Perdido 03

Perdido 03

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Time For Teachers Unions To Put Away The "Seat At The Table" Strategy

For years now I have heard teachers union leaders say the reason they continue to support politicians - mostly Democrats - who push anti-teacher, anti-public school reforms is because it is important to have "a seat at the table" where decisions on policy get made.

This is why I heard it was important to support Barack Obama in 2012 even though he had spent his first four years in the White House pushing education reform policies that I am almost certain the teachers unions would have opposed had it been George W. Bush pushing them.

This was also why I heard it was important we supported Andrew Cuomo for governor in 2010 (even though he had already signaled that he was going to be a reform-friendly governor taking a lot of reformer cash) and it was also why I heard it was important we not pick public fights with Cuomo even as he turned increasingly anti-public school/pro-charter as his first term waned.

Last May, the unions could have supported Zephyr Teachout for the Working Families Party nomination, an event that terrified Andrew Cuomo because polls showed he would struggle to get 50% in the general election with a third party candidate from the left on the ballot.

The union heads - including Michael Mulgrew at the UFT - instead decided to throw their lot in with Cuomo, threatening WFP activists with the dissolution of the party if Teachout were given the ballot nomination.

They wrested "concessions" out of Cuomo, including a hostage video he made where he pledged to push for policies and items WFP activists wanted, but the video camera wasn't even cool yet by the time Cuomo started breaking those pledges.

Having failed to get the WFP nomination, Teachout ran against Cuomo in the Democratic primary and, behind the scenes, the unions helped Cuomo and his running mate, Kathy Hochul, fend off her challenge.

When it looked like Teachout's running mate, Columbia law professor Tim Wu, might beat her in the primary, AFT President Randi Weingarten began making robocalls for Hochul in order to help her win her primary.

In the end, even though most unions did not endorse Cuomo, the unions did a lot to help him win this past election.

Without union help, Cuomo might have had a third party challenge in the general election take double digit support away from him, making the 13 percentage point victory he won over Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino much, much closer.

With Teachout on the ballot in November, it was possible Cuomo could have barely eked out a victory at all or even lost to Astorino.

But he never had to worry about that possibility because the union heads - including the teachers union heads - made sure Teachout was not on the ballot in November.

In the days before the election, the Daily News revealed that Cuomo was threatening to "break" the public school system after re-election - that he saw public schools as a "monopoly" that needed to be busted.

Rather than express alarm at that statement, AFT President Randi Weingarten merely dismissed it as "campaign rhetoric" and said there was nothing to worry about, she would make Cuomo aware through a private letter that he was wrong in his statements.

It turned out later that Weingarten had heard Cuomo make the monopoly statement personally before that - she was sitting next to him at a Forbes forum on education in June when he first trotted out the "break the public school monopoly" rhetoric.

So Weingarten should have known - indeed, probably did know - that Cuomo wasn't kidding when he said he was going to "break" the public school system.

Alas, we still had our "seat at the table," so teachers union heads signaled no change in strategy toward Cuomo.

Fast forward to this week - Cuomo publicly said his APPR teacher evaluation system is in need of "toughening" since not enough teachers were rated ineffective last year and he planned to address that problem in the next legislative session.

The next day, he made public a letter from his state operations director to outgoing NYSED Commissioner King and Regents Chancellor Tisch that signaled he intended a large-scale reform of the education system in New York in the next budget negotiation and/or legislative session.

The letter indicated that Cuomo would look to reform or address:

1. The evaluation system
2. The 3020a disciplinary process
3. The ATR pool in NYC
4. Teacher certification
5. Probationary period for teachers
6. Making it easy to close schools
7. Increase in charter schools, especially in NYC
8. Adding more technology to the system, including online classes
9. Consolidating districts
10. Reforming the Regents appointment process
11. Making the hiring of NYSED Commissioner King's replacement transparent

Post-letter, it is clear Cuomo's planning a broad assault against public schools and teachers in his next term, but also planning to subsume as much power from the rest of the education bureaucracy into his own office as he can.

This broad and sweeping attack was not lost on members of the Board of Regents or the legislature - Jessica Bakeman at Capital NY reported they will be pushing back against Cuomo to make sure that he does not get control over NYSED or Regents appointments (as he indicated he would like in the letter.)

This broad and sweeping attack was not lost on the heads of the teachers unions either, who immediately put out statements pushing back against Cuomo's planned reforms.

