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Caucus of Working Educators unhappy about PFT election procedures

By Dale Mezzacappa on Nov 10, 2015 04:25 PM
Photo: Harvey Finkle

A member of the Caucus of Working Educators at a School Reform Commission meeting in October 2014.

The Caucus of Working Educators, which is trying to topple the long-dominant Collective Bargaining (CB) Team for leadership of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, is protesting the union's election procedures -- or the lack of them so far.  

WE, as it is known, also alleges that CB-loyal building representatives – the elected union leaders at each school – are improperly seeking to bar them from distributing flyers and holding meetings in school buildings.

"The PFT Executive Board sets the timeline and procedures for the election, and have thus far refused to make the arrangements, despite repeated requests from the Caucus over the last two months," says a post on the WE website.

The failure to adopt the procedures means that WE doesn't know the deadline for filing nominating petitions, or even all the offices that will be contested. The membership of the executive board varies as some job categories are changed or eliminated by the District. 

"All we know is that, according to the PFT Constitution, the election must happen between January and April of 2016. ... Why is the current leadership refusing to start up the process? All PFT members deserve to know the timeline and procedures for the upcoming election – and they deserve to know it now."

The PFT votes for president every four years; in recent years, these elections have generally been quiet, internal affairs. The CB caucus has run the union since the 1980s, and although there have occasionally been opposing candidates, this campaign is the first serious challenge in two decades. 

WE, which claims close to 300 dues-paying members, is holding its convention this Saturday, Nov. 14, at which the leaders will announce a slate and a platform based on a series of listening sessions that leaders have been holding with teachers. 

PFT president Jerry Jordan responded to WE's assertions by saying that he is following all the procedures laid out in the union's constitution for elections. A new CB election website says that procedures for the two most recent elections were not finalized until December. 

He urged the WE members to be patient.

"They're crying foul when there is no foul," he said. "The timeline is described in the constitution. ... I think they’re making much ado about nothing, if they just are a little patient. ... We told them, when they’ve asked, the elections will be done properly."

WE leaders, however, say that they are feeling intimidated and that the union is being undemocratic.

Tom Quinn, a teacher at Central and a WE organizer, said that some building reps are "either misinformed or intentionally trying to stop the [WE] caucus from reaching members." He said one building rep sent out an email to members saying that only she can use the building for any "formal or informal" PFT-related meetings at any time or put flyers regarding union activity in members' mailboxes. WE has been announcing its listening sessions through flyers.

"I read the contract," said Quinn. "The only clause that mentioned mailboxes says the PFT has a right to distribute information. It doesn't say other members of the union don't have a right." Plus, he added, the labor law under which PFT operates makes it clear that leaders cannot use incumbency or paid staffers to deny to potential rivals equal access to members. 

Jordan said that he "can't respond to what is going on in various buildings," adding, "My team, we can't be in very building every day. We have jobs to do. I can't and I won't respond to empty allegations."

WE's mission is to put stark focus on educational inequality and the damage it does to teachers, students, and society. The caucus emphasizes close relationships with parents and community members through what leaders call "deep organizing" as opposed to "shallow mobilizing" and wants the union to take the lead in campaigns like the "opt-out" movement against standardized tests.

Similar movements of internal dissent focusing on a social justice platform have ousted long-term teacher union leadership in cities including Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Milwaukee.

WE wants the union to "articulate a vision of what a union should be like in the 21st century," according to Ismael Jimenez, a teacher at Kensington CAPA and one of the WE members who have made themselves available to run for top leadership posts.

The others are Kelley Collings and Amy Roat, both teachers at Feltonville School of Arts & Sciences, and Yaasiyn Muhammad, a teacher at Central.

Jordan assumed the presidency of PFT in July 2007, when Ted Kirsch stepped down to become president of the Pennsylvania AFT chapter. Jordan was first elected to a full term in 2008 with 91 percent of the vote.

 

The CB website, which this article links to, was accessible at the time of publication. The site is now password protected.

This story has been updated to correct where Jimenez and Muhammad teach and to reflect an increase in WE membership.

 

 

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Comments (55)

Submitted by NYSE: AAPL (not verified) on November 10, 2015 4:58 pm

The PFT sounds like the GOP--in complete disarray, and in disagreement how to demand more taxpayer money for salaries and pensions.  Educational inequality?  Sorry but richer districts tend to have better schools--it usually works that way.  In Palo Alto parents contribute $1200 each so their kids can have music and arts classes.  Why does WE want PFT to lead the movement to get out of the tests?  Is that what a labor union does? 

