by Eric Severson, on behalf of the UFT Solidarity 2019 Election Committee
As the 2019 UFT Election closes, it is only fitting and proper to reflect on UFT Solidarity’s origins, the results of this year’s campaign and election, and to begin thinking and acting for the future of the United Federation of Teachers and its 190,000 members.
UFT Solidarity is the newest caucus to the United Federation of Teachers, founded in 2014 by members who thought, and who still think, that the UFT does not do nearly enough to represent the members who treated the worst by supervisors, paid the last, and given the least in the way of job protection and security. We began as a coalition of ATRs treated as second class citizens despite years of dedicated work in the classroom, probationary teachers threatened and denied tenure, paraprofessionals not paid or protected despite their vital role in our schools, and educators from all over the five boroughs who reached out to the current UFT officials seeking help with administrative abuse, special education complaints, and contractual violations, and not getting what they needed. This band of UFT members worked together to create a list of Administrators in Need of Improvement, a special education help line, a member’s toolbox to assist with filing grievances and knowing and fighting for your rights, and ran candidates in the 2016 election, garnering interest and support across the city despite the inherent challenges of running as a new caucus with limited resources.
In 2019, UFT Solidarity’s growing membership opted to run a second time in union elections, this time producing a slate of 42 candidates drawn from caucus founders and newer members alike. The 2018-2019 school year began with a new contract for teachers, and Solidarity was alone in pointing out that the deal was not all it was cracked up to be and would have long-term negative consequences. UFT Solidarity made significant progress in reaching out and working with daycare providers, paraprofessionals, and workers throughout New York City who have been mistreated on the job and underrepresented when they seek help from the current leadership. These efforts culminated with a vastly improved showing on Election Day: Solidarity’s candidates received as many as 4,100 votes and the caucus as a whole received the greatest share of votes among candidates from opposition caucuses. Though the UFT remains under the ruling Unity caucus as it’s been for nearly 60 years, Solidarity’s numbers and support are growing rapidly and there is much to build upon.
Still, we cannot grow complacent. Even with serious threats to public sector unions across the country due to the Trump Administration and the Janus case, voter turnout was down overall among UFT members compared to 2016. If the UFT’s membership wishes to not only survive but thrive, we must shake off the tendency toward complacency and ensure that whenever a member’s rights are violated, the UFT will be there whether the person is a first day teacher or a 40 year veteran. We must continue to grow our membership and increase turnout on election day. Rest assured that recent victories such as paid family leave would not have happened without the tireless work of opposition, UFT Solidarity included, holding the union establishment accountable.
For the sake of your union brothers and sisters and to strengthen our beleaguered profession by strengthening ourselves, join us! Solidarity membership is free. We only ask you contribute effort to improve our union.
Eric Severson is a teacher and former Chapter Leader of Clara Barton High School. In 2019, he ran as UFT Solidarity’s VP for CTE Schools candidate.