GNTA High School Director
One of the most exciting developments at this year’s NYSUT RA was the emergence of the Stronger Together Caucus (STCaucus), which is committed to a more member-driven and democratic style of unionism. The initial meeting of the STCaucus was attended by more than 500 delegates, including 145 local presidents. NYSUT has been dominated for many years by the New York State Unity Caucus, which is led by the UFT Unity Caucus and other big city locals. Keep in mind that the issues that concern the cities, and therefore Unity, are often different than those facing suburban and rural districts. One important example is the tax cap, to which the city school districts are not bound because of the way they are funded. Membership in the UFT Unity Caucus is by invitation only, and their members are required to vote as instructed by their leadership. In contrast, the STCaucus is open to all members of NYSUT, and is committed to a more democratic union as evidenced by the two Constitutional Amendments that were brought to the floor at the RA.
The first amendment called for regional voting for the election of NYSUT officers. Elections are typically held when the RA meets in New York City. Last year only 30% of NYSUT’s locals participated in the first contested election in many years. Many small locals (several across the state are below 100 total members) simply do not have the money to pay for their delegates to travel to New York City and stay at the Hilton for a weekend, while the UFT is always able to send their 800 delegates (all of whom have taken an oath to vote as they are told by their leadership) to the RA. The STCaucus believes that this undermines democracy within our union and contributes to thousands of members feeling as though they do not have a voice. STCaucus’ amendment would have allowed the delegates of every local across the state to vote at their own regional office, minimizing travel and expenses, and making it more feasible for all locals to participate in elections.
The second amendment concerned the election of at-large directors. Currently delegates from the entire state are allowed to vote for all the at-large directors, most of whom work in different regions. This allows the New York State Unity Caucus to use the weight of their 800 UFT delegates to determine at-large directors who represent parts of the state outside of New York City. Last year, for example, at-large directors in a number of areas received less than 10% of the votes in that area but were elected because they had the support of Unity. STCaucus’ amendment would have made voting for at-large directors regional, with only members within a region eligible to vote for the at-large director for that region.
These amendments both represented a threat to the ability of the Unity Caucus and the UFT to dominate NYSUT elections. The New York State Unity Caucus instructed their members to vote against both amendments, and both were defeated despite getting strong vocal support from the floor, primarily because two-thirds were required to ratify. The actual vote appeared to be much closer to 50/50.
Following the defeat of the amendments, resolutions that address the flawed nature of the standardized tests in New York State were proposed by the STCaucus and passed by the delegates after an agreement between the leaders of Unity and STCaucus, who spoke side by side at the microphone in support. This was a sure sign that Unity has recognized that the STCaucus is not to be ignored.
Having attended the Unity Caucus meeting at the 2014 RA, which was anything but open and democratic, the STCaucus was a sure sign that the movement for bottom-up, member-driven, democratic unionism is alive and well within NYSUT.
You can find out more about the STCaucus at http://stcaucus.weebly.com/.