NYSUT brought up memories of the last change of leadership in 2014, one of only two times where there was a contested election. But lots more on 2014 later in this post.
UPDATE 7:30: Trusted source says Pallotta just retired. No drama. Also - no signs of early resistance to the move to Person.
Traditionally, the top levels of NYSUT have been occupied by former teachers and local union leaders, not by bureaucrats. Even Randi, who was a lawyer first when the top-level oligarchs chose to make her the next president, did a quick teaching hit job to give her creds and meet UFT constitution requirements. NYSUT doesn't seem to have a similar requirement that officers had to teach.
Thus, we see a change coming with the announcement of candidacy for NYSUT President by Melinda Person, currently NYSUT Executive and Political Director - an appointed position, seemed sort of strange less than three months before NYSUT Delegates meet to elect its officers in late April.
By all reports, Melinda Person is well-liked but it is interesting she shows no teaching background in her resume (see below), though she says she wanted to be a teacher. But all you have to do is look at her salary over the past 15 years (below) for a reason she did not teach. Even Randi seems to have had more teaching experience than her.
I was confused when I first heard of the announcement Friday night.
She announces she is running while Andy Pallotta is still president?
My first thought was she is running against him. But how could that be since she is running under the Unity line? This came across like she woke up in the morning and decided to run for NYSUT president but we know she was chosen by the hierarchy.
Who is Melinda Person and what is going on with Andy? Is he being forced out? Another coup in NYSUT? (See 2014 story below).
What forces in the UFT/NYSUT/AFT sphere are behind Person?
We got our answer shortly after with this Twitter announcement by Andy Pallotta:
The order of announcement seemed strange. How mixed were his emotions? A change in leadership at that level involves some preparation. Some introduction around the state to the rank and file of someone no one except maybe the insiders know. Apparently, Unity/NYSUT had a meeting the other day and the change was made. Did Andy decide to retire or was he pushed? Most probably, the former. (He must have noticed how much I've been enjoying my 20 years of retirement.) Usually, there are rumors in advance.
One thing we noted was that Person has been the NYSUT political director since October 2014 and was assistant director of legislation for 6 years from 2008-2013 with a gap of a year, right in the middle of NYSUT turmoil over the 2014 election. She occupied the same position at the state level that Cassie Prugh, who recently left the UFT, had. Prugh replaced the popular (with soccer fans) Paul Egan after a fuzzy-type scandal. She had been a somewhat shadowy and unpopular figure who came directly out of the Cuomo administration to the UFT. Some saw Prugh as the Cuomo plant in the UFT or vice versa. It is not clear who is replacing Prugh in the UFT. Sources say that she’ll still be working for the UFT on retainer. And who is taking Person's place as political director of NYSUT? Might as well let Cassie do both jobs for a double retainer - I'd love to know what the retainer pays.
The UFT/NYSUT/AFT hierarchy is fundamentally run like a monarchy where the people at the top chose the candidates and then the actual vote is pro forma. Randi's power and control of the AFT emanate through the Unity/UFT/NYSUT nexus since NYSUT members make up about 30% of the AFT and Unity/UFT make up over 30% of NYSUT. Naturally, all 700 Unity/UFT delegates will vote as one. Think of Hasidim voting in a block. Person and the entire top-four slate will run unopposed.
In the 50-year history of NYSUT, there has almost never actually been a competitive election - except in 2014 - more on that below.
NYSUT President, a figurehead of sorts? Exec VP was real power position
The thing to understand is that NYSUT, the brainchild of Albert Shanker, was created in the 70s from a state merger of the AFT and NEA and has always been under the control of the UFT Unity Caucus which has been extended to the state level through an expanded version of Unity and the national AFT through the Progressive Caucus. Unity/UFT through the massive membership controls the state and national unions. NYSUT has over 600 thousand members, about a third of the AFT.
Shanker set it up politically in a way that gave the non-NYC people the presidency, while the UFT controlled the money machine through the elected Executive VP, a position occupied by Shanker himself for over a decade while Thomas Hobart was president. Power sharing with the real power in the UFT. After Shanker, a top UFTer, the popular Alan Lubin, rumored to be Sandy Feldman's successor - until Randi Weingarten moved into the picture in the late 80s, was moved to the key NYSUT position of Ex Director. Many of us in the oppo liked Lubin - we used to kid him about having to move from Brooklyn to Albany and offered to get him a parka - the last time I saw him was at the 2010 AFT convention in Seattle.
When Lubin retired around 2009 or 2010, Andy Pallotta moved from a Bronx District Rep into that position with Dick Iannuzzi as president. But the money position was in Pallotta's hands. The deal where the upstate/Long Island people had the presidency and the UFT the Ex VP worked - until ----
The 2014 coup
Dick was a bit too independent for the Unity machine and in 2014, a coup of sorts was executed when an entire slate of alternate officers except for the Pallotta position was put up against the Iannuzzi slate with Karen McGee as a figurehead president. There was outrage from many small locals. This power move broke the agreement for some of these locals - I report more on that below.
