Unions empower their members to work together to fight for the working conditions they need to do their jobs well. For public school educators in ordinary times, that means advocating for better teaching and learning conditions.
The pandemic has changed our work world, but the role of the union remains the same, even as the stakes are higher than ever. It is the union’s job to protect the health and safety of our members and students and the families we go home to and to insist on a safe and effective learning environment for our students. We will do this together.
Here are the nuts and bolts of how our union works so you can see how best to contribute: The basic unit of the UFT is the chapter, composed of all UFT members at a school or work site. Members are supported and represented at multiple levels — the school chapter or functional chapter (for nonteaching titles), the district, the UFT borough office and union headquarters.
Active members make strong chapters, which make a strong union. Working remotely does not negate contractual rights or the need for organizing strong chapters. Whether virtually or in person, the greater the participation, the better the outcome.
The member-elected chapter leader is the front-line representative of the union and the first source of information and guidance. Chapter leaders and elected delegates from each chapter are also regular participants in the UFT’s monthly Delegate Assembly, the highest decision-making body of the union. The DA has been meeting virtually throughout the pandemic.
The chapter leader represents chapter members and the union. But the chapter leader doesn’t do it alone. Members make improvements in the workplace by bringing concerns to their chapter leaders, participating in chapter meetings and joining committees in which workplace issues are discussed and resolved. Each chapter should have a consultation committee that meets monthly with the principal, as well as these other crucial committees:
- School leadership team, which develops the school’s comprehensive education plan.
- School safety committee, which reviews the school’s safety plans, organizes drills and prepares for school safety incidents.
- Professional development committee, which determines areas of need and interest for staff professional development.
- New teacher induction committee, which supports new teachers.
- COVID-19 building response team, which oversees school safety protocols during the pandemic.
Reach out to your chapter leader to get involved in one of these committees.
Chapter leaders assist members when they have questions or concerns about a range of issues, including working conditions, teacher evaluations, and health and pension benefits. They ensure members know their contractual rights and ensure school administrators are abiding by the contract. Chapter leaders can use the operational process to bring issues to their principals’ attention in a one-on-one meeting, a consultation committee meeting or via email. Violations of citywide standards that are not quickly resolved at the school level can be escalated to the district level or to a central committee to be resolved.
Each chapter leader strives to build an active and vibrant chapter with meaningful input from members in school-level decisions and participation in union campaigns to protect public schools and worker rights. A sunshine or social committee helps to build camaraderie and solidarity in a school. Strong chapters involve all members, including paraprofessionals and other functional chapter members.
The UFT website has lots of information on all of the above topics as well as opportunities to get more involved. Create an account to read and search your contract, sign up for text messages, download the UFT app and read the latest news. Follow the UFT on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, too.
Strong chapters need engaged members — both online and on the ground — to succeed. Can we count on you?