Submitted by Alexander (not verified) on November 11, 2015 5:01 pm

Many teachers are actively voicing support for students who are denyed a voice in our current political and corporately refomed eduational system.  Tests are continually shown to not be accurate measures of learning and are not balanced for differnt groups of students.  Until they are, they shouldn't be legislatively empowered to deny students from graduating high school.

In Phiaelphia alone,  English Language Learners fail the Biology Keystone 76.5% of the time and receive a marginalizing "basic" score 16.4%.  Students in the migrant education program fail the test 100% of the time.  Students wth IEPs - students with special needs - who must take the test fail it 67.7% of the time and receive a score of basic 22.9% of the time.  African American and Latino students fail the test over 50% of the time, a rate double that of their white peers.

Focusing on testing while eduation cuts from the State prevents adequate funding, even minimal funding that would enable the Philadelphia SD to have a nurse in every school or provide any paper for classroom teachers is sadly justifying this disparity.  It is a system telling students they are failures while denying them the support needed to provide equal access to education dependent on students' needs.

Submitted by NYSE: AAPL (not verified) on November 12, 2015 4:24 am

Google "Standardized Testing Costs States $1.7 Billion a Year, Study Shows".   That amounts to $65 per student.  If the tests were eliminated, teachers could get a $500 per year raise.  Testing consumes one quarter of one percent of the ed. budget.  I seriously doubt that eliminating the tests could finance a nurse in every school (and FULLY FUND that nurse's pension using a REASONOBLE 4% discount rate)   Incidentally, PSERS paid $1.7 billion in investment fees to Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan and other banks for its investments in hedge funds, but that's a topic for another discussion.   Why not simply ask parents for a $65 nursing fee? 

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on November 10, 2015 5:45 pm

My school has received more attention from the PFT this year than in recent memory.  Or regional rep came out about a month ago and it seemed the sole reason she was there was to tell us what a great job Jerry Jordan was doing.  She mentioned his name about 20 times in one hour.  A few weeks later, our building rep gave out buttons to wear to support the Jordan team and told the staff that if they do not win - everyone including the lawyers negotiating our contract will be replaced.  Last week we had a visit from someone from Health and Welfare.  

It is hard to go against people in power.

 

Submitted by Tiredofthesameoldexcuses (not verified) on November 10, 2015 8:15 pm

She's too busy telling us how wonderful Jerry is to be bothered with things like bullying principals, an increasing work load that is invading our private lives and violence against teachers in this school system. Jerry wants votes he needs to direct his flunkies to immediately go after toxic principals. Hite's Cheap Fixes are no cutting it.

Submitted by Tiredofthesameoldexcuses (not verified) on November 10, 2015 8:51 pm

not cutting it

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on November 10, 2015 6:55 pm

The CB team is not interested in what I say, do, or think. The CB team does not represent me properly as a professional.  I think the CB team is more like the SRC than a union.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on November 10, 2015 6:53 pm

It's time for a change.  The status quo must go!!!!!

Submitted by Sunny days (not verified) on November 10, 2015 7:09 pm
That's right! In fact let's go on strike! Even though WE hasn't thought out the implications of a strike such as public resentment, lack of pay and benefits for our member and their families,, and the uncertainty of political retributions. Is WE going to have a conference with their legal team post strike? Oh yeah, WE doesn't have lawyers but WE does have a robust sense of social justice. Dear WE colleagues you have every right to run. However, running on angry and with NO concrete demands is a CENTRAL concern the rest of US do not support. Respectfully. Sunny days
Submitted by Ismael Jimenez (not verified) on November 10, 2015 8:21 pm

WE has never advocated striking. More CB time bully propaganda

Submitted by Sunny days (not verified) on November 10, 2015 9:16 pm
Wow, so is lying part of your platform? Short memory? RE: 2013 general meeting at Girls High, does it ring a bell? Go ahead, gather on Saturday, things will sort themselves out.
Submitted by Ismael Jimenez (not verified) on November 10, 2015 9:01 pm

Striking is a stupid thing to talk about while our union is so weak and scattered. Another example of misleading CB team propaganda dividing our ranks utilizing fear

Submitted by Sunny days (not verified) on November 10, 2015 10:23 pm
Great use of redirection and evasion, albeit you did not deny nor answer my question such sophisticated use of rhetorical devices... OK, Im done. Go gather on Saturday.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on November 11, 2015 7:53 am

WE has advocated for striking at every general membership meeting.  You need to get your members on the same page.