2017- UFT/Pallotta takes NYSUT Presidency for first time, Ex VP goes to non UFT for first time
Three years later, 2017, McGee was out and Pallotta moved up to replace her as president, the first time in the 40 year history of NYSUT that a UFTer occupied that role. By all reports, Pallotta tried to work well with some of the forces that had opposed him even when counter to some UFT positions. He doesn't get bad grades from some non-UFT people. Probably sensitive to the remnants of the opposition from 2014, especially the heavy test opt-out districts of Long Island.
The new Exec VP in 2017 replacing Andy was not a Unity person for the first time after over a 40 year run (Shanker/Lubin/Pallotta). Jolene T. DiBrango was elected Executive Vice President. She spent much of her career teaching 6th grade in Pittsford, outside Rochester. She served three terms as president of the PDTA, then got promoted within NYSUT. Well-liked and competent. But did she have the same level of power and control as Shanker/Lubin/Pallotta? I bet not. Read an interview she did here.
And sure enough:
2019- Person expands the role
In 2019, Melinda Person, who was NYSUT political director, assumed an additional title of Executive Director, an appointed position, which seems to echo the elected Ex Director. Did they remove the power/money position from Exec VP elective office held by Jolene and hand it to Melinda?
Melinda Person is not from the UFT, but neither does she represent the upstate/Long Island interests, but essentially a long-time NYSUT bureaucrat (since 2008), the first time in NYSUT history the presidency was not occupied by a real teacher. She's never been elected to any union position anywhere.
In other words, just having a non-UFTer does not restore the original Shanker/Hobart agreement. Would they leave the second position occupied by Jolene alone? Given the history I couldn't imagine Unity/UFT not being in control of that position and started asking around if Jolene is running again and sure enough Jonathan Halabi came up with BINGO. Despite not being of retirement age, Jolene is out and being replaced as NYSUT Ex VP by a UFT Teacher Center person, Jaime Ciffone, thus putting the NYSUT Ex VP is back in the hands of the UFT. Jaime was actually a teacher but for quite some time has been working as a teacher center person, recently in seemingly management position (see bio below).
I don't know if she was ever an elected chapter leader or delegate. Are the top two NYSUT positions going to be occupied by people running in their first union election? The increasing bureaucratization of our unions is not a healthy thing. I'd like to see people who spent serious time in the classrooms and in school or local union leadership positions running our unions, just as we would like to see principals with practical experience (there was a time when almost every supervisor had at one time been a UFT member). We think schools and unions are better run by people with hands-on experience. Though Mulgrew seems to have the most hands-on of any UFT leader, so maybe not.
Detailing our involvement in the 2014 NYSUT coup
Iannuzzi and his allies didn't go quietly into the night as a slate called Stronger Together emerged to support him and the other NYSUT officers against the attempted coup.
And many of us in MORE at that time were involved.
MORE was approached to run candidates for the NYSUT Board of directors from the NYC districts (see current list below) and a statewide slate called Stronger Together emerged. There were some disagreements internally in MORE as to whether to go ahead - it was pointed out that we would be supporting Unity incumbents - but that was finally settled and we ran 5 candidates for NYSUT Ex Bd in the local Ed Districts plus Arthur Goldstein ran against Pallotta for Ex VP. Arthur campaigned all over the state and did an amazing job of reaching out. We knew it was a battle the Unity machine would win but Stronger Together got between one-third and over 40% of the votes.
Aside from a lot of resentment towards the UFT from smaller locals, the big 5 cities stuck with the Unity machine. Testing and the opt-out movement, with a lot of support from parent groups on Long Island and upstate, had garnered some support from the Iannuzzi crew. The UFT has been firmly opposed to opt-out and supportive of testing - (makes me think someone owns stock in the testing companies). But probably it was just a power play to gain total control of NYSUT by the UFT Unity machine.
You can read all about the 2014 NYSUT campaign from my numerous Ed Notes posts I link to below pretty much in reverse order by publishing dates between March and April 2014:
This post was originally posted at Norm’s blog, Ed Notes: https://ednotesonline.blogspot.com/2023/02/nysut-news-going-pres-andy-pallotta.html
Norm Scott spent most of his 35 years in the NYC Board of Education as a UFT member teaching in an elementary in Brooklyn. In the 70s, he was a member of an opposition caucus to Unity. In 1997, he began an independent publication, Education Notes, a newsletter for NYC teachers which he turned into a blog, ednotesonline, in 2006. He is a founding member of UFT Caucuses: Independent Community of Educators (ICE) and MORE, in addition to the Grassroots Education Movement (GEM). He participated with Real Reform Studios, producers of The Inconvenient Truth Behind Waiting for Superman, and Change the Stakes, produced by a group of parents and teachers opposing high-stakes testing.
Please consider upgrading to a paid subscription to The Wire - Powered by Educators of NYC. Please help us continue the work.