MORE Members of Executive Board Reflect

Three members of MORE have been on the UFT Executive Board since 2022: Ronnie Almonte, Alex Jallot, and Ilona Nanay. StrikeHot sat down with the three of them and discussed what they have learned so far and strategy going forward. 

StrikeHot: What motivated you to run for the Executive Board  and what did you hope to accomplish in your term on the board? 

Alex: The bigger picture is to hopefully enact some sort of change in our union and to pass some resolutions that would benefit the rank and file and push our leadership to do the right things. The way that our union leadership runs right now is frustrating. It's very much top down. But I also wanted to see what the inner workings of our union were like. So being on the board for the past year has definitely opened my eyes to how leadership operates and what their motivations are.

Ronnie: I wanted to run for the Executive Board  because I wanted to work alongside our allies in the opposition movement to amplify the issues that we, as full-time educators, see and have in our workplaces. We didn't have any illusions that we would be able to reform the union from the top down, so to speak. One, we don't have the numbers, but more importantly, top down change isn’t the way that you build rank and file power. That said, I did think that the Executive Board  has a place in the overall strategy of trying to build workplace power.

Ilona: Honestly, I felt compelled to run because, considering the majority of our caucus and workforce identify as female, it was critical that we reflect the diverse identities within our organization. At the time, I also wanted to continue championing social movement unionism within UFT sanctioned spaces to demonstrate an alternative to the business unionism that the UFT has historically advanced. With over a decade teaching history in the Bronx, the glaring disparities in students' learning conditions and staffs’ working conditions were evident. These challenges further emphasized the need for transformative change.

CPE1 Parents at UFT Executive Board
Parent activists mobilized, at the invitation of MORE members in 2017, to pressure the UFT Executive Board to defend teachers at the CPE1 elementary school.

StrikeHot: What do you think is the single most effective thing that the three of you did in your first year in office?

Alex: I think one of the most effective things we did was navigate how to work with our allies, because there’s a spectrum of different political views and motivations. So I think us three did a really good job of building trust with the people that we ran with and building up a coalition. Secondly, I think we did a really good job of holding our leadership accountable. Every meeting, at least one of us would get up and speak, ask questions, and more generally not take what leadership was telling us at face value. There was a palpable effect to that. It was obvious from leadership reaching out to us individually trying to get us to have meetings with them and from the way that they reacted to us, whether it was vitriol or whatever, during the meetings. 

Ilona: While the Delegate Assembly (DA) may provide a broader platform for driving change through resolutions, the Executive Board remains dominated by UNITY. Therefore, our strategy should focus on interest convergence, recognizing that the broader union community might not always be tuned into the intricacies of the Executive Board's dynamics. One of our notable successes was in bringing members directly into the space, allowing them to voice their concerns, thereby fostering consciousness and ensuring officer accountability. However, I firmly believe we need to reassess and balance how much energy, time and resources we invest in this realm of labor organizing. 

Ronnie: It definitely felt like being on the Executive Board this past year was almost kind of like a state of war, like we were always being attacked by the majority of the Unity caucus, or at least their loudest voices. I don't want to say the entire caucus. There's a carrot and a stick strategy on the part of Unity. I'm not sure. But I think what we've been able to do, to echo Alex, is to create cohesion as an opposition throughout this kind of battle. And I'm not sure about this, but I think one impact that we may have made—which is hard to kind to measure—is perhaps creating some tension or division within Unity itself. There have definitely been some Unity members who privately have been kind of open or agreeable to some of the issues that we have brought up, issues that are typically unanimously shut down during an Executive Board meeting. 

StrikeHot: What role has MORE played in your work on the Executive Board ? And how do you think the caucus could play a more effective role in the rest of your term? 

Ronnie: I think the work of the caucus is in general kind of fragmented. People have their passions or interests and they kind of just roll with it with a group of like-minded people. I don't think there was like an overarching strategy that really teased out what our participation in the Executive Board would be. Part of that is because you learn while you're doing it. This is something that's kind of new for us.I think most of what we were able to do was come up with resolutions and proposals along with the rest of the seven opposition Executive Board members. In addition, certain members took up particular fights without much coordination with the rest of the delegation. So even in the Executive Board, our work as MORE was fragmented. 

