Today my candidacy for United Federation of Teachers chapter leader at my school began. For those unfamiliar with New York City, the UFT is the union for teachers, paraprofessionals, psychologists, social workers and a few others.
It feels odd running for office. I spent a large part of my teen years working on political campaigns for people running for President, Governor, US Senator, Congressperson, Mayor, State Legislator and the like. I think this experience will do me good in this campaign. There have been insinuations that my opponent, the incumbent, stole he initial victory six years ago and no one has run against her since. I’m sure the statute of limitations has expired on some of my electoral activities. Let’s just say that no one is going to steal an election from me.
There are many people who say that unions are out of date, that they stand in the way of innovation and whatever set of priorities or policies that carry the mantle of reform at the time. Because they have almost no control of the policies that affect them most, It is particularly when policies and procedures are in flux that front-line workers need strong representation and, in some cases, protection.
I have already told the story of how unscrupulous bosses committed murder in the pursuit of profits. These days, at least in education, the bosses hardly ever resort to murder, but they still have thugs to do their bidding for them. For example, there is Iris Blige, the principal of Fordham HS for the Arts in the Bronx.
According to staffers and students at the school, Blige belittles teachers and is prone to screaming attacks and general all-around bullying of staff and students. Her reign of terror has resulted in an astounding 70.5 percent turnover rate for teachers between September 2007 and September 2008.
“She has turned a fresh, budding school environment into a fractured community of turmoil and betrayal,” said teacher Peter Healy, adding that Blige has ruled by “creating a fear-filled environment.”
You can read the whole story in New York Teacher. Ms. Blige is not alone. The principal of the elementary school where I started teaching yelled at teachers in front of their students, changed ratings from satisfactory to unsatisfactory for observations at which she was not present, and once commented “I like my new white teachers better than my old white teachers.”
Fortunately, principals like those two are in the minority and the one I work for is generally approachable, collegial and reasonable. Even so, one of the lessons history teaches us is that rights not fought for soon disappear, and I’m going to be on the front lines of that battle.