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labor Insurgent Slate Wins UFT Retiree Chapter Election

In balloting for leadership of the union’s Retired Teachers chapter, the Retiree Advocate slate received 17,226 votes, or 63 percent of the total, while Unity, which is aligned with UFT President Michael Mulgrew, got 10,114 votes, according to unoffi

In a significant setback to the union’s leadership, former educators with the Retiree Advocate caucus of the United Federation of Teachers have ousted the incumbent Unity slate. 

In balloting for leadership of the union’s Retired Teachers chapter, the Retiree Advocate slate received 17,226 votes, or 63 percent of the total, while Unity, which is aligned with UFT President Michael Mulgrew, got 10,114 votes, according to unofficial results. 

Members of the Retiree Advocate had campaigned in opposition to the city’s efforts to switch retired city workers to a Medicare Advantage plan from their traditional Medicare. The plan is backed by the Municipal Labor Committee, of which Mulgrew is the executive vice-chair. 

The results mark the first time in the chapter’s 40-year history that a slate other than Unity will head the chapter. Bennett Fischer, who was elected chapter leader, explained that the city’s planned switch to Medicare Advantage was “the number one issue” for UFT retirees. 

“We’re teachers, we oppose the privatization of education. We should be equally opposed to the privatization of our great health care system,” he said during a phone interview. “The health care that we’re saving now is the health care of our future retired membe rs.”

He said that he was surprised by the election results. “It looks like we got a lot of Unity voters,” Fisher noted. In the chapter’s election in 2021, Unity won with 70 percent of the vote, with a total of 23,024 votes cast.

“I think it’s a really, really good day for our union. I think we’re going to have a voice that’s responsive to our members and not to the leadership of the Unity caucus,” the educator said.

The American Arbitration Association, which oversaw the contest, is expected to certify the results by Tuesday, according to a union spokesperson. “We wish to congratulate all those who won and thank all those who have served,” the spokesperson said. 

The chapter’s long-time leader, Tom Murphy, has headed the chapter since 2009.

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Fischer, who worked as a teacher for 29 years and retired in 2018, said that the newly elected officers’ main goal is to “bring democracy into the chapter.” 

“Delegate assembly meetings are top-down affairs — they’ve filled the meetings with fluff and left very little time for Q-and-A. We’re going to be making our meetings much more democratic,” he explained. “We’re going to follow Robert's Rules of Order.… [And] we’re going to preserve and protect the institutions we already have,” such as pension benefits, supplemental health benefits and phone banking.

The Retired Teachers chapter, which has 70,000 members, has about 300 seats in the union’s delegate assembly.

Among the other Retiree Advocate candidates elected were Bobby Greenberg, who ran for treasurer, and Jonathan Halabi, who ran for assistant secretary and was a UFT chapter leader for 20 years.

Gloria Brandman, who was elected secretary, said that she’s “still trying to digest” the slate’s overwhelming victory. “We will fight like hell to not allow our health care to be changed,” she said in a phone interview. “We are getting ready to take on this job and we are confident to take on these roles. We have a great team.”

She added that she looks forward to “building and improving our chapter together” with those from Unity.

In addition to the Retired Teachers chapter, elections for chapter leaders, delegates and paraprofessional representatives for each of the city’s public schools, as well as for chapters such as the school counselors and paraprofessional chapters, were held last week.

The Fix Para Pay slate defeated members of the Unity slate for eight positions in the paraprofessional chapter. The group is pushing to boost pay for paraprofessionals, whose top pay is about $45,000 for those with a bachelor’s degree, according to Marie Wausnock, who won in the executive-board-at-large race. They are also seeking increased longevity raises and improved benefits for those injured in the line of duty. 

“The paras have been waiting for this for decades, to have people who will bring results,” she said. “Paraprofessionals’ workloads have gone up, but the salary has not followed.”

Marianne Pizzitola, who has been leading the fight against the city’s Medicare Advantage plan as president of the New York City Organization of Public Service Retirees, lauded the Retiree Advocate members' win. “It is a new day in the UFT,” she said in a statement, “and this sends a message directly to leadership that they are not protecting retirees or keeping their promises made to them when they were in the union before retiring.”

‘More democratic’