Perdido 03

Perdido 03

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

There Is Nothing "Powerful" About The Teachers Unions

You often see the word "powerful" in front of the words "United Federation of Teachers" or "New York State Teachers Union" when journalists write about the teachers unions.

A Perdido Street School blog reader wonders why:

I don't understand why they keep using the word 'powerful' to describe the teacher unions.

I agree - nothing powerful about unions that get rolled time and time again in showdowns with the political establishment or corporate powers.

Jessica Bakeman reports at Capital Pro (behind a paywall) that many NYSUT members think the same way these days:

DESPITE RECENT BLOWS, NYSUT VOWS TO KEEP FIGHTING—Capital’s Jessica Bakeman: About nine months ago, members of New York State United Teachers ousted their president, with hope of “reviving” the massive union in the face of a restrictive property-tax cap, performance evaluations based on standardized test scores and a growing charter school sector bolstered by state leaders.

Disgruntled members argued that the union’s former leaders did not fight aggressively enough against the policies of Governor Andrew Cuomo and state education leaders and therefore were partly responsible for new laws they believe are bad for teachers. NYSUT delegates hoped a new president, Karen Magee, along with the re-elected executive vice president Andy Pallotta, would restore the power and strength that the 600,000-member union seemed to have lost. Fast forward to the dawn of the 2015 legislative session, and things haven’t improved. In fact, the union's political situation seems much worse.

Indeed, as Cuomo promises to "break" the public school system, impose a 40% VAM tied to test scores, and institute a process that declares teachers incompetent if they come up "ineffective" on two straight years of the VAM, it is difficult to say that the new teachers union leadership has "revived" anything

In fact, the only concession the new NYSUT leadership won from Cuomo was double pensions for themselves - something they got in return for negotiating the Common Core shield bill that Cuomo first pushed, then later vetoed.

We are in dark times here and the teachers union leadership fights too little too late or not at all as the political establishment looks to destroy schools, teachers and the teaching profession.

So my question to journalists out there:

Why do so many of you put the word "powerful" in front of the acronyms "UFT" or "NYSUT" when you're writing your articles?

Surely you know there's nothing powerful about these entities, judging by their track records over the past 10 years.

Perhaps you mean "powerful" ironically, the way David Halberstam meant "Best and Brightest" ironically when he wrote about the geniuses in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations who brought us the Vietnam War?

Perhaps you mean "powerful" ironically the way I take "tall" ironically when I order the smallest size coffee at Starbucks?

Because certainly there is nothing in the way the politics has played out between the unions and the political establishment and the corporate interests over the past decade or so that would indicate the word "powerful" can be used to describe the teachers unions over anything.


  1. More like powerless

  2. Well the UFT/AFT misleadership (which is to say Unity Caucus) may not have the power or the inclination to fight for our interests, but as the last of the great political machines, it certainly is powerful enough to keep itself in office forever, riding that double-pension gravy train, and misdirecting the teachers they ostensibly represent.

    And they seem perfectly content with that...

  3. Deformers and their minions in the press have a political purpose in branding the union as powerful even though they know it isn't. It creates the straw man they need and they can say - see on one side you have the Koch Bros and equally on the other you have the powerful teacher unions - and they always point to how much they spend on political action to show how powerful they are.

  4. Where are the statements about Cuomo's veto of safety net from UFT?

    This affects thousands of teachers

  5. When they call us "powerful," it's used more as an epithet. The implication is often negative, suggesting teacher unions must be battled so as to prevent the perfidy they invariably wish to spread.

  6. I agree that calling teacher unions powerful is part of the ed reform narrative we have grown used to over the years. They give you David and rename him Goliath so you naturally you want to see him catch a stone between the eyes. I mean who roots for the powerful here in the United States of Meritocracy right? (irony)

  7. NYSUT where are you? Will you stand by and let them steal our pension funds away from us? Many teachers no longer trust you to represent our interests!