Here was NYSUT President Karen Magee:

The governor says he wants to put students first,” Magee said. “If that were even remotely true, he would listen carefully and act on the advice of the real experts — parents, educators and students — about what’s best for public education,” she said. “Instead, New Yorkers get clueless, incendiary questions that do the bidding of New York City hedge fund billionaires who have letterhead and campaign donations, but know absolutely nothing about how public education works. If the governor wants a battle, he can take the clueless New York City billionaires. We’ll take the parents, teachers, higher education faculty and students in every ZIP code of the state.”

And the UFT's Michael Mulgrew:

“This letter comes right out of the playbook of the hedge funders for whom education “reform” has become a pet cause and who poured money into the Cuomo re-election campaign,” Mulgrew said. “The Governor owes these people big time, but unfortunately the children of New York will end up paying his debts.”

Cuomo plans to destroy the public school system and the teaching profession, is looking to pay back his charter school and education reformer donors by privatizing the school system, making teaching into an at-will job, lowering labor costs by increasing the burn and churn in the teaching force, and increasing the opportunities for the edu-entrepreneurs to make millions off the system reforms.

There can be no more equivocation by the leaders of the teachers unions - Weingarten, Mulgrew, Magee - that Cuomo means no harm, that this is "campaign rhetoric" or "just politics."

He means business and his business is destroying us - he has picked up the proverbial "seat at the table" the union leaders like so much and is beating us to a pulp with it.

I am happy to see that the leaders of NYSUT and the UFT have responded with public alarm over Cuomo's letter.

In the past, they might have ignored the letter or defended it in some way (as Weingarten did earlier with the "campaign rhetoric" statement), but this time around, they seem to understand that open warfare has come and there can be no working with Cuomo on this.

Now it is time for action from the unions to back up the words.

We saw plenty of action from them over the last four years helping Cuomo (as I detailed above), so I know they're capable of taking actions to hurt him too.

There are plenty of stakeholders who are going to be upset about the coming Cuomo attack on the education system.

Two items Cuomo did NOT address in the reform letter were Common Core and high stakes testing - two items that really, really concern many parents in the state.

If anything, Cuomo's planned reforms to the evaluation system are going to exacerbate the problems the state has with Common Core and testing, so common ground can be forged with parent activists on both right and left who have been fighting the education establishment on CCSS and testing.

Of course, since the unions still support CCSS, that may have to mean a shift in stance on the standards, but given the alternative - fighting Cuomo without parent allies - I think a modification on the CCSS support is warranted here.

Next, Cuomo is not a very popular governor.

As I detailed yesterday, his job approval in the Siena poll taken this week is 15% underwater:

 How would you rate the job Andrew Cuomo is doing as Governor?

Excellent - 7%
Good - 35%
Fair - 40%
Poor - 17%
Don't Know - 1%

The way these polls get analyzed, excellent and good become the "approval" number, fair and poor become the "disapproval" number.

Take a look at those approval numbers for Cuomo just six weeks after he won re-election with 54% of the vote.

He's underwater in approval by 15%.

For some reason Siena led with Cuomo's favorability rating (58%) in their press release and the media coverage of the poll followed suit, making Cuomo sound more politically powerful that he is right now.

The truth is, he has a 42% job approval rating, the casino and fracking decisions he made this week may win him some fans on one side of those issues, but they're going to lose him some fans on the other side, so I don't think those approval numbers are going to move much in a positive direction.

But even if they did shift up, so what?

He's 8 percentage points under 50% job approval, 15% under water overall, he needed to outraise his GOP opponent Astorino 9 to 1 in campaign donations and he still won the lowest vote total of any New York governor seeking re-election since FDR in 1930.

Let me state again, this is NOT a politically popular governor, he does NOT have the political juice to pull off the large-scale attack he plans on schools, teachers, the education system or the political system.

Finally this dude's got more enemies than you can number.  He's spent the last four years running roughshod over his fellow politicians, other politicians and the education establishment in Albany are already indicating they view his power play over the system with alarm, and he's got a federal prosecutor looking into him for tampering with the Moreland Commission on Public Corruption.

As I wrote yesterday, Cuomo is NOT coming from a place of strength, but he wants us to think he is, which is perhaps why he is signaling he's going to go for total reform of the system rather than little nicks and cuts.

