Help enlighten our young members

Tom Murphy 1172

Poor Johnny One Note’s reputation is probably just a little more elevated than Henny Penny’s “the sky is falling.” But in this instance, let’s pay tribute to Johnny’s persistence when it comes to the Friedrichs case.

The prospect of a Supreme Court ruling that upholds the challenge to “fair share” and agency fee labor law has the potential to do great harm to public employee union rights. Consider the harm not just to our union’s ability to fully function but to something we long have considered a constitutionally guaranteed benefit — our pensions.

Every 20 years, New York State has a question on the ballot asking whether there should be a Constitutional Convention. The next time it’s due to happen is November 2017. Why are we concerned? If a Constitutional Convention is convened for any stated reason — e.g., government reform — the delegates are then free to consider any and every part of the constitution for revision.

One such provision dating back to 1938 states: “No public employee pension shall be diminished or impaired.” Would convention delegates try to change existing pensions? No one knows. So, times being what they are, delegates might decide to modify or change that provision. Or they might provide that in a budget “emergency,” a pension delay could be allowed.

Think of what has happened in Wisconsin, Ohio, Illinois and even in New Jersey, where employer contributions by the state were not made. If a Constitutional Convention were to become a reality, we of course would need union resources to do what we have always done best: politically fight any diminishment or impairment, which probably would turn into a very expensive and multi-year battle. Without dues checkoff, could we undertake such a battle?

So harken to poor Johnny One Note, and go back to the Friedrichs case. If the Supreme Court decides to upset legal precedents and rule against a union’s ability to collect fair share/agency fees, thus curtailing automatic dues deductions, where would we get the resources to fight to protect our pensions?

What can we do? The UFT is now engaged in an all-out Friedrichs Campaign — Union Loud and Proud — to make sure all members know what the union has accomplished on their behalf since its founding in 1960 so if we lose dues checkoff we won’t lose their support.

We must also focus on member engagement, something we have always done as UFT activists.

In a recent conversation with UFT Vice President for Elementary Schools Karen Alford, she and I shared our concerns about how to keep members — in-service and retired — engaged.

Alford is concerned about reaching out to new teachers, 6,500 this year, to welcome them into full union participation. The Retired Teachers Chapter has an ongoing concern in enlisting our newer retirees into full participation in what UFT President Michael Mulgrew calls the “daytime union.” It sounds like one ship without a sail and the other ship without a rudder should join forces.

Suppose we asked newer retirees who are fresh from the city’s schools (after a few months of decompressing, of course) to engage with the new teachers and educators.

At a recent RTC general membership meeting that was packed with new retirees, a member asked what could be done to give younger members a better sense of the union’s history and achievements. As a result, an information sheet with bullets on UFT history has been created. But we have to be careful of the “Back when I was young and had lunch duty” reminiscences. Engagement has to be current and service-oriented rather than preachy. I think we can find meaningful ways to connect.

Since retired teachers did not hang their social conscience on the hook with their keys when they left the school building, many remain primed for action. Retirement offers a whole host of options for our members to channel their energies from grand vision crusades to taking care of those closest to us in a very personal way. This project would be a way for some to give back to our colleagues in a very practical way.

For newer retirees who are interested in signing on, please contact us at and let us know your ideas and suggestions. We must do everything we can to keep from losing all we have fought so hard for and becoming another Wisconsin or Ohio. Union solidarity will give us the strength we need.

Maybe that should be Johnny One Note’s message.

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