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Incumbent Unity Caucus Prevails in NYC UFT Election

by Shane Mott

In April, New York City’s United Federation of Teachers held their election and, as it has since the 1960’s, the entrenched Unity Caucus again prevailed, winning all offices except for the seven seats in the high school race. The More/New Action Caucus, which has been fighting since 2012 for reforms, had a respectful showing while the Solidarity Caucus, headed by Francesco Portelos, came in a distant third. Prior to the election, Portelos, was ordered by the incumbent officers to appear before a committee for an “investigation” into his campaign tactics (see UDR 208) but the investigation was dropped. Solidarity’s platform focused on multiple teacher workplace issues and states a commitment “To advocate for all members and improve our professions, to provide oversight and support to members harassed and struggling under hostile work conditions and to expose corruption and abuses that negatively affect member working conditions and therefore our communities.” The voting results were as follows: Unity slate – 39,094; More/New Action slate – 10,658; Solidarity candidates – 1,455. Interestingly,the More/New Action Caucus narrowly won all seven high school seats based on its opposition to “common core *” testing.

A likely reason why Portelos’ Solidarity Caucus won so few votes was the incumbents’ election committee rule that allowed slate voting only for those caucuses that fielded a full slate of 40 candidates; Solidarity had only rounded up 34 candidates. As a result, if a member wished to vote for Portelos or any other Solidarity candidate, the member had to painstakingly check individual names on the multi-page ballot that contained roughly 150 candidates’ names rather than simply check only the one box next to a caucus slate’s name and place only the ballot’s cover page in the unmarked, secret mail-ballot envelope rather than the thick, multi-page ballot containing the names of every candidate.

Not only did this election committee rule discourage members from voting for Solidarity candidates, it also enabled very possible election chicanery which Portelos detailed in a formal protest filed with the UFT. Thus, members at a number of locations were urged, with monetary incentives (entry into a raffle for UFT umbrellas, a “buck for your ballot”) to refrain from mailing their ballots but rather to hand over their sealed envelopes to incumbent supporters who would then, allegedly, mail them in bulk. For those who did not complete the ballot, advice was promised on how to fill it out. The problem was that one could readily tell from the envelope’s thickness whether the member had voted for individual Solidarity candidates or simply for a slate with the possible result that the thick envelopes could easily have found their way into trash receptacles rather than into the mail. And in any event, voting secrecy was compromised. Other grounds for Portelos’ protest included denial of some observers’ right to observe the ballot counting process and the incumbent Unity Caucus’ use of union resources not also made available to challengers. Whether his protest ultimately ends up in the hands of the U.S. Department of Labor remains to be seen.

* Common Core testing is a widely used and much maligned type of high stakes test. High stakes testing is used to make lasting or consequential decisions about a student or teacher. The test format can vary but what is constant is that the results are quantified, stored and used to dole out lasting punishments and accolades to teachers (evaluations), students (advancement to the next grade), curriculums ,and the results can can even lead to school closures.