In a bittersweet victory, the UFT delegate assembly voted unanimously on April 20 to support a watered down endorsement of the NY Healthy Workplace Bill. The Healthy Workplace Bill would give an employee of any organization the right to sue an employer or coworker who has evidenced a pattern of repeated verbal or physical abuse. Currently, it is legal in all fifty states for workplace bullying to occur, and there is no deterrent for this commonplace injustice.
UFT Solidarity brought this bill to the delegate assembly in February seeking an endorsement. At the meeting, the officers of the union agreed to review the bill in consideration of support. For two months, there was a behind-the-scenes email exchange between Solidarity and the UFT, involving lawyers and lobbyists from the Healthy Workplace Bill office as well as the UFT. The staff director of the UFT, Ellie Engler kept up a healthy debate. She treated us as professionals, answering our questions, considering our perspectives, and discussing the issue as equals. It felt like a union relationship ought to.
As we teased out the details, the UFT brought up a noteworthy concern. They realized that since principals are employees of the DOE and are not actually the employer, they could in fact sue their own staff as co-workers. Our counter-argument was that a principal can already attack a staff member in a hundred different ways, so one more weapon in their arsenal is not as meaningful to them as it is to a teacher who has zero weapons.
After weeks of debate, all of a sudden the UFT dropped their concerns over the bill and said they would support it. Their odd reason was that since NYSUT had endorsed the bill, they automatically supported it too. That’s a weird thing to say because the UFT and NYSUT part ways on a number of issues. For example, NYSUT has endorsed opt-out and continued funding the Working Families Party while the UFT has done the exact opposite.
Ellie Engler turned the issue over to Leroy Barr and Emil Pietromonaco and the tone of the conversation became much less pleasant. Leroy and Emil called me at work to explain that since they were endorsing the bill, we should be satisfied and there was nothing more to discuss.
I thanked them for their endorsement, and then asked if they would consider one more measure of support. We had learned from going to Albany and from working with the coordinators of the bill that a memorandum of support from the union officers is more meaningful to legislators than a resolution of support passed at the delegate assembly. In other words, it speaks more loudly to legislators if the twelve union officers write on paper that they support a bill than it does to have the three-thousand members of the delegate assembly vote at a meeting to endorse a bill. Sad, but true.
When I asked if this would be possible, I was told, “Nobody tells us how to show our support.” End of discussion. End of the relationship as equals. They practically hung up the phone on me.
Somewhat stubbornly, I brought the same question up in front of the delegate assembly. The gatekeepers of the UFT deftly shut it down by speaking against a memorandum of support. The endorsement did pass, but as the weaker resolution of support.
Following the vote, Michael Mulgrew said that the UFT never drafts its own memorandum of support separate from NYSUT because the two could conflict.
Exactly one week later, I received in my email box the following endorsement:
There, at the bottom, you can see it with the names of both NYSUT and the UFT — a memorandum of support from NYSUT with the UFT’s name directly on it. Mulgrew was blowing smoke.
In the end, it seems that the UFT did not care about the issue of workplace bullying enough to fully support the bill and it is doubtful they will take further steps to fight for this legislation to pass. Just another watered down UFT endorsement.
“NYSUT AND ITS NEW YORK CITY AFFILIATE, THE UNITED
FEDERATION OF TEACHERS (UFT) STRONGLY SUPPORT
ENACTMENT OF THIS LEGISLATION”