It's a head fake to get you to think, "Geez, he must really be powerful if he can do all of this!" when the reality is, he can do NONE of this if we fight him on it.

Which brings me back to the "seat at the table" strategy.

For a long time now, we have had that seat at the table and here is where it has brought us - Cuomo beating us over the head with it.

It is time to put away the "seat at the table" strategy and replace it with a "mattresses strategy" a la The Godfather.

We are at war with the governor, we did not want this war but he has brought it on us and now we have to "Go To The Mattresses" in order to defend ourselves.

I implore the teachers union leaders to back up their words of alarm with action now that open warfare has come.

Partner with parents, develop a public relations strategy to counter the one that is sure to come from Cuomo (though it will probably be funded by private interests like his campaign donors), work to weaken Cuomo further in a war of attrition that will leave him politically battered when all is said and done.

He CAN be beaten in this war over public education and the future of the school system and teaching profession.

But in order to do it, we must put away the "seat at the table" strategy for good, acknowledge he is our enemy, and there can be no compromise strategy with him any longer.


  1. Yup, it's time Cuomo is fully recognized by more people for what he really is....a threat to our children.

    Wouldn't it be great if in every county throughout New York State parents, their children along with teachers and principals were organized and at the ready to show up and protest Cuomo's education policies, spoiling his carefully choreographed photo ops. "The Prince of Darkness" unmasked, over and over, day after day. It can be done. Why not? If not now, when? -John Ogozalek

    1. Taking a play out of the anti-fracker playbook. Worked for them - Cuomo himself acknowledged that.

  2. Don't believe anything NYSUT and UFT say -- watch what they do not what they say. Their statement is for internal consumption to make people think they are really pushing back. They could go to every school and get people riled up - they won't. The pushing back stops there. A stool at the table is in their DNA - it is the only strategy they have because the alternative calls for really organizing the UFT masses into a force - but doing so might make them question the one-party control of the UFT for 50 years.

    1. Yes, which is why I say the words must be backed up by actions. Sullio adds some great ideas for action in his comment below. Remains to be seen whether any of the social media rhetoric gets backed up by real world actions.

  3. Great idea, Sullio. Will build a later post around this comment.

  4. Don't forget that Cuomo's political future is at stake. He is a very shrewd political animal who has surrounded himself with very smart politcal handlers.

    I suspect that the Bill and Hillary Clinton support he has received will fade if Cuomo's policies anger solid blue democrats enough. We know that this is happening, day by day, insult by insult. There is a potential for Hillary to lose support from NY's democratic base if there is a strong enough connection between Clinton and Cuomo. Don't forget that Cuomo served in Bill Clinton's administration. When Hillary "finally" announces her run (I have heard that this will be EARLY in 2015), the NY public school education community MUST immediately engage her in a serious dialogue about what is happening here in NY (and, elsewhere) so we know EXACTLY where Hillary is coming from.

    I suspect that Cuomo's pompous anti-public school / educator rhetoric will be toned down significantly if Clinton strategists see a direct correlation between Cuomo's antics and a potential loss of support in NY for Hillary.

    NYSUT and the UFT should be "encouraged" [by way of individual association demands] to exploit this strategy if only to put a muzzle on Andy-boy. He may not listen to parents and educators BUT, you can be certain that he'll be a good little boy when the Clintons tell him to STFU and fall in line in support of teachers, public schools and organized labor.

    Hillary needs our support. Andrew Cuomo is a big threat to that support if he keeps up his bullying and big-mouth threats directed at public school educators and, public schools. He needs to be put-in-his-place and soon! You can bet that Andy would NEVER show the same disrespect to Hillary as he did to Zephyr Teachout at last September's Labor Day Parade in NYC. This poor excuse for our governor DISGUSTS ME!

  5. Yes, indeed, constant harassment, so that our Reptilian Governor knows he can't appear anywhere in public without teachers, students and parents challenging and exposing him, his assumptions and his backers.

    Let's make him feel the consequences of his viciousness and venality, making his life more miserable than he intends to do to us.

    After all, he's earned it.

  6. I would put little stock in the mealy mouthed union statements. Hillary is a corporatist. Wake up and smell the coffee folks.

  7. Listen...municipalities can't afford these benefits, pensions, etc. So I expect more of the same "reform" movement ongoing into the future. Tier 6 kids will never collect...and the current crop of Tier 4 and lower is the last we'll ever see of this.

