Michael Mulgrew easily won re-election to the presidency of the United Federation of Teachers yesterday, defeating challenger Julie Cavanaugh, a chapter leader. But the win, capturing 84 percent of those voting, was still somewhat lower than his 2010 election victory, at 91 percent.
You are probably thinking: Yawn. Union elections are typically low-turnout and not particularly newsy affairs. And this one wasn’t even close. Why are you bothering me with this on a Friday?!
The answer to that question takes some explaining of the UFT’s political structure. Here’s the Cliffs Notes version: One of the union’s internal political parties, Unity, has long dominated the union’s decisionmaking positions. Membership in the party is often seen as a prerequisite to rise within the UFT. That factor, coupled with the lack of term limits, has given Unity a lot of power. (Gothamschools and the Hechinger Report recently did a great series outlining how this all works, so you may want to check that out for all the details.)
Opposition “caucuses,” as they’re known in UFT jargon, include New Action (which endorsed Mulgrew for president but a different slate for other positions), and the Movement of Rank-and-File Educators, which backed Cavanaugh. A separate teacher-voice group, Educators 4 Excellence, did not run a slate.
There have always been opposition groups in UFT, but they seem to have gotten more vocal following UFT’s endorsement of mayoral control in 2002 and approval of a contract including performance pay in 2005. MORE, in particular, wants to reduce the stakes given to standardized tests, push the union to issue a moratorium on school closings, and win better contract terms. The group is modeled on a Chicago group out of which rose Chicago Teachers’ Union President Karen Lewis, who recently led a successful strike there last fall.
According to MORE backer Norm Scott, MORE increased its share of the vote in several key categories. So essentially, the results from the election indicate that it may slowly be gaining some more significance.
Whether or not that will have an effect going forward on UFT’s policies, and Unity’s, remains to be seen.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Teacher Beat blog.