The Leadership Battle Within the State Teacher Union (NYSUT): “Sometimes a Cigar Is Just a Cigar.”

For months the leadership of the 600,000 member New York State United Teachers (NYSUT) has been bickering. In the past few weeks a Louisiana blogger sees the dispute as a plan by Randi Weingarten to vault Andrew Cuomo into the presidency in 2016 and, others see equally Machiavellian intents.

To quote Sigmund Freud: Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.

NYSUT is not a union, it is a federation that encompasses over 1,000 bargaining units, NYSUT doesn’t “own” any collective bargaining agreements.

In the early 1970’s the National Education Association state affiliate and the American Federation of Teachers affiliate merged to form one organization. The cultural differences between the AFL-CIO affiliated unions and the NEA affiliated unions was enormous. It was due to the skills of the first President, Tom Hobart that NYSUT held together and prospered.

The diversity of the membership is mind-boggling. From the 100,000 plus UFT in New York City to locals deep in the Adirondacks with a few dozen members, from high tax wealthy districts in suburbs to districts teetering on the edge of bankruptcy as industry and the tax base leaks overseas, from colleges in every county in the state to colleges in the five boroughs, the list goes on and on.

NYSUT Regional Service Centers provide labor relations specialists and legal services to both assist districts in contract negotiations deal with legal issues and local public relations. NYSUT is the face of the teacher union movement, NYSUT lobbies the legislature, the governor, the commissioner and the Regents.

Under the broad umbrella teachers may vigorously oppose fracking while other teachers in the extremely poor, oil shale rich areas may support fracking which would bring revenue to revenue poor areas. One NYSUT union in New York City endorsed de Blasio, another Bill Thompson. The UFT endorsed a pro-teacher candidate for City Council while the Professional Staff Congress (PSC) supported his opponent. The NYSUT umbrella is all-encompassing, unions can disagree on some issues and work together on core issues.

Bloomberg did everything possible to destroy the union in New York City; introducing a bill to eliminate seniority, allowing principals to choose who to layoff. The bill passed the Senate, was progressing in the Assembly, the Governor announced bill was unnecessary; the Teacher Evaluation Law would identify “ineffective” teachers. The Governor decided not fight with the union.

In the battle over Tier 6 almost all the New York City democrats voted against the law, not so successful upstate.

The property tax cap was at the top of the Governor’s agenda and sailed through the legislature, NYSUT opposed, to no avail.

The New York State Psychology Association (NYSPA) affiliated with NYSUT some years ago – looked like a new arena – NYSUT lobbying for professional organizations – last year, dissatisfied with the services, NYSPA withdrew and sought other representation.

Clearly locals were dissatisfied, blame placing, finger pointing, and opposition within the leadership. Accusations of NYSUT leadership paying themselves too well,. NYSUT’s finances in trouble, union democracy in action.

Either one slate will defeat the other and the loser accepts the vote of the members or the losing side will form their own caucus.

We love conspiracies; House of Cards politics dominates our entertainment lives. The real world is much more boring.

Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.

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