ATRs, the unrepresented -- no elected representatives in the UFT

"The right of voting for representatives is the primary right by which other rights are protected.
"To take away this right is to reduce a man to slavery, for slavery consists in being subject to the will of another."
Thomas Paine, First Principles of Government

Sunday, August 4, 2013

The Worst UFT Rep in the World

Philip Nobile, an ATR with attitude, returns to the barricades

with another tale of UFT abuse. Fans of NYCATR may recall
his account of the October 26 ATR meeting in Brooklyn when
Borough Rep Howie Schoor ordered the destruction of Nobile's
contact list, an affront waved off as "miscommunication" by
Staff Director LeRoy Barr. But this time around Nobile not only 
won his battle with the UFT, but got OSI to fire the coup de grâce.


The Worst UFT Rep in the World

Last March, an ATR filed an unprecedented physical and verbal harassment complaint with the Chancellor’s Office of Special Investigations against his District Rep, Tom Bennett, whose unbecoming conduct, including a threat to get President Mulgrew to “beat the shit” out of him, was conceded by the UFT, substantiated by OSI, and led to the loss his of his union job. If only Bennett or Mulgrew had  apologized, this story could not have been written.

By Philip Nobile, ATR

1  The Silence of the District Rep

Brooklyn/S.I. District Rep Tom Bennett was the main attraction at the School for Legal Studies chapter meeting on the final day of school. He was making up for lost time, having pulled out of a previous meeting at the last minute on June 4 without explanation.  About twenty-five members, including some from the two other schools on the Grand Street campus, had gathered in a wood paneled room in the basement.  But once Bennett arrived, he refused to speak. Something weird was going on.

Legal’s Chapter Leader Sharon Kleinfeld was part of the act. Her unexpected announcement gave the game away: the meeting was now closed to all except Legal people and the rest had to scram. Thus a handful of folks who wanted only to hear from their infrequent union visitor whose salary, double pension, and perks are paid with their dues were cast out like undocumented aliens. One of the teachers who did not belong to Legal ignored Kleinfeld’s apartheid protocol and stayed seated, cool but immovable.

The proceedings began with a muddled proposal about an SBO vote regarding next year’s starting time. The issue had zero interest for Kleinfeld because she was recently re-assigned for incompetence and awaits a hearing.  Unable to answer questions from the floor, she turned to Bennett for help. No luck. Lounging on a chair against a far wall, he said without emotion, “I am only here to speak to staff. I won’t speak while there’s an intruder here.” 

2  The ATR Complains to Mulgrew and thence OSI

This was Bennett’s first appearance in the building since last February 26 when he went gangsta at a Legal chapter meeting by attacking an ATR who had provoked him during the Q & A. As he was escorted out of the room, he shouting back at the ATR,  I’m gonna get Mulgrew to come down here and he'll beat the shit out of you." That same ATR happened to be the “intruder,” the real reason for Bennett’s impromptu stage fright.

Naturally, the ATR protested. His next day e-mail to President Mulgrew recounted the dirty details of the incident:

Dear President Mulgrew et al.:

I am writing to complain about the obscene, menacing tirade that your Brooklyn District Rep Tom Bennett went on during yesterday's UFT meeting at the School for Legal Studies in Brooklyn. You will be interested to know that he dragged you into the melee by yelling at the climax of his shocking meltdown: "... and I'm gonna get Mulgrew to come down here and he'll beat the shit out of you." Prior to this ejaculation, he walked up to me, stuck his face in mine, and said: "You're a liar, your whole life is a lie," and riffing on his previous abuse at the October 26 ATR meeting in the Brooklyn Borough Office when he call me "a piece of shit," he added this time, seething through bared teeth, "You're a fucking pile of manure."

Tom's freakout can be traced to the Q & A when I asked him if he would apologize for his scatology at the ATR meeting. Proudly unrepentant, he refused saying, "You can put that on your blog." Later, I asked him if his calling Lincoln High School Principal Ari Hoogenboom "a son of a bitch" was also on the record and could I quote him on that, too. Suddenly, the tiger morphed into a mouse.

"In the spirit of fellowship," he said with an imploring look.

"In the spirit of fellowship?" I replied. "And you won't apologize for calling me a piece of shit?"

"I apologize," he said meekly.

"And for saying that I lied about the Cobble Hill Regents case?" He made this comment at the October meeting.

"I didn't say you lied," he backtracked.

Unimpressed by his shotgun contrition, I said, "You're a coward and a phony. You only apologized under pressure." At this point I leaned on a table to make notes on my legal pad. Tom was on the other side of the table. He pushed it into my groin and lunged for my pad. I was able to escape his grasp. I went to another table to make notes. He followed me in a frenzy and lunged for the pad, once more unsuccessfully. Fearing that Tom would start punching me, some of the teachers stepped between us and escorted him out of the room. Except for a torn fingernail, I was not hurt, though I did file a harassment complaint with the 90th Precinct.