Submitted by Frankie McCourt (not verified) on November 11, 2015 8:28 pm

If you somebody has mischaraterized your stated position, correct them and reiterate your position.  Calling people bullies and what they write propaganda is not helpful. 

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on November 12, 2015 12:13 pm

Why?  So your people can become the new status quo?

Submitted by Max Rosen-Long (not verified) on November 10, 2015 6:13 pm

If you'd like to learn more about the Caucus of Working Educators, please join us for our Annual Convention this Saturday! It will be a day of skill-building and workshops from education and union experts from across the country. Info is below and online at http://www.workingeducators.org/the_we_convention_on_nov_14th.

The 2nd Annual WE Convention
November 14, 2015 at 9:30am - 3:30pm
Old First Reformed UCC
151 N 4 St
Philadelphia, PA 19106
Lunch, childcare, and parking provided free of charge.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on November 10, 2015 7:34 pm

Can retired teachers join WE?

If so, how?

Thanks.

Submitted by Amy-Nicole Roat (not verified) on November 10, 2015 7:01 pm

Yes, retired members and supporting members (non PFT) are all welcome.  Just go on the website. See comment above yours. Hope to see you on Saturday morning.

Submitted by Eileen Duffey (not verified) on November 10, 2015 7:16 pm

Yes. Here is the link:

http://www.workingeducators.org/joinus

 

And please come to the convention on Saturday.

Submitted by Amy-Nicole Roat (not verified) on November 10, 2015 7:03 pm

Yes, retired members and supporting members (non PFT) are all welcome.  Just go on the website. See comment above yours. Hope to see you on Saturday morning.

Submitted by Sunny days (not verified) on November 10, 2015 7:59 pm
Thank you for revealing the power play you are pursuing. So Non PFT members can join a caucus running to head a union of teachers... Can Bill Green join WE? The smell of desperation will gather this Saturday...
Submitted by Eileen Duffey (not verified) on November 10, 2015 8:08 pm

No need to join the caucus to come on Saturday. We welcome you if you wish to learn more.

Submitted by Frankie McCourt (not verified) on November 11, 2015 8:03 pm

I have read the platform on the WE webpage.  It is virutally identical to the positons of the CB Team.  What might a person learn on Saturday about your positon on the issues that is different from those on the web page?

Submitted by David Hensel (not verified) on November 11, 2015 9:11 pm
You're referring to the original WE platform when the Caucus of Working Educators was formed 18 months ago. That's what is on www.workingeducators.org. The WE 2016 PFT Election platform will be released at the WE Convention on Saturday. When you read it, let me know your thoughts. I would love to hear what you think.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on November 10, 2015 7:30 pm

WE are family...everyone shut up.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on November 10, 2015 8:29 pm

Looks like we have a Dysfunctional family !!!!

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on November 10, 2015 8:33 pm

I have never bee approached by the WE team to talk the faculty and staff that I represent.  Actually I would love them to.

Submitted by Ismael Jimenez (not verified) on November 10, 2015 8:04 pm

I would love to come out and speak with you about WE anytime. Message me at ishx03@yahoo.com

Submitted by WHY??? (not verified) on November 10, 2015 8:27 pm

Jerry Jordan has been a "staffer" for the PFT since the early 1980s.  He was "given" the presidency thanks to Ted Kirsh.  It is time for both Kirsch and Jordan to retire. (Kirsch acts like he is still running the PFT).  There are far too man "staffers" who have not taught in 20 - 30 years.  There needs to be a system where they rotate out after 5 years.  They need to know what it is like to teach under NCLB/RTT.  

Submitted by Ismael Jimenez (not verified) on November 10, 2015 10:32 pm

Exactly...too busy being important and not enough for rank and file

Submitted by Frankie McCourt (not verified) on November 11, 2015 8:29 pm

What you suggest (a rotating term for staffers) may be an excellent idea but it is not part of WE's platform.

Submitted by David Hensel (not verified) on November 11, 2015 9:28 pm
The election platform has not been released. Our staffers have many schools to cover. Whoever is elected in 2016, I would love to see them get more help in the future.
Submitted by Supporter of WE (not verified) on November 12, 2015 2:45 pm
The platform will released this Saturday at the annual convention
Submitted by Dan Fitzsimmons (not verified) on November 10, 2015 9:00 pm

PFT members, this is not the place for having this argument. Us arguing on here only makes us all look bad and shows the city how divided WE has made us recently, and gives our opponents an edge. Let's keep the family business amongst the family, which it should have been in the first place.

