Know your rights

School chapters

People around a conference table - generic

The union helps its members in a variety of ways: representing and supporting them, helping them improve their working conditions, empowering them to have a voice on the job and, in the case of educators, advocating for better teaching and learning conditions in their schools.

The basic unit of the union is the chapter, which is composed of all the UFT members at a school or worksite. Members are supported and represented at multiple levels — the chapter, the functional chapter, the district, the UFT borough office and central headquarters.

The UFT is a representative democracy, and like all democracies, it requires participation to work most effectively. At the school level, members take part every three years in electing their chapter leader, who is their local union representative.

The chapter leader is the front-line representative of the union and the first source of information, support and guidance for a chapter. Chapter leaders and delegates from each chapter are also regular participants in the UFT’s monthly Delegate Assembly, the highest decision-making body of the union.

Chapter leaders have the entire union behind them to answer questions and assist members on a range of matters such as working conditions, teacher evaluation, Teacher’s Choice and health and pension benefits. New chapter leaders have the opportunity to attend a series of three weekend training sessions over the course of the first year they hold the post.

Chapter leaders receive a weekly electronic newsletter, the Chapter Leader Update, which provides timely and relevant information.

The chapter leader is there to represent both the staff as a whole and the union. The role of the chapter leader is to listen, encourage and represent all members and to speak knowledgeably in the union’s voice.

Chapter leaders are also there to ensure that members’ contractual rights are enforced. They make sure members know what their rights are. Violations can be resolved formally or informally. Not everything is a grievance; whatever the nature of the member’s complaint or concern, the chapter leader will try to address it.

But the chapter leader can’t do it alone. Members should participate regularly in chapter meetings and join school-based committees in which their issues can be discussed and resolved. School-based committees ensure that UFT members have a voice in decision-making at the school level.

Each chapter should have the following active committees at the school:

The union is ultimately only as strong as individual chapters. Each chapter leader is tasked with building a strong and engaged chapter that has meaningful input in school-level decisions and participates in union campaigns to protect public schools and worker rights. It’s vital that all members participate in their chapters.

Well-run union chapters make an extra effort to involve new members and members from the union’s functional chapters, such as paraprofessionals and school secretaries.

In today’s anti-union climate, with the Janus case before the U.S. Supreme Court trying to outlaw fair-share fees, public sector unions such as the UFT are in danger of losing hard-won rights and benefits if we don’t stay united and strong. Here’s the bottom line: The more engaged chapter members are, the stronger the chapter’s voice and the union overall.

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