Perdido 03

Perdido 03

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Should The Buffalo Teachers Federation And NYSUT Go To Court Over Union Busting In Buffalo?

It has been reported in various places that the Buffalo Teachers Federation, with the help of NYSUT, are looking at taking the state to court over the powers that were granted to the Buffalo schools superintendent to break the union contract in five "struggling" schools.

Here's Keshia Clukey at Politico NY with a statement from NYSUT on that:

“At this point in time, NYSUT’s attorneys are looking at every available option and we’ll take any action that’s needed to ensure we defend our teachers’ and our parents’ voice,” NYSUT President Karen Magee said Tuesday. The Buffalo Teachers Federation falls under the umbrella of NYSUT.
“The thing that concerns me the most about the commissioner’s decision is it basically mirrors the rushed implementation of the Common Core,” Magee said. “You would think that the engagement process and the right to collectively bargain would be one of the most respected pieces to turn around a school.”

A Perdido Street School reader worries about the outcome of such legal action:

It's clear that taking this to courts has risks that are simply beyond reasonable. The decision to take it to the courts is a reflection of the lack of creativity of ALL NYSUT LEADERSHIP, as well as their lack of knowledge and understanding about some of the most basic and essential history and thinking regarding union organizing and action.

We are, in fact, already losing. That is correct. However, at this point, we must not fully lose our ability to think clearly. If we do lose the case, and it seems fairly clear that its stacked in favor of that, we will not only have lost in Buffalo, but the entire process of placing schools in receivership and tossing union contracts is then part of the jurisprudence of the State of New York, and therefore ESTABLISHED LAW. That's not just losing....that's escalating, magnifying, and putting your loss on steroids. That's how things happen that take generations to undo.

This thinking that the courts are where we need to be are a particular symptom of a total lack of understanding of the labor movement and labor history. Unions, organizing, and labor action exist because of the ASSUMPTION that the courts can be and in fact ARE a reflection of the power structures they exist in and offer no "unbiased" look at such cases. Unions exist to organize and take action precisely to avoid courts for the most part....BECAUSE IT IS THERE, IN COURTROOMS, THAT AWFUL ANTI-WORKER POLICIES CAN BE EMBEDDED INTO LAW WITHOUT GOING THROUGH THE USUAL AND MORE PUBLIC PROCESS OF CREATING LAW IN LEGISLATURES!!

Elia and Cuomo and all the reformers would love all this to go to the courts.....its their home territory. They can get law written without all the fuss! Why do you think basically all the reformers love taking things to the courts??

Harris Lirtzman thinks a political solution might be the better course of action here but doesn't think we have the union leadership required to carry such action out:

Our "grievance" is, indeed, a political one.

Whatever one thinks of Elia she is simply doing what the amendments to State Education Law in 2014 proposed by Andrew Cuomo require her to do when there is a conflict between the receiver and the union over CBAs for receivership schools.

Because we live in a state with the Taylor Law, we cannot legally strike. Yes, of course, we can "strike" but at the cost of potentially ruinous financial penalties against NYSUT and "two days per strike day" charges against individual teachers. Yes, again, many of us might like to ruin NYSUT financially but it's hard for me to believe that NYSUT or the membership would authorize and support a strike over receivership schools--the days of "union solidarity forever" and "we shall not be moved" are long gone.

The Transit Workers Union went on a ten day strike in December 2006 which had no, nada, zip public support and it collapsed with nothing to show for it except huge penalties against the Local, loss of dues check-off for two years and fines against members--most of those eventually reduced by the judge.

Unless the "Heavy Hearters" really screwed up the drafting of the legislation for the receivership provisions it's hard to see how this case turns out well for us.

Seems to me two choices:

1. Work politically to get the legislation changed or to defeat in 2016 members of the legislature who voted for it.

2. Take action--perhaps even non-violent direct action--to bring about a crisis in the local political structure sufficient to cause elected officials to change education policy.

Either one of these approaches will have required our unions, specifically, and our members, more generally, to have done the hard, sloggy, unpleasant organizing work to mobilize the members and to educate parents and the general public about the issues involved.

What do you think will happen? I used to believe that the political system could be changed or that direct-action, creatively done, could create the sort of "crisis" that leads to change. I no longer do and I especially no longer do if any of that involves NYSUT, the UFT or the membership-at-large.

Lastly, a reader points out the abysmal rep the NYSUT legal team have:


There is a reason anybody who knows tells you to NEVER use NYSUT legal if you get jammed up...always hire someone yourself. On the micro level of dealing with teacher legal issues, they are known to suck.

On the macro level of shepherding a case of this magnitude through the courts successfully they have NO (zero, 0, none) track record of success.

NYSUT legal is a huge part of our problem. Talk about cushy jobs....NYSUT legal is made up of elite educated lawyers pretending at having a hardcore lefty union gig. They have offered no help, advice, or anything to our cause.

NYSUT legal is beyond a joke and deeply part of the problem.