Submitted by Linda K. (not verified) on November 10, 2015 9:28 pm

yes to that statement

Linda K.

Submitted by Tiredofthesameoldexcuses (not verified) on November 11, 2015 1:05 am

If the PFT didn't sweep our concerns under the rug every time we try to bring them up maybe we could. However, your post is just like the last time we brought these concerns up and the time before that, etc. When IS the time to have this argument? We're tired of the

PFT reps trying to guilt-trip us into silence every time we bring up valid concerns. They routinely ignore contract violations. Meanwhile, the administration is picking off senior teachers and the PFT knows this is going on, but looks the other way. Either fight or get the hell out of the way. 

Submitted by Education Grad ... on November 10, 2015 11:34 pm
I am a member of WE, although I have not attended any events, so I am not very active. However, what appeals to me is the attempts made to reach out to members and be grassroots. I think that the PFT's leadership has an effective strategy of pursuing litigation. However, I don't think that the union leadership provides enough information to members about some issues. For example, is the union grieving issues like a lack of textbooks? Can they update us on issues like that? Another issue I have is that I cannot contact Health and Welfare via email. This is the 21st Century.
Submitted by Retired(thankfully) (not verified) on November 11, 2015 6:18 am

It's time for this entire Executive Board to go.

Jordan rips down a salary of over $150,000/year, with no Masters degree, and he is out of touch.  Jordan has not taught a class since 1987.

He was anointed as PFT President when his good buddy, Ted Kirsch, stepped down mid-term.  Kirsch's Thank You gift?  Appointed as the BRAND NEW Political & Legislative Liaison.

The price tag?  Nearly $200,000/year.

Remember that Kirsch also is the President of the PA AFT, with another big price tag.  At 76 years of age, Kirsch's pockets must be full by now.

The last real push against the PFT was in 2002, when Nick Perry challenged Kirsch.  Perry was a middle school science teacher at Conwell.

This administration DIDN'T back Coombs, a PFT Teacher, for Philly Council-at-Large.

Not their first snub.  The PFT DIDN'T back another PFT Teacher, Daniel Collins, for PA State Representative, twice (2010 & 2012) against an advocate for Charter Schools.  One of the Boyle brothers.

They DID, however, back Gym who founded a Charter School. Folk Arts Cultural Treasures Charter School.  Her husband, Bret Flaherty is a Board Member.

We have heard time and time again, it's about the Children.

If you ask me, it's about Past Presidents and Founding Fathers!

$$$,$$$, $$$,$$$, and more $$$,$$$

Good luck to the Insurgency.

 

Submitted by Soon to be retired (not verified) on November 11, 2015 7:55 am

Exactly!  The CB is entrenched.  They support staffers over teachers / secretaries.  (Why is one staffer - who ripped off the SDP  - still on staff?  Wasn't Bolden banned from the SDP?) 

Jordan/Kirsch have attempted to silence the rank and file for decades.  The charade is over.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on November 11, 2015 6:17 pm
Don't get me started on Gym. Have no idea why anyone voted for her.
Submitted by Former Building Rep (not verified) on November 11, 2015 8:04 am

I was a building rep within the past 10 years, and worked briefly on a high level committee at the PFT with Jerry Jordan, Ted Kirsch, and others.  In my current building, we have been told that members of WE Caucus can't "reply" to the private emails we receive to inform colleagues about WE Caucus, or use the bulletin board.

To me this is in some part a generational moment.  As many have pointed out, all of the CB Team leadership are eligible for retirement, and have been out of the classroom for many years.  They are as much an entrenched bureauorcracy as 440, and their interests have diverged significantly from the average member.  The cozy atmosphere on Chestnut Street, the expensive dinners after meetings, all point to a political class that is immune to change.   The union is supposed to protect the members who are the most financially vulnerable -- new teachers, NTA's, etc...  But we have abandoned them at every turn in favor of protecting the interests of those nearest to retirement.  When I first started as a building rep, the wouldn't let me use email, and bragged about how they didn't use theirs.  How are they supposed to connect with the younger teachers who need their protection?  At every Building Reps meeting, our staffer would repeat Jerry's name with reverance over and over, telling us about the hard work he does.  She would rail about the disloyalty of the younger generation, but the CB Team has done nothing in the past 15 years to earn it.  

