Other than a scattered mentioning on educational blogs, and a few uninspired national references, the New York State United Teacher’s (NYSUT) April 2014 first contested election in its four decade history did not seem to matter very much. We saw it differently at Cornell’s ILR School. NYSUT is known as a highly efficient, top down, union powerhouse, yet we learned that this election saw school teachers and their local union leaders utilizing their organization’s design and structure for the members’ advantage in a stunning “bottom up” political victory. This surprising outcome is why we decided to research how this occurred and write this report.
Along the way, we met brilliant strategists, courageous political novitiates, remarkable communication specialists, and never-ending tenacity wrapped in purposefulness that ensured school-based leaders their electoral success. In doing so, they joined their insurgent teacher colleagues in Massachusetts, Milwaukee, Chicago, Los Angeles, St. Paul and elsewhere, affirming that school teacher trade unionists can and will respond to the attacks upon them and public education.
The following pages chart why this contested election occurred and how the insurgents proceeded. The information is based primarily upon extensive interviews with rank and file leaders and discussions with former and newly elected leaders. There are also specific references to observations shared by the defeated President, Richard Iannuzzi, who graciously offered his candor in explaining how he saw what was happening to the union and why he acted as he did in the period leading up to his defeat.
This report begins with some brief comments about NYSUT’s history, placement of the election in both a national and New York state context, and an explanation about how NYSUT’s structure had so much to do with the election. The bulk of the writing describes how rank and file forces slowly but molecularly developed into a force able to successfully challenge the president and leadership team of the largest state union in America. Throughout, the detail presented suggests that power wielded by rank and file union members of the teaching profession is the best hope to restore balance to public education in the country. The next few years will tell us whether this “suggestion” is so.