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Mulgrew praises chapter leaders for helping union thwart threats

UFT Vice President Carmen Alvarez and Treasurer Mel Aaronson receive a standing Jonathan FickiesUFT Vice President Carmen Alvarez and Treasurer Mel Aaronson receive a standing ovation from chapter leaders after President Michael Mulgrew announced they would be retiring.

The UFT is well-positioned to protect its members’ rights and benefits as the 2018–19 school year gets underway, President Michael Mulgrew reported to chapter leaders from across the city at their annual start-of-school meeting on Sept. 20 in Shanker Hall.

“That’s because you all did a great job,” Mulgrew said.

When they met a year ago, Mulgrew reminded them, the union was facing the daunting prospects of fending off a state constitutional convention, which would have endangered UFT members’ pensions, and preparing for the ramifications of the Supreme Court decision in the Janus v. AFSCME case. That case, instigated by anti-union billionaires, sought to starve public-employee unions, including the UFT, of the funding needed to provide services to and advocate for workers.

“If you told me not only would we trounce the constitutional convention but also come through Janus the way we have, it would have been hard to believe,” Mulgrew said. “This year, there isn’t as much apprehension, and whatever comes at us, we will deal with.”

UFT chapter leaders began their organizing work to defeat the constitutional convention at chapter meetings in early 2017. Then, in the final two months before Election Day, tens of thousands of UFT members spread the word to fellow members as well as friends and family. Ultimately, more than 80 percent of state voters rejected the ballot proposal.

To prepare union members to stand strong in the face of an anti-worker Janus verdict, the UFT set the goal of having a one-on-one conversation with every member to explain the facts in the case and listen to members’ concerns. Members sent by the union knocked on the doors of fellow members to have those discussions. Also, membership teams were set up in schools and worksites to make sure everyone was aware of what was at stake.

When the high court declared fair-share fees unconstitutional, the UFT was ready.

Fewer than five DOE-employed UFT members have dropped their union membership since the decision, while 2,600 new hires had signed union cards before the first day of school, Mulgrew said.

He warned the chapter leaders, however, that the challenge isn’t over. Every new hire has to be promptly enrolled in the union, and the DOE has continued hiring new school-based staff throughout the month of September.

“Every school site needs to be an organizing site,” Mulgrew said.

Mulgrew reminded chapter leaders about the importance of supporting the new educators. “Be the conduit that helps them stay in the profession,” he said.

Mulgrew also stressed the importance of the fight to regain Democratic control of the state Senate in November. Last spring, the state Assembly passed a bill to cut the mandatory link between students’ state test scores and teacher evaluations. That bill, however, stalled in the Republican-controlled Senate. Gov. Andrew Cuomo has vowed to sign the legislation if it reaches his desk.

“We need to put in people who will pass that bill,” Mulgrew said.

The moratorium prohibiting state ELA and math test scores from being a factor in teacher evaluations will sunset next June, he said.

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