So many ways a legal case here could go wrong - it's almost as if the union leadership at both BTF and NYSUT are double agents, trying to make it look like they're fighting for the rights of their members while for all practical purposes extending the power and policies of the deformers.

On second thought, check that.

There's no "as if" - as Sean Crowley noted in this comment:

I fear any direct union action will have to be taken without the support or benediction of the double retirees of NYSUT's so called leadership. They don't want to jeopardize one drop of their own precious fat by involving themselves in anything that could be construed as a job action. As noted above the legal dodge they have made into an artform will satisfy whichever box they have to check off on their rubric that proves they demonstrated interest in the rank and file. I think maybe some more phone calls to the White House, another dozen Nae Nae videos and a strongly worded letter or two will be about the most NYSUT can be expected to contribute. This one is going to have to be rank and file driven.

The best course to me here is to have the receivership law changed through the legislative process but given that NYSUT didn't fight Cuomo's imposition of the law much in the first place, I am under no illusions that they'll work very hard to do this.

Rather, they might just take the worst possible action imagined so as to, as the first reader quoted above said, make "the entire process of placing schools in receivership and tossing union contracts is then part of the jurisprudence of the State of New York, and therefore ESTABLISHED LAW."

Indeed, with the tenure/seniority lawsuit already here in the courts here in NY coupled with the receivership suit BTF/NYSUT may take forward, you can see a point in the near future where tenure, seniority protections, and local school control are all abolished and union contracts not worth the paper they're printed on since the state and/or the district will have the power to supersede and/or circumvent them.


  1. Make no mistake: There will be many more recievership schools in NYC. There is nothing the NYSUT can do about it. This is just going to speed up the massive teacher shortage that is right over the horizon. I bet we will see a massive amount of retirements and resignations this summer and school districts statewide are going to be very hard pressed to put bodies in many classrooms. It is already happening in a few states and it will be happenining here come September.

    1. The pedogogical solution is large groups of students engaged in technologically driven lessons monitored by a novice.

      Abigail Shure

    2. Very true, unfortunately, Abigail.

      We have to commit ourselves to change our union leadership. We need to organize the membership in a way that 'effectively' educates it about more than 'business union' issues and that results in action to protect ourselves, our students and our communities.

      This will be hard work. This will take time. I don't know that it can be done.

      But if it can't be done we will lose the battle to preserve public schools and out own profession.

    3. Harris L.,

      At the risk of being overly pessimistic, the battle is already lost in Newark at least. A substantial number of my colleagues have their heads buried conveniently in the sand. My futile attempts at updating them are greeted with comments like, "That is really unfair." So I read my blogs and keep my trap shut.

      Abigail Shure

  2. Harris makes a really good point. Our union, NYSUT, and many local unions, certainly the UFT, have done such a poor job of organizing at the rank and file level that they simply are not prepared to carry out mass teacher action across the state. That's why I have to laugh when people suggest a statewide strike... or any sort of mass labor action. Think about it for a minute... picture the people you work with. Can you imagine them authorizing and carrying out such action? What percentage of them even know that this is happening?

    It is the "hard, sloggy, unpleasant organizing work" as Harris decribes it that has likely never taken place inside either NYSUT or the UFT. It's what makes both of these organizations nothing more than a paper tiger. Their only solutions to anything are either lawsuits or throwing money at politicians, both strategies that have failed us terribly in recent years.

    What's truly infuriating, however, is that the lack of organizing that may very well be our downfall, likely has not been do to laziness or oversight by our leadership. More likely it is by design because the simple fact of the matter is that an organized, informed, and engaged rank and file is a threat to our leadership. As long as membership is oblivious to the fact that they have been sold out time and again they will never do the work that needs to be done to replace leadership and our "leaders" can sit safely inside their offices, far away from the existence of classroom teachers, and collect their half a million dollar compensation packages and accrue their double pensions. It is like virtually any other organizational structure where those in power simply want to keep the power to themselves. An informed electorate is always a threat to them. It's why the UFT leadership never concerns themselves with the fact that less than 20% of it's members vote. It's why Unity Caucus, at the state level, shut down a constitutional amendment at last spring's NYSUT RA that would have allowed regional voting so that more than 30% of locals could cast their votes in NYSUT elections. They simply don't want democracy. They simply don't care about classroom teachers. They want the cozy gigs they have now, the big salaries that come with it, and the continued ability to be able to rub elbows with "important people" like Andrew Cuomo. That's why we, when we are in desperate need of mass labor action, are stuck being encouraged to make Nae Nae videos.

  3. Article I of the U.S. Constitutioon says Congress shall not impair contracts.
    The Supremacy Clause says the Constitution is the supreme law of the land and cannot be superceded by state constitutions or courts.

  4. This is lunacy. We expect the same legislature and governor that screwed up last March 31 and enacted the present law to now do an about face and back off the law? NYSUT has no political power right now to do a single thing. The Republicans hate us and the Democrats take us for granted. Either way we are looked upon as fools.

    Should we go into court? Hell yes.