Saturday, January 23, 2010

Why Did our Union Mock Us?

Hopefully many of you were able to attend last Thursday's (1/21) union meeting in which the members of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers supposedly made the decision to ratify the new contract that we philly teachers will operate under for the next three years. This is the contract that many politicians are hailing as a historic contract that will change education in our cities. I cannot wait to discuss this historical new contract in my next blog, but that discussion will have to wait.
What really needs to be discussed first is how our very own union failed to represent us and insulted our intelligence at the same time. Let me recap what went down on Thursday...
The first shortcoming of our union came days before our meeting to ratify the contract. Our Union announced a meeting in which members would vote on a life changing contract that would effect the rest of our careers. They gave us teachers a whopping three days notice, not even quite enough time to arrange a babysitter for the kids. Our union also announced that NO DETAILS of the contract would be released until the meeting Thursday. This would allow a good thirty minutes to look over six pages of fine print changes that would forever alter our lives (plenty of time to discuss the implications of this contract with our family, loved ones, and colleagues). Fortunately because of the pressure of some concerned teachers the Union ended up releasing the details of the contract the day of the meeting. This gave some teachers a few hours to look over the big changes to the contract.
The actual meeting was one of the most disgusting and disappointing things for a paying union member to witness. PFT president Jerry Jordan spouted off all the things he and his team prevented Arlene Ackerman from getting. He mentioned the few things we gained, such as a normal 3% raise and the ability to defend ourselves against student attacks. He also mentioned all the new PFT positions that were created. Coincidence? Then he touted the creation of the new Renaissance schools as a new way to earn extra cash. He failed miserably to explain the ramifications these changes will have on the teachers who currently teach in these chosen Renaissance schools (look to later blogs). He didn't mention that all teachers in these schools would have to reapply for their jobs, he didn't mention that only 50% of the staff could be hired back, and he didn't mention that teachers will be working two Saturdays a month. When Jerry finished giving his selected details of the contract the debate was opened up to the floor.
This perhaps was the most frustrating part of the evening. The first five speakers were clearly hand selected by the Union's CB team to say very pro-union things. The first speaker said something like "Jerry I would just like to thank you and the executive board for all the wonderful work that you've done, I know I couldn't have dreamed of a better contract." The next four that followed were almost just as sickening. Finally a gentleman came to the mic who was not handpicked. He requested a motion to postpone the vote to a later time. Shouts could be heard all over the stadium, "yes, postpone!" and "I second that motion." Unfortunately our union president was very prepared to stop this more than reasonable request. The former union president cut the line to get to a mic and called the motion "out of order because the motion wasn't stated first", Jerry Jordan quickly confirmed and we move on. Thankfully a few teachers got to truly speak their mind in between the plants the union sent to the mics. Jerry Jordan continually dodged questions that were directed around the Renaissance Schools. He refused to tell how many schools were going to become Renaissance, or where all the teachers would go who don't want to work and extra hour a day, two saturdays a month, and the month of July. When the verbal vote was announced the "Ayes" and the "Nays" sounded split. Jerry quickly stated the contract was ratified.
As an individual who believes in unions this night disturbed me. It was clear that Jerry Jordan and the PFT were not there to truly represent their people. They were there to do what was best and easiest for them. Yes, I know they have a difficult job and that these are difficult times for teachers in urban districts, but please do us justice and let your members decide! The truth was not shared and our Union leaders insulted us by filling the mics with plants who were told to say specific things, taking away the voice of the teachers who are going to have their lives changed. I say, "Shame on you Jerry Jordan! Shame on you PFT executive board. You all failed to do the very thing you have been chosen and paid to do. In my mind you no longer represent us!"


  1. If they wanted everyone to get a chance to vote, they would use a secure site and accept votes on-line OR simply mail the ballots. Sure it will take a little extra time but we were waiting a year and a half anyway. They know that they do not have the full support (or even a majority) of the membership and therefore do everything possible to ensure there is not full compliance. It is truly a terrible thing to witness. I question the motives of our President.

    Tom Juhas

  2. Tom,

    After what I saw Thursday i would have to agree with you.

  3. Have you looked at the agreement? Act 46 could have ultimately wiped out all working conditions that the union has negotiated. As far as Renaissance Schools, the structure of a Renaissance School is already something the district can do under federal law (NCLB). At least the union was able to negotiate specific details to protect those people who apply and work in these schools. I can't see how Arlene Ackerman won anything that she originally set out to take from us.

  4. Southwest Philly, thanks for your feedback. Dr. King said this "An injustice anywhere, is a threat to justice everywhere" Act 46 I believe is an injustice. I also believe that it should be challenged. I know teachers are under a lot of pressure and our Union as well. I just feel that we must stand up under the pressure. I do believe Arlene Ackerman got exactly what she wanted, renaissance schools.

  5. Queen Arlene could have gotten that without even negotiating since that was under NCLB (Turnaround Schools). At least we have contract language speaking to it now. That's important to me since my school probably will become one of the first.

  6. Then maybe what needs to be challenged is NCLB and the language in that document. I am afraid my school will also be on that list.

  7. I agree these are tough times for unions. Especially since we have the worst PR in the world. I do believe that our union should challenge Act 46- it is certainly not equal protection under the law when some districts can unionize freely and we cannot. By restricting our right to strike, we have been shackled. Jerry Jordan's team is weak and expedient. We had one of his tema come to our building to address our concerns about safety and discipline- she belittled us, questioned our honesty and told us to do everything we were told and to cover our asses. Well, I can do that myself without paying a union. We need a RADICAL leadership change. Oh, and to hell with Randi and the AFT. She sold out NYC a long time ago.

  8. Amy you definitely need to come to the meeting next Monday the 8th.


Would you remain at your school if it became a Renaissance School?

Is it time for the PFT to change it's leadership?

Good books for Urban Educators

  • "High Stakes Education" by Pauline Lipman
  • "Entertaining an Elephant" by William McBride
  • "City Schools and the American Dream" by Pedro Noguera