GNTA High School Director
I was privileged to attend my third NYSUT Representative Assembly in Rochester representing the GNTA. It is always inspiring to hear the many speakers and meet and get to interact with other passionate unionists from around the state. It reinforces the importance of the time we commit and the work we do for our members and our communities.
One of the most important things that happens at the RA each year is voting on any resolutions or proposed amendments to the bylaws and constitution. As our statewide union, NYSUT is our voice in Albany, and the decisions it makes and the actions it takes directly affect every one of us. Just one example is APPR and the changes NYSUT has fought both for and against. The process at the RA consists of two steps. The first is a committee meeting, which discusses the resolution or amendment, and votes on a recommendation to the full RA of concurrence, non-concurrence, or to send it to the Board of Directors for further discussion. This recommendation is then presented to the full RA, where it is discussed and voted on.
This year, there were three proposed amendments to the NYSUT Constitution. I participated in the committee meeting on the amendments. The amendments addressed (1) who elects at-large directors, (2) where/how elections are held, and (3) how vacancies in at-large director positions are filled. They were each designed to allow for greater local participation in the voting process. While greater participation seems on its face a good thing, these amendments proved to be very controversial.
There are two main caucuses within NYSUT. The Unity Caucus is dominated by the UFT and other big city locals. The UFT is dominated by its own Unity Caucus, which requires its members to always vote as a block. The result is that UFT leadership is able to just about control the results of all voting in NYSUT. Stronger Together arose during the last contested election for officers and is led by members from many smaller locals from around the state who would like to bring greater democracy to NYSUT.
The three amendments were all supported by Stronger Together, as they would each provide greater local involvement in voting and selection of officers and at-large directors. Under the Constitution as it stands, only locals who can afford to send members to the triennial RA in New York City where elections are conducted can vote. Additionally, at-large directors for each Election District within NYSUT are elected by the RA as a whole, not by the delegates with each particular ED. This current system allows the Unity Caucus, and therefore the UFT, to have significant say over the election of officers and at-large directors, and therefore the Board of Directors of NYSUT.
The discussion in committee about the three amendments to the NYSUT Constitution proved to be very contentious. Those in favor argued that they would bring more representative democracy to NYSUT by (1) providing more locals the opportunity to vote in elections, and (2) allow at-large directors to be chosen by the locals they represent. Those opposed argued that (1) locals needed to be present at the RA to really understand the issues, and (2) that at-large directors were really representing all of NYSUT, even though they were chosen to represent a particular area. Those who spoke in favor of the changes were from many locals around the state, while those who spoke against were primarily from the UFT. Given the current domination by Unity and the UFT, the committee voted non-concurrence on each of the amendments.
When brought to the body of the RA, discussion of the non-concurrence recommendation of the committee led to a passionate debate between those in favor of the changes and those opposed. Reflecting the growing strength of Stronger Together, the voting took three steps. Usually votes at the RA don't go beyond a simple voice vote, but in this case the voting was close enough that President Karen McGee asked for a standing vote to get a visual. When that didn't resolve the issue, a person by person count of the delegates standing for each side was taken. The committee recommendation of non-concurrence was upheld by a vote of 900-617, and therefore there were no changes made to the NYSUT Constitution.
At next year's Representative Assembly there will be elections for NYSUT officers. There is little doubt it will be a contested election, with the expectation that both the Unity Caucus and Stronger Together will run slates. The debates over the amendments to the NYSUT Constitution portend what to expect next year. The good news is that Stronger Together continues to grow from year to year, and the debates within NYSUT will continue.