The conversations I had with Jordan and Kirsch really highlighted that point for me.  They use this wonderful catch-22 all the time:  younger members won't even show up for the Chapter Meetings, and the Labor Day Parade, so we can't call a strike or other work actions.  The problem is not the members -- it's the CB team's lack of imagination, leadership, and conviction.  Supply a bit of that, and the members will show up to the Parade.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on November 11, 2015 10:33 am

As a parent watching this from the outside, I see a diaster in the making.  By fighting amongst yourselves, you are giving Hite and the SRC exactly what they want.  A way to destroy the union. 

Submitted by Sunny days (not verified) on November 11, 2015 10:12 am
Dear Sir or Madam you are entirely correct. Nonetheless, the electral process needs to play itself out. I wouldnt worry about Hite, he may be gone sooner than you think. Incidentally, Marge Neff and Bill Green sure have been quiet lately...
Submitted by Charlie McGeehan (not verified) on November 11, 2015 10:21 am

To be up front, I am a member of the Caucus of Working Educators. I find it concerning that a difference of opinion between members of different caucuses within a union is seen as "bickering". There is no reason we should bicker, but we should definitely discuss. Allowing an open and democratic conversation then choice within our union will make us stronger, not weaker.

I don't see anything revealed in this article that is inherently damaging to our union, or that should not be shared publicly. What will make us weaker is shying away from democracy, and trying to push aside dissenting voices.

Submitted by Tiredofthesameoldexcuses (not verified) on November 11, 2015 2:20 pm

Exactly!

Submitted by Ken Flaxman (not verified) on November 11, 2015 5:57 pm

For the life of me I don't understand whats wrong with this article.  There is going to be an election.  The media will cover it.  A discussion/debate/argument among PFT members deciding who should lead us for the next four years is not going to destroy us.  It is not a gift to the SRC (unless one group agreed with everything the SRC is doing, which is not happening). A public debate is not a horrible thing.   WE has a right to push for a quicker opening of the election campaign.....CB has a right to say we are following the by laws.  I do not see a betrayal when one group uses the media to push for what they want.  

Republicans and Democrats have primary elections and somehow survive.  Many other unions have caucus elections and survive.  Democracy in action is a wonderful thing.

Submitted by Eileen Duffey (not verified) on November 12, 2015 11:01 pm

Ken,

I hope you will join us at the convention on Saturday. Your comments suggest you

appreciate democracy in acton. You don't seem to be afraid of being informed. Your presence

will be welcomed. If you show up, please introduce yourself to me. It is nice to put a face to a

name after following a fellow PFT member's comments.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on November 11, 2015 6:56 pm

This article explains what social justice unionism is and why it's beneficial for unions and communities. http://www.alternet.org/activism/meet-network-social-justice-unionism

Submitted by Frankie McCourt (not verified) on November 11, 2015 8:21 pm

I like the energy and the sincerity of the WE causus members I have met thus far.  However, they will not have a slate of candidates until almost Thanksgiving, the platform section of their web page contains little more than platitudes and a desire for more energetic community organizing.  Many of their positions are identical to those fo the CB team.  Do they really believe that the CB team and Jerry Jordan do not think that teacher working conditions are student learning conditions? Jordan has come out in suppprort of minimum wage increases and a fair funding formula for schools.  This leadership team has has been solid.  The school district and PFT is now in position to have more support from the SRC as the Corbett/Nutter appointees terms expire and community organized a sweep of the Supreme Court elections.  The union now has some hard won political capital.  Letting an well intenitoned but woefully inexperienced group attempt to put it to work is far too risky.  

Submitted by David Hensel (not verified) on November 11, 2015 9:14 pm
İ wrote this earlier above but the WE platform you read on our site is the initial one we wrote together when WE formed 18 months ago. The Caucus of Working Educators (WE) 2016 PFT Election platform will be released at the WE convention Saturday. We will also introduce the slate of candidates who will be running for Executive Board positions in the election. I would reserve judgement on these candidates until you see who they are and hopefully learn more about them. We are very excited about the WE Convention. Everyone in the #PhlEd community is invited. Come anytime during the day. It starts at 9:30 at Old First Reformed Church (on 4th between Arch & Race St.). Right after, there will be a "Meet the Slate" happy hour from 3:30-5 at Second Story Brewing (117 Chestnut St., between 2nd & Front St.)
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