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Analysis: Powers-That-Be Triumph in Union Elections in NYC, Chicago and MA

The incumbents' margins of victory were substantial enough to tamp down any notions of policy changes in any of the three teachers unions

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Mike Antonucci’s Union Report appears most Wednesdays; see the full archive.

In February, I examined opposition movements within New York City’s United Federation of Teachers, the Chicago Teachers Union and the Massachusetts Teachers Association and asked the question, “Will 2022 Be the Year When Teachers Union Dissidents Upend the Power Structure and Change Direction from Within?

The results are in, and the answer is clear.

No.

The incumbent caucuses won all three elections. While the margins of victory were not overwhelming, they were substantial enough to tamp down any notions of policy changes from any of the three unions.

UFT President Michael Mulgrew and his Unity slate were re-elected with 66% of the vote. That was Unity’s lowest total in decades, but still a comfortable win. The opposition United for Change coalition captured only seven seats on the union’s 102-member executive board. Turnout was about 25 percent.

We can expect UFT to continue its current practice of influencing policy through its political connections. Unlike other big-city unions, UFT doesn’t seem eager to send teachers into the streets to get its way.

One-third of the vote is sufficient to start building an opposition with a chance of future victory, but it remains to be seen whether United for Change’s diverse interests will hold together long enough to make further gains in the next election.

Stacy Davis Gates and her Caucus of Rank and File Educators retained power in the Chicago Teachers Union with 56% of the vote, avoiding a runoff against either of two opposing caucuses, Members First (27%) and Respect Educate Advocate Lead (17%).

While the campaigns traded accusations of outside interference and financial mismanagement, these didn’t appear to influence voters one way or the other. Only a united opposition with a charismatic leader can win in Chicago, and both were lacking in 2022. The union did not release turnout totals, but the REAL caucus stated that 16,690 votes were cast, which would be roughly a 60% turnout.

We can expect CTU to be heavily involved in next year’s mayoral race, as it seeks to unseat Lori Lightfoot. The current teachers contract runs through 2024, so any labor action will not be directly related to it.

Max Page and the incumbent Educators for a Democratic Union slate fended off two opposition candidates, capturing 62% of the votes cast by delegates to the Massachusetts Teachers Association’s annual convention. Rank-and-file members do not get to vote for officers.

Page and newly elected vice president Deb McCarthy will continue the focus on more radical unionism. “My election is an affirmation of the support to dismantle the high-stakes, racist testing regime,” McCarthy said.

Politically, the union will devote most of its resources to passing the Fair Share Massachusetts ballot initiative in November. The measure would add 4 percentage points to the tax on incomes above $1 million.

“This mighty MTA is the vehicle by which we will change the world,” Page said.

Elsewhere, Greta Callahan was re-elected president of the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers with 82% of the vote. The union went on strike for nearly three weeks in March, the first walkout in 50 years.

Callahan also wants to change the world. “Our fight is against patriarchy, our fight is against capitalism, our fight is for the soul of our city,” she said at a rally during the strike.

If there is a trend in union elections, it is toward more militant leaders. This is self-reinforcing, as such members also tend to be the most active in the union. The downside is that the less militant leave the union or stop participating, leaving behind what might best be termed “union concentrate.”

I suspect this will lead to more strikes, more demonstrations and a broader spectrum of issues about which teachers unions will take action. The paradox is that it will narrow the spectrum of active union members. You can get 95% of teachers to march for higher pay or smaller class sizes. You won’t get a majority to march against capitalism.

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