Membership since Frontline took over
With the United Teachers of Dade union election just around the corner – February 17th- it is imperative that we take a moment and reflect upon the so-called historic achievements of the ruling Frontline caucus since taking power in 2013. Let us begin with a look at membership numbers. Out of an entire bargaining unit of roughly 30,000 employees we currently stand at about 44.6% union density, and have approximately 14,000 members (11,500 of which are Full-Time employees). Given the right-wing corporate attack on public sector unions these numbers are great reason for concern. Frontline has been unable to retain the droves of frustrated members that continue to drop UTD on a daily basis and has struggled to recruit the thousands of MDCPS employees that simply do not wish to join (or rejoin) the union.
Why people leave UTD or refuse to join or rejoin
What forces employees out of the union or discourages them from joining you might ask? The answer is simple. Since Karen Aronowitz took over the helm of UTD in 2005, we have seen our union adopt an undemocratic and concessionary business unionist model, which prefers making safe backroom deals with MDCPS in order to get crumbs for its members instead of aggressively confronting the District in collective bargaining, taking direct action to address the myriad problems facing our schools, students, and members, and organizing and mobilizing MDCPS employees. Under Frontline’s leadership of UTD this failure to live up to its responsibility of representing its members and looking after their well-being has led to deteriorating working (and living) conditions for all MDCPS employees. Our members complain of the inability to pay their basic living expenses, with many even qualifying for welfare and other government assistance as they struggle to make ends meet.
Despite promising to ‘take on the District and Carvalho’, Frontline has perpetuated this same lame duck attitude and behavior throughout the last 3 years of its misleadership of our union. *It is important to note here that the majority of the Executive Board members under Aronowitz are also members of the Frontline caucus, so electing the Frontline team (Karla Hernandez-Matz, Antonio White, Mindy Grimes, and company) once again on Feb 17, 2016 signifies a business-as-usual attitude and a continuation of the status-quo, or complicity with MDCPS and diminished power for its employees.
Frontline’s record on the issues
An examination of Frontline’s record when it comes to the most pressing issues affecting students, teachers, and public schools in general reveals absolute complicity between UTD and MDCPS in screwing over MDCPS employees and students. And while Frontline leadership will pat itself on the back for the recent ‘Get on the Bus’ rally in Tallahassee, it has done virtually nothing to address issues locally. This sentiment was echoed at the recent UTD Candidates Forum by several opposition candidates who scoffed at the idea of rallying in Tallahassee while simultaneously allowing and assisting MDCPS in bulldozing its employees and students through violations of the Class Size Amendment, stripping teachers of their STEP salary system, and abusing students with unnecessary high-stakes tests. UTD members are tired of Frontline’s lame “blame Tallahassee” excuse and want to see action. Let us now examine its historic achievements over the past 3 years.
FRONTLINE (UTD) MDCPS MAFIA
Bargained away STEPS
For decades MDCPS teachers had a STEP salary schedule that was intended to guarantee a yearly STEP increase. Teachers knew what their future earnings would look like and could, therefore, plan accordingly. This ended when Frontline bargained away our STEP system, falsely claiming that it was forced to due to the new law, SB-736. It’s funny how other school districts like Palm Beach County retained their STEP systems. Worst yet, Frontline has given Carvalho and his MDCPS mafia a free pass to violate the MDCPS/UTD Contract, School Board Policies, State Board Rules, the Florida Constitution, and even federal labor laws in schools throughout the entire district on an almost daily basis.
Failure to defend Class Size Amendment
As students and teachers suffer the effects of excessively and dangerously large class sizes year after year, UTD passively sits back and looks the other way. Again, it claims that it’s a problem with the State and that its hands are tied. However, teachers and their unions in other states like Los Angeles have been able to negotiate for smaller class size averages and/or caps on a district level. It’s obvious that this is thus a matter of inaction on the part of Frontline and that new leadership is needed that will fight to uphold our contract.
No IPEGS appeal process
Additionally, when it comes to teacher evaluations Frontline surrendered to the District without a fight. Frontline settled for a watered down IPEGS review process that ultimately leaves the final evaluation decision solely in the hands of MDCPS, instead of fighting for a strong IPEGS appeal process which was not only winnable but would have established a level playing field in the evaluation process for educators.
Allowing MDCPS to harass and retaliate against its employees
With respect to retaliation against employees, again UTD has done little to assist employees and has given MDCPS free reign to continue its practice of using hostile and vindictive administrators and officials to harass employees. There have been numerous accounts of MDCPS employees being harassed and retaliated against by administrators and district officials simply for standing up for their students and profession. This has resulted in administrators deliberately assigning educators low IPEGS evaluation ratings which threaten their status of employment, and thus livelihoods. Instead of defending its members, the Frontline UTD misleadership has looked the other way or resorted to a broken grievance process that results in punishment for the employee but impunity for the vindictive administrator(s). In other words, Frontline has failed to have the backs of its members when they are under assault and most in need of help.
High-stakes testing and over-testing
When it comes to the very serious issues of high-stakes testing and over-testing, the current UTD leadership has done nothing to alleviate the stress placed upon students and teachers by this testing regime. While Frontline members will say that there is too much testing, they take no action to address this problem. Fedrick Ingram and Karla Hernandez-Matz have even had the audacity to say that they have or will opt their children out of standardized tests, but that they will not assist parents and students in their attempt to do the same. In fact, Fedrick Ingram and Karla Hernandez-Matz had a group of teachers, parents, students, and young workers that proposed to begin a grassroots, county-wide, opt-out campaign removed from the South Florida AFL-CIO Central Labor Council in the summer of 2015. Apparently what is good for their children is not good enough for everyone else.
Lack of substitute coverage & stealing of teacher planning periods
On the issue of the substitute shortage claimed by MDCPS, our union leadership has remained with its arms crossed while administrators fail to provide substitute coverage for absent teachers and instead blatantly steal teachers’ planning periods to have them work as substitutes for their colleagues. Teachers receive no compensation for their lost planning time and feel obligated to comply in order to avoid being accused of insubordination by their administrators and face retaliation. We need a union leadership that will fight to protect planning periods, which are a sacred right of teachers won decades ago.
Lack of transparency in union elections
Lastly, the despicably undemocratic manner in which UTD Council of Building Steward meetings are conducted and the lack of transparency in union elections is the icing on the cake. That is, not only does Frontline not take aggressive action on any of the before mentioned issues that are of enormous concern to teachers but it seeks to squash all type of dissent. Council of Building Steward meetings are supposed to be run directly by the rank-and-file stewards and not by the President, VP, and Secretary-Treasurer as has been the case with Frontline. The reality is that only stewards can sense the pulse of members, and thus should be able to use steward meetings to discuss the issues affecting them in order to collectively develop solutions to their problems.
While all UTD elections should be conducted as democratically as possible to ensure fairness, the past couple of union elections have been marred by allegations of election fraud and overall questionable electoral practices. Frontline has even gone as far as refusing to release and post the school-by-school vote count results, despite this being required by union election rules. If it has nothing to hide, why would it not release this information? There have even been multiple lawsuits filed against UTD by union members as a response to these electoral irregularities. The undemocratic manner in which Frontline conducts the UTD elections in order to ensure victory is very troubling and an embarrassment to union democracy.