If I were a student and Tom a teacher, he would be guilty of verbal abuse and corporal punishment, and reassigned on the spot. You must treat his conduct just as seriously. Tom is a loose cannon and should be suspended if not fired from his union job. What principal or teacher could respect a UFT rep of such foul mouth and low character? Further, what UFT President could tolerate a District Rep who threatens a member with a beatdown from the President himself?

I hope to hear from you soon. Thanks for your consideration.

Mulgrew blew off the ATR. But on March 22, UFT Staff Director LeRoy Barr, the UFT’s cleaner, sent letter by certified mail to the ATR. Minus an apology, Barr conceded the charges:

I am writing in response to your emails to UFT President Michael Mulgrew concerning Tom Bennett. Brooklyn Borough Representative Howie Schoor has conducted an investigation and taken appropriate action with respect to Mr. Bennett’s conduct. …

As a last resort, and in the absence of a sorry from Mulgrew or Bennett, the aggrieved ATR filed a complaint with OSI. As much as he distrusted the DOE’s cops, he felt that Bennett’s thuggery required maximum, transparent accountability. A teacher cannot be free to Bogart another in the workplace with threats of violence. (In 2012-2013, Bennett taught one period of Social Studies at Staten Island Tech, where he was chapter leader.) 

3  OSI Investigates

OSI Deputy Director Chris Dalton opened a second inquiry  (Case #02687), starting with the accuser who filled in the backstory. Originally, Bennett’s rage slipped out at the October ATR meeting in the borough office when Bennett called him “a piece of shit” in a private conversation. “He was smarting from my Ed Notes piece on Mulgrew’s handling of the Post’s execrable sex exposé re his alleged, long ago, after-hour liaison with a guidance counselor at Grady High School,” says the ATR. “Not enough for Bennett that I pardoned our president in the opening paragraph”:  

If the worst one could say about Michael Mulgrew is that once upon a time at Grady High School he fulfilled the adulterous fantasy of many teachers, then I’m not throwing the first stone. The boys of the Unity Caucus are famous for having a good time. Whether Mulgrew and Emma Camacho-Mendez did the lust and thrust in his shop several years ago is relatively small potatoes, even if there were evidence. But I would have preferred faster and more furious denial.

No matter this Gallic defense, Bennett blamed the ATR for prolonging the sex story and said that his UFT colleagues hated him for it.

Next, Deputy Dalton interviewed two Social Studies teachers who witnessed Bennett’s freakout. The pair confirmed  everything in the complaint. Substantiation, especially in wake of Schoor’s stab in the back, was a sure thing. OSI’s confidential report, now under FOIL review, is bound to be interesting. Sometimes OSI puts an exclamation point on its findings by referring them to a committee of hangmen in the Administrative Trials Unit, leading to a 3020-a. Other times the discipline is thrown back to the principal or superintendent who, may place a letter of reprimand in one’s file. Where did Bennett come out—a termination trial or a slap on the wrist?  The DOE’s FOIL office has promised to respond to the ATR’s request by August 21.   

4  Back to the “Intruder”

You could almost feel Bennett’s pain when he spotted the intruder … unless you factor in his toplofty, no solidarity  refusal to apologize. That is why the ATR showed up at Legal on February 26-- to afford Bennett the chance to take back his October insult. “What recourse does a member have when a District Rep calls him ‘a piece of shit’?” he asked with all due delicacy during the Q & A session.  A few verbal pokes later, the highly inflammable  DR would explode, invoking the fists of Mulgrew.  

Persisting on the chrysanthemum path, the ATR apprised  Bennett that he would attend Legal’s June 4 meeting, thus giving him time to whip up an overdue statement of contrition. No such luck. As noted, Bennett bailed instead.  

The ATR was serving out the end day of the school year at El Puente Academy in Williamsburg when his Deep Throat at Legal called with a newsbreak: Bennett was on for a noon chapter meeting. Two stops on the G and two more on the L and the ATR was there. Bennett was already standing in the foyer when he arrived. While waiting for security to prepare a visitor sticker, the ATR said hello. Bennett did not look up from his phone.

Fearing a repeat of the February blow-up, Kleinfeld was not pleased to see the ATR. She tried unsuccessfully to lure him out of the meeting room and lock the door behind him. Instead he dodged the trap and returned to his seat, chatting up his tablemates, predicting an effort to disappear him. Plan A was Kleinfeld’s improvised Legal-only rule. Plan B was the “intruder” gambit devised by Bennett and carried out by school security summoned to the scene. But not so fast.

