The United Federation of Teachers’ internal election season comes to a close today when a vote count decides who will be the union’s leader for the next three years.
Current President Michael Mulgrew is expected to win another term easily, after garnering 91 percent of the vote three years ago. But more than 90 other positions are also being filled, many with significant decision-making power. The vote also offers an opportunity to gauge dissent within the union at a potentially pivotal moment for education in the city.
The vote count is taking place at a Holiday Inn on 57th Street in Manhattan, where about 70 employees of the American Arbitration Association are processing ballots that have rolled in by mail from UFT members across the country.
The UFT’s elections committee decided that only union members can attend the public vote, according to Jeff Zaino, vice president of AAA, which handles elections for unions across the country. Representatives of each of the union’s internal parties are on hand to observe the process.
But there isn’t actually that much to see, Zaino said. The election workers are opening shrink-wrapped stacks of envelopes carted over from AAA’s headquarters, then pulling ballot sheets out individually to run them through a scanner. At some point, the workers will take a break to consume about $1,000 worth of pizza. Then they will return to scan more ballots.
“It’s like watching paint dry,” Zaino said. “It’s really boring.”
Only a fraction of union members vote in leadership elections, and a significant portion of them are retirees whose votes tend to fall heavily with Unity, Mulgrew’s part, which has never lost a leadership election. Still, by the end of the day, the union will know how big a bite the Movement of Rank-and-File Educators, a minority caucus, has taken out of Unity’s total.
“MORE had two goals in this election campaign: To build a grassroots movement of educators and school-based workers and to replace the current UFT leadership,” the group wrote in a statement released Wednesday night. “Whether or not we succeed in the latter goal, we are confident that we made important strides toward the former. … We have made a bigger splash in this election than we thought possible.”
The group is throwing a “victory party” tonight to celebrate its impact on the election, citing a growing social media following and interest in its campaign literature from schools in all five boroughs. And it has also vowed to maintain a collegial rivalry with Mulgrew and his deputies into the next union administration.
“If we do not win this vote, we will work with the elected UFT leadership when they stand up and fight for educators, students, and parents,” the caucus’s statement said. “We will also continue to challenge the UFT leadership when they don’t.”
A second minority group, New Action, opposes some of Mulgrew’s positions but has endorsed his candidacy.