Saturday, February 1, 2014

Why the NYSUT Election Should Matter to Members

The ax against asinine education reforms is starting to swing in New York. Politicians are writing laws to unravel Common Core, and more and more local leaders are speaking out against the gap elimination adjustment and a crushing property tax cap. Changing laws is not easy, however, and those rallying against nonsensical reforms in New York and around the country have a task akin to an exorcism.

On the front lines of this battle are Dick Iannuzzi, president of New York’s largest teachers union (NYSUT), and his executive vice president, Andy Pallotta.  Paradoxically, both are fighting the powers that be while fighting each other, as Pallotta has helped form another group within NYSUT to challenge Iannuzzi’s presidency that calls itself “Revive NYSUT.” Running for president on the Revive ticket is not Pallotta but Karen Magee, president of the Harrison Association of Teachers. Magee has remained silent since accepting the nomination while Pallotta wines and dines politicians on VOTE-COPE money, the union’s voluntary political action fund. 

On the surface, Pallotta is only doing his job; NYSUT’s executive vice president is expected to push legislation on behalf of the members. As the campaign unfolds, however, many local leaders are starting to question just how effective Andy Pallotta has been as NYSUT’s chief legislative advocate. After all, if Pallotta is expected to push favorable laws, why have New York’s teachers been saddled with the tax cap, reduced pension tiers, Common Core, and InBloom? Pallotta’s inaction against this legislation sings louder than Billy Joel at Governor Cuomo’s birthday party.

Pallotta, the only NYSUT incumbent running unopposed, cut his teeth in the UFT, NYSUT’s largest yet smallest local. For example, only 14% percent of working teachers voted in the UFT’s last presidential election. This minority of active members and retirees who reelected Michael Mulgrew also essentially controls over a third of the votes for NYSUT president, and Mulgrew and the UFT have already endorsed the Revive slate. Should Revive come to power, Mulgrew’s UFT will be first in line for handouts from Cuomo as long as Cuomo’s signature reforms of the tax cap and APPR remained unmarred by Pallotta. An endorsement of Cuomo by NYSUT (spurring a subsequent AFL-CIO endorsement) wouldn’t hurt, either.  

Though rank and file teachers were among the first to see through the pseudo-democrat Cuomo, Pallotta, Mulgrew, and the rest of Revive have not sounded the alarm against him, opposing him in lukewarm spirit only. Many have questioned where Revive’s loyalty lies, as the group seems more interested in ousting Iannuzzi than Cuomo. Though elections are healthy for any organization—this contest has already engaged more members in unionism—NYSUT cannot afford to be more outspoken against itself than Cuomo. Ideally, Revive should be strong enough to oppose Iannuzzi and help NYSUT find a viable candidate to run against Cuomo.  This would undermine Revive’s tenuous platform, however, and require Pallotta to finally step off the political cocktail circuit and into the offices of legislators.

Last June, nearly 20,000 members of NYSUT converged in Albany to demand action against laws passed under Pallotta’s watch. The One Voice United rally was President Iannuzzi’s own attempt to awaken our leaders in the capital. Though Mulgrew failed to awaken his own members for the rally (most of the UFT did not attend), One Voice United aroused Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch, whose money and dark-rimmed glasses determine much of New York’s education policies. Concerned that NYSUT was co-opting the reform narrative, Tisch and Education Commissioner John King soon embarked on a series of community forums around the state to clear up “misconceptions” about Common Core. 

By anyone’s standards, the Common Core forums were a disaster for the Regents, with passionate parents bringing everything but the torches and tomatoes.  Tisch and King’s detached, myopic views alienated people at each stop on the tour, and calls for King’s resignation before the forums suddenly seemed premature.  NYSUT’s “Speak Truth to Power” campaign had reached the grassroots, with Albany leaders on the run. Meanwhile, with no Pallotta-pushed repeal in sight, NYSUT’s legal department filed a lawsuit against the undemocratic tax cap. NYSUT also recently withdrew its support for the Common Core, and moved to vote “no confidence” in Commissioner King, who has screwed his feet even tighter to his stubborn positions since the disastrous forums.  Iannuzzi began picking up where Palllotta never left off, joined by people and politicians of all political persuasions.  As Iannuzzi’s long game played out, the Revive candidates huddled behind the scenes, biding their time until their certain victory in April.

Revive should not become too complacent, however, as local presidents will have something to say about Magee and the rest of Revive at this year’s Representative Assembly (RA).  Iannuzzi, along with other incumbents Maria Neira (Vice President), Kathleen Donahue (Vice President), and Lee Cutler (Secretary Treasurer), have formed Stronger Together and are urging leaders from all locals to attend this year’s RA, regardless of their size.  If NYSUT is truly a democractic organization, multitudinous voices from all corners of the state will drown the din of Magee and the UFT this April in New York City.    

New York’s teachers are calling for help all over, demanding action from their union. Though slow to unfold, Dick Iannuzzi’s actions are now beginning to come into view. Common Core has garnered unanimous disdain, and the public is finally starting to side with teachers again. NYSUT must keep this momentum moving, and solidarity needs affirmation now more than ever before. This election should matter to NYSUT members, as their union is the only thing standing between them and the twisted visions of plutocrats.   


  1. Well put. However, I wouldn't say that Iannuzzi's plan was slow to unfold. The timing was crucial and well planned. Looking back one can see that this plan was put into place quite some time ago. It is a well orchestrated strategic plan that required time to unfold. Each step was part of the process of education and escalation and gained the support needed at every step in order to move forward. Through this plan the public was able to see first hand the Commissioner's refusal to listen to parents, teachers, and students. We could not have asked for better free advertising. If Iannuzzi called for a no confidence vote in September none of the forums would have happened. Iannuzzi would never have been able to educate the public about the failed implementation of the CCSS as effectively as the Commissioner did himself. The no confidence vote came at the perfect time. Thank you Richard Iannuzzi on behalf of the students of New York. Thank you for being the voice for those who have no voice in this.... our students and children.

  2. I would like to thank the current leadership of NYSUT: Richard Iannuzzi, Maria Neira, Kathleen Donahue, and Lee Cutler for their dedication and hard work in protecting our rights and benefits. At first, many thought NYSUT should not have been involved in negotiating and the implementation of APPR. However, I am grateful that my rating is based on only 40% student scores and not 50% or greater as in other states around the nation. Now is the time for all teachers around the state to remain united; not divided. If the "Revive NYSUT" candidates cannot clearly state a platform that would benefit all members, then they should stand down.

    Again, thank you to the leadership of NYSUT and keep up the good work. You have my support and the support of my local.

    Clint Wagner
    President, Gloversville Teachers Association