The ATR resisted the guard who ordered him to leave. “On what authority, who told you to remove me?” he inquired. The security guard did not answer, hesitating to proceed as the commotion grew. A frustrated teacher approached the ATR and said he could stay as long as he “shut up.” But such was not to be. A second agent, a female Sergeant, appeared and made it clear that the ATR must exit first and ask questions later. The members cheered their aggrieved brother’s ejection, assuming that he was the problem rather than Stonewall Bennett.

On the way out, the amicable agents commiserated with the compliant ATR.  They were only doing their jobs. The male agent said that Bennett had designated him an “intruder,” which is serious business in security-speak. But when the agent spied the visitor sticker, he realized that he had been misled. Nevertheless, the Sergeant reasoned that Kleinfeld, as chapter leader, presumably had the right to restrict her meeting to her members. End of argument.

5  The Worst Former UFT Rep in the World

Neither Barr at 52 Broadway nor Schoor in the Brooklyn office would reveal Bennett’s UFT status. But a rep who prefers anonymity confirmed that his office mate was history. Whether Bennett’s inglorious departure was forced or voluntary remains unknown. But if you phone the Brooklyn office and ask what happened to him, you be told that he left of his own accord. (Right, and Mulgrew thinks that the new teacher evaluation agreement was a victory for teachers.)

Philip Nobile, a former staff writer for Esquire, New York and the Village Voice began teaching in 2001 at the Cobble Hill School of American Studies in Brooklyn. He spent three years in the Chapel St. rubber room (2007-2010) and the last two years as an ATR. Nobile is the ATR in his story.  

Act I of the Worst UFT Rep saga

October 26, 2012

UFT Borough Rep Howie Schoor Thwarted in Attempt to Swipe Nobile ATR Email List

I have criticized the UFT for its anti-democratic tendencies and contempt for free speech. Shameful examples: the censorship of NEW YORK TEACHER and EDWIZE, the strangulation of the Executive Committee's open mike, the Bolshevik regulation of the Delegates Assembly, and the refusal to grant ATRs the same level of representation as rubber roomers of yesteryear.

But at your ATR meeting last night you and the union reached a new low when you and your representatives tried to sabotage my attempt to organize ATRs. Since you have refused to share the sign-up list with us, I started one of our own. I passed around a pad to gain signatures and contact information. While I was focused on Amy's spirited presentation from the front row, one of the ATRs in the rear, probably thinking that the list belonged to the UFT, handed it to Ellen Driesen who was walking the microphone around the room during the Q & A. Driesen knew purpose and the provenance of the list since she saw me bring it to the back rows.

A teacher named Vincent DeSiano kept his eye on the Dreisen. He told me that she delivered the pad to you while you were was standing off to the side at the front of the room flanked by some reps including John Capuano, a new special rep but apparently apprenticed in the union's dark arts. Capuano retired from the conference room and proceeded to trash the list out of sight in the corridor. He ripped off and crumpled the the top sheet. Before he could swallow the evidence, DeSiano intervened, retrieved the sheet and the pad, and brought it to me.

I immediately confronted Capuano in the corridor. He declined to state his last name or position, which I learned later from another rep. Not yet apprised of your hand-off to Capuano, I complained to you. You said you would look into the situation, but I sensed no indignation. When I learned of your role, I confronted you. "I know nothing about it," you said, none too convincingly.

I demand a written apology and full explanation from you, Dreisen, and Capuano regarding your dirty trick, a squalid attempt to prevent ATRs from organizing. Bad enough that the UFT denies good standing ATRs the same level of representation once afforded to bad standing rubber roomers of the past.


Gotham Schools, March 4, 2013

UFT grapples with change while staying a political powerhouse

Comments, Philip nobile
I pray your series will report on dissidents within the UFT who lean toward abominating Mulgrew and his Unity crew as much as the Mayor's DOE. If Mulgrew had not shamefully betrayed Thompson by speaking against a DA resolution endorsing our Dewey Award winner v. Bloomberg, teacher troubles might be far less today. Free speech is almost impossible in official UFT venues because its anti-Jeffersonian leadership censors its newspaper,
website, the Executive Committee's misnamed "open mike," and the show DAs. Dissent is outlaw. Just last week one of Mulgrew's boys. Brooklyn District Rep. Tom Bennett, went nuts at a School for Legal Studies chapter meeting and verbally abused an anti-Unity ATR, calling me a "f-----g pile of manure" and saying, "I'm gonna get Mulgrew to come down here and
he'll beat the s--t out of you."
Will Mulgrew discipline this vulgarian? I asked. Still waiting for an answer.