  8. being a constant irritant is a good plan of action. That's what the NYPD did to Bloombad early on. They started to trail him wherever he went 24/7. I forget what the issue was, but he quickly became best buddies with them, for want of more privacy.

  9. Another great article! If we cannot depend on the powers who be to fight for us, WE NEED TO and I am so ready!!!
    FYI, I went to the WFP holiday happy hour this past Thursday just to see what's what. I was told by a member who works on the elections, that there would have been no money gained by endorsing Teachout which they needed. This is why they endorsed Cuomo. As usual it comes down to $$$, not what is best for all of us.

  10. Cuomo has an office here in NYC. We had a rally out there with about 200 people last April. NYSUT/UFT has the ability to put 25,000 people out there if it really organized. If we all had real organizations we wouldn't need them to do it which is why there is a need to build a counter organization in the UFT with access to every school and member.

  11. The stool at the table strategy is long overdue for a good flushing. We need to go posturepedic on Cuomo's buttocks.
    See if you can spot the NYSUT guy in this clip :

  12. The Unity lead UFT will not mobilize school to school unless it's to push a contract. Remember how they got into 1,800 schools 6 months ago? I was told by a retired Unity member " I'm not sure why we stopped fighting for the suffering members. By the time I retired I was told it was "no longer the direction of the union". We were to be a professional union and not an industrial model. I wasn't quite sure what that meant since the members seemed to love having their union stand up for them. But it had something to do with focusing on educational issues and not confrontation with abusive administrators. I know our members do not feel protected these days and that is borne out by the fact that only 17% of the in-service members voted in the last UFT election. This is concerning to the leadership. Francesco, don't you also remember when we could turn out tens of thousands of members to a rally downtown? Those days are over too. Sad. I loved the old UFT when an assault against one of us was an assault against all. Be well and happy holidays!"

    I actually don't remember those days as I came in at '07 and didn't get union active until '11.

    In any case, in addition to action and alliances, Solidarity Caucus is working on a project tentatively called "Mulgrew and the Time Machine" A montage of video clips and statements showing the leading from behind methods of supporting the wrong people and ideas and then bashing them. It does paint a ridiculous timeline as we add to it and piece it together.

    1. The UFT would hold rallies down at City Hall. It was a great feeling of solidarity. The UFT has the *power* to organize both teachers and parents. So why haven't they?

  13. What exactly do our dues pay for?

  14. Don't hold your breath waiting for the UFT and AFT stooges to actively challenge the invidious issues that are destroying the teaching profession and the education of children of color. Their talk is trash. Mulgrew and Weingarten have thrown all of you educators under the bus. They will continue to throw you under the bus.

    1. And the queen is dead. Thanks for the breaking updates. Who exactly do you think you are enlightening here anyway? You're preaching to the choir if you haven't noticed by now....

  15. Cuomo is not just a threat to our children. He is a threat to the functioning of our legal system , to our future and to our democracy.

  16. Our dues pay for lunch and dinner for the UFT upper echelon. Then they pay for the alll expense paid secret meetings with politicians. Your dues pay for the seat at the table where deals are only made "under that table". They pay for increased accountability for public school teachers and much less accountability for charter schools. They pay to finance the war to "break the public school monopoly". Do you get it?

  17. Hold on there! Most importantly, for those former teachers, (also known as district reps, special reps, borough reps, vp, president) working full time for the UFT, our dues pay their salaries (the equivalent of the DOE salary they would earn if still in the classroom), their $50,000. + a year stipend, and for a UFT pension in addition to the TRS NYC pension.
    That is where a big chunk of our union dues go. AND if you get to collect your own pension, you will continue to pay some amount of dues until the end. They got it wrapped up. Time to unwrap.

    1. This is concerning.

      We should NOT be paying dues to pay people's salaries who are not able or willing to work for us.

  18. Let's all remember it's snowball season too. And that goes for Tisch as well.

  19. The only way the abuse against teachers has been allowed to continue is because the abusers know the union would do nothing to defend its members.

  20. Cuomo is a old timer who has no clue about anything and really is an out of touch politician who is where he is because of his father Mario Cuomo. I truly get the feeling that andrew cuomo would be working either construction or trash removal otherwise. How about this guys speech pattern. Has anyone noticed how bizarre his speech pasterns are?? Remember his famous quote that you do not need 10 bullets in a gun to kill a deer??