Why is Everyone So Angry?
Why is Everyone So Angry?
A micro second after the light turns green the car behind me is blowing their horn. If I’m driving at the speed limit a car right behind me is flashing their lights. Why is everyone in such a hurry, why is everyone so angry? From driver rage to wars around the world, Ukraine and Gaza, to Ethiopia, Sudan and the Republic of Congo to Thailand, the list seems endless. Did COVID leave us perpetually angry? Writers on this site angrily attack the union leadership, disagreement is healthy and the exchange of ideas commonly leads to better ideas. Back in my union rep days I always told chapter leaders never complain to the principal without proposing a solution, s/he may not agree with you; however, you are beginning a conversation.
Whether contract negotiation strategy or the current threatened budget cuts writers urge union leadership to “prepare for a strike.” In the private sector union strikes are against a private entity, the strike has little impact on the public, in the public sector the strike is against the people, the taxpayers, and remember, both sides prepare for a strike, not only the union.
In some computer lab in Silicon Valley a virtual teacher, a personal Chatbot, is well on its way to operational, the new union contract has a lengthy section on virtual teaching, and I mused about the idea a few months, “Can Chatbots Be Unionized,” Read here.
Of course with the onerous Taylor Law penalties coupled with “forever” contracts, contracts in New York State never expire, they are in full “force and effect” until the successor contract is negotiated teacher strikes are unlikely. The UFT waited out Bloomberg, who wanted to “negotiate away” tenure and impose the Chicago system, excess teachers are laid off if they can’t find a job in a specific period of time, plus, PERB offers mediation, fact-finding and non-binding arbitration. New York hasn’t had a public employee strike in fifty or so years and management constantly grumbles about the system in New York State is too pro union.
Labor disputes are determined by what has become a dirty word, politics.
The key players in the current dispute – drastic cuts across the board in the budget are the Mayor, the City Council, the unions and a wide range of advocacy organization, on the progressive side and the conservative side. The City Council opposes the cuts, the Mayor blames the cuts on the refusal of Biden/Schumer, and maybe Governor Hochul to assume some of the cost of housing the surge of migrants. UFT President Mulgrew and other unions argue vehemently that the City has the dollars. The Mayor’s favorability rating is in the 20% range and a recent UFT rally was widely covered across the media. One Mulgrew critic complained the rally was poorly attended. Attendance is not the key, the key is what is called “reach” and “impressions”
Reach: the total number of people who see your content
Impressions: the number of times your content is displayed.
Social media analytics is a field unto itself, algorithms drive decision-making and the UFT and other organizations drive messages to a wide public, oftentimes targeted to specific demographics.
Additionally developing personal relations matters, a UFT staffer is assigned solely to working with City Council members.
Back in my union rep days a political club dominated the school board elections, it was frustrating, and an old time pol told me to join the club. I started attending the Thursday night meetings, if a member had a school question I was the go-to guy. If the club wanted the UFT to endorse someone elsewhere in the City I was asked if I could carry the message. I had my toe in the door of the movers and shakers room.
Three of the most consequential events, in my opinion, of the history of the UFT centered on the ability to navigate the inner workings of politics.
Before and after collective bargaining the teacher organizations fought to improve meager teacher pensions, without much success.
Under the general retirement plan, teachers may retire at age 65 or after 35 years regardless of service regardless of age, … they receive a pension of one quarter of average salary. Under the Clancy Law teachers may elect to make additional contributions and receive a pension of one percent of salary for each additional years. This option ended 10/1/1957 … a bill extending the option to 10/1/1964 was vetoed by Governor Rockefeller at the request of Mayor Wagner
Dave Wittes, a founder of the UFT, who had fought the ideological battles in the teacher union movement and also a brilliant numbers cruncher understood the world of politics. Governor Rockefeller was considering running against Nixon and was looking for an issue to garner support. Wittes approached the Rockefeller team, “Create a new teacher pension system,” and Tier 1 was the result.
A close friend of mine told Dave she had been a college classmate of Rockefeller’s daughter and Dave invited her to the bill signing. After the ceremony he leaned over said to my friend, “This is going to cost them a billion dollars, they have no idea, nor do they care”
The forty-day 1968 strike ripped the city apart, the UFT was both reviled and lauded, Albert Shanker, the UFT president was even mentioned in Woody Allen’s movie Sleeper See video clip here
The next year, Rockefeller had abandoned his plans to run against Nixon, the anti-UFT faction in the legislature passed Tier 2 and 3, sharply curtailing pension benefits for new teachers, the State Constitution prevents pension benefits being “impaired or diminished.”
In 1975 contract negotiations moved from the spring into the summer, with the opening of school approaching the negotiating committee decided to recommend to the Delegate Assembly a 30-day contract extension, although the UFT had a “No Contract, No Work” policy another strike did not seem wise, precipitously, the city laid off 14,000 teachers, the delegates voted to strike with cries of “we won’t come back until we all come back.”
The Comptroller, Herman Badillo was planning to declare bankruptcy, the last place you want to be was without a contract, the union scurried to negotiate a contract. Members reluctantly approved the contract; however, a few weeks later the city announced it could not make bond payments and unless President Ford loaned the city the requisite dollars the city would declare bankruptcy with unknown consequences for the nation. A famous NY Daily News headline, “Ford to City: Drop Dead.” Hours before the actual papers were filed Shanker agreed to loan the city dollars from the pension fund, default was averted, the city recovered and within a few years all teachers were recalled, and, the reputation of the union was restored and enhanced and a significant upgrade in the pension, Tier 4, became law.
In the waning days of the 2022 Albany legislative session, called “the big ugly,” hundreds of bills are passed without discussion, one of the bills was the Class Size Reduction Act. After decades of futile attempts to negotiate lower class size, the “pattern bargaining” and “ability to pay” principles in the Taylor Law effectively thwarts very expensive class size caps. The leadership of both houses and a number of key legislators guided the bill through the thicket of Albany politics. Mayor Adams demanded that Governor Hochul veto the bill, Hochul’s lead over Republican Zelden was fading, in September Hochul signed the bill and NYSUT, the state teacher union endorsed Hochul, who won by 5% in an overwhelmingly democratic state.
From Dave Wittes to Albert Shanker to Michael Mulgrew UFT Presidents understood, that occasionally perceived as a dirty word, politics, is the key to achieving benefits for both members and the children they teach.
Steve Inskeep’s new book, Differ We Must: How Lincoln Succeeded in a Divide America is particularly relevant.
“Lincoln learned, adapted and sought advantage while interacting with people who disagreed with him.
“Lincoln’s willingness to listen to people with whom he disagreed and whom he disliked testified in his belief in his country, in all its contradictions and complexities
Throwing darts is fruitless, offering other pathways, engaging in a dialogue and understanding the dynamics of our rapidly changing political environment is crucial.
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