I am Chapter Delegate at Passages Academy in District 79, where I have been working for the past 15 years as an English and sometimes History teacher. I have chosen to run with the United For Change coalition in this election because:
UFC has brought together the diverse criticisms of the Unity Caucus by uniting the dissident voices in the union around a shared platform approved by all and dominated by none.
UFC has brought together experienced union activists and youthful energy to form an intergenerational alliance that cares about probationary people, tenured people, and retirees.
UFC has people from the diverse divisions within the UFT membership and seeks to incorporate all of their concerns.
UFC foregrounds transparency in decision making, and union democracy.
To me, the final point is the most important. A union that encourages members to be active by supporting them and amplifying their voices, by training every member in leadership and initiative, is a union that can adapt to meet any challenge. Every time a member formulates a problem and brings it to a deliberative and executive body of their colleagues that joins with them to solve it, the union grows stronger. Every time our union grows stronger, a little benefit accrues to every worker in society, we each stand up a little bit taller and the people on the other side of the table grow a bit shorter.
Ever since I was a child I have been aware of the impact that union membership can have on working families. I grew up in a union household, my father was a member of the Teamsters, and I saw how the union ensured my father’s job security, how the union ensured that he was paid enough for us to live, how the union allowed us to go to the doctor for free, how the union structure brought together people of all races, genders, and nationalities into bonds of solidarity and good will. In addition, outside of official union affairs, when a worker at the job needed to move house, the other union members would come over and help pack and move the boxes. Seeing the power of cooperation, organization and solidarity at a young age shaped my heart and mind, providing the paradigm for me to think about larger social issues as I grew older.
When I became a teacher, I was proud to join the UFT. I jumped at the chance to meet my Chapter Leader and become active. Having worked union jobs and open-shop jobs, I knew what the union meant and wanted to do everything I could. Having known teachers on Long Island, I knew how strong and disciplined teachers unions could be, how teachers would look out for one another and stand together in solidarity.
Unfortunately, when I met with abusive and unfair treatment on the job, the union seemed to confine itself to explaining to me what I couldn’t do, instead of empowering me to fight back. When I asked about this situation, it was explained to me that my complaints had no legal standing, or that the contract had ‘loopholes.’ When I read and studied the contract, I was shocked to see the concessions and givebacks, I was shocked to see such injustices codified in legal boilerplate—I was shocked to see that my union had accepted silently what other unions would have gone on strike over. In discussions with colleagues, it became clear to me that my feelings of frustration were shared by many and people just felt there was nothing they could do. It was at that moment that it became clear to me that I had to be more active in the union in order to stop these disastrous negotiation tactics before they culminated in the dissolution of the union itself.