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At the Nov. 28 Delegate Assembly, the first convened since Hurricane Sandy decimated parts of New York City, UFT President Michael Mulgrew gave a heartfelt thanks to delegates — and all UFT members — who joined the union’s relief efforts in the aftermath of the storm.
“The UFT organized and got out there before the National Guard or anyone from the city reached some areas,” he said, describing how thousands of UFT members converged on hard-hit areas like Coney Island, Gerritsen Beach, Staten Island and the Rockaways, collecting and distributing water, food and clothing and stripping waterlogged homes before mold set in.
Mulgrew criticized the mayor for requiring educators to report to their schools on the first Friday after the storm, when transportation options were few, but he said that it gave teachers from the affected areas the opportunity to coordinate with each other to locate students, survey the area and deliver supplies to those in need.
“Nobody asked us to do that important work, but it’s the only good thing that happened on that Friday,” he said.
Before the storm hit, he said, the UFT took the precaution of shutting down its computer systems, despite assurances from Con Edison that it would not be shutting down electricity.
“It would have cost us at least $5 million if we hadn’t,” Mulgrew said, as the entire downtown area lost its electricity for almost a week.
In the absence of the union’s website and bulk email system, “we kept members informed through Facebook,” he said. The union’s followers on Facebook nearly doubled from 6,500 before the storm to 11,600 after.
Mulgrew noted that many members learned first from a UFT Facebook post about the 10 a.m. report time and where to report on that first Friday back for those whose schools were relocated.
By comparing maps of affected areas with the location of UFT members’ homes, the union learned that 10,200 UFT members live in the mandatory evacuation zones, Mulgrew said. Information from the union’s Urgent Assistance Forms and its hurricane hotline shows that more than 600 teachers are homeless as a result of the storm, he said. The UFT Disaster Relief Fund is collecting money to help some of these severely affected members as they recover from Sandy.
Mulgrew urged those who have not yet done so to contribute to the fund. “We have to be there for each other and take care of each other,” he said.
Mulgrew noted that Staples and other large donors made earmarked donations to the UFT’s fund to pay for the 30,000 backpacks with school supplies for displaced students because they knew that their money would be going to its intended recipients.
“There are no management fees associated with our fund,” Mulgrew said. “Dollar for dollar, all contributions go to relief.”
Mulgrew also reported that state law and regulations required schools to make up instructional days lost due to the hurricane. “Nobody is happy about this,” Mulgrew said, but “we must follow the law.”
Mulgrew said New York City could not get a waiver from the state unless it had already exhausted every single vacation day. More than 32 districts on Long Island, he said, have already decided to shorten or eliminate the February break to make up lost time.
Comparing the situation of UFT members to that of other city workers, Mulgrew noted that other city workers were being docked pay for the four days lost to the storm, but UFT members whose schools were closed will not.
Mulgrew reported that the hurricane has also delayed by a month the union’s negotiations with the Department of Education on a new evaluation system for teachers. The state Legislature approved a new evaluation system, but the details must be negotiated in each local school district. If a new evaluation system for teachers is not agreed upon by Jan. 16, the city stands to lose $300 million in funding.
“We have to change the culture: How much better would it be if we had a Department of Education which thought its main job was to help teachers to help students?” Mulgrew said.
He told delegates that any tentative agreement on evaluation between the UFT committee and the city will come before the Delegate Assembly for a vote.
The delegates observed a moment of silence for two UFT members who lost their lives in the hurricane: Jessie Streich-Kest, of the Bushwick School for Social Justice, and Henry Sullivan, of Brooklyn’s Lincoln HS.
Because the meeting ran past its normal end time, delegates voted to defer consideration of resolutions until the Dec. 12 Delegate Assembly.