Alex: As Ronnie was saying, it's our first time doing it.  But, we didn't do any sort of reflection or interrogation of what our work was during the school year on the Executive Board. And I think we needed to do that more. 

I'm thinking about the Executive Board as a piece of the puzzle. And I think we should be clear about what our future goals are. This is a long-term project. What are we trying to do eventually? Are we trying to get officer seats? What does that mean? How do we do that? Part of that is putting our time and effort into getting MORE members elected to chapter leader and delegate positions. That's going to be a crucial piece for MORE over the next year.  

Ronnie: I agree with Alex. The question of “how do we support you?”, we've definitely been asked that question. And it's always been really appreciated. The thing is, though, that kind of support has to be structural, not individual. And it takes more than just showing up to that meeting. I think the best way to support people who are involved in work is by actually having a plan that has been built backwards from a bigger picture of who we are as a caucus and what are our goals, in light of who we are and what we're capable of doing. I don't think we really had that context.

We’re kind of flying solo, without really a sense of direction as to where exactly we're flying to. We can't do everything and our time is limited. So what work can and should we do? And then do we have the capacity to really invest in that? Even if it's a morally righteous thing to do, you know, we need to think more about how we can build, rather than just what we should do at the moment in the general abstract sense.

StrikeHot: What right now do you think are MORE’s big picture goals? Or what should they be? 

Ilona: I had hoped that our participation on EB might push the UFT to embrace a more active model of unionism, focused on rank and file engagement, in order to collaboratively address the pressing disparities in our education system. This included expanding restorative justice, advocating for the removal of police from schools, rallying support for the New York Health Act, promoting transparent and community-centered contract negotiations, and championing a culturally responsive curriculum and reduced class sizes, among other things.

Alex: I think for me, the biggest goal is getting as many people elected to chapter leader and delegates as we can, so that we can pack the delegate assembly. I know that's not going to necessarily transform our union, but I think it'll take us a step in the right direction to do that. Because I think one of the biggest—if not the most successful—campaign that MORE has waged was the last time that we had a campaign to get people elected. The campaign was really successful, and it was very energizing to do that. And then on top of that, electing more delegates and chapter leaders would help to expand the caucus as well. To be in those spaces, the unfortunate truth is you have to be either delegate or chapter leader. Going forward, especially this year, it's going to be critical for us to reach out to rank and file members and to talk to our co-workers. I've already started doing that, talking to people about running for delegates, encouraging them to run for chapter leader. Because we just need people in those spaces. We should be the ones that are helping to drive what our union is doing, because we respond to what rank and file members want. And I think that's part of the reason why I'm in MORE, because it's rooted in what rank and file members want for our union and what's best for our schools and communities and so on and so forth. 

Ronnie: I think the point of our caucus first and foremost is to contend for power in the union. To do that, we need numbers. And to get numbers, we need to build both through identifying activists or leaders who maybe have been unaffiliated or maybe this is their first kind of form of activism, which I think MORE has prioritized. I think we also need to—and I think the MORE has overlooked this—recruit from the already existing rank and file leaders throughout the union. Some of these leaders are in Unity, but many of them are not. So that's to say, we need a kind of program or strategy that is focused on recruiting both new and existing leaders. Now, I think this upcoming chapter leader and delegate election year is going to be really crucial for us. We’ve got to see this campaign as a way to build power. Now often, power is talked about on the left, or among progressive educators, as being top down or bottom up, which I think can be helpful to an extent. But I think there could be a problem there when we counterpose it, too. The thing is, the infrastructure of the union has to be engaged with. So that means contending for power in official union spaces, which are tightly controlled by the leadership. Unfortunately, those are the spaces where we can really interface with the 100,000 plus members of the union.  And so I think what we should be leading with when we recruit people is this idea that we need to be a strike-ready union. We need to be a strike-ready union not because we think that we should strike right now, but because that tactic, a strike, is implicit in what we think we need to reform about the union. A successful strike would mean that the chapters are strong and led by rank and file. 

Strike Hot: What have you guys been able to do together with the other people in the United for Change Coalition? Are there any cases where you maybe haven't been able to work together as effectively? 

Ilona: Working within the coalition presents its own challenges. The varying values and visions within our coalition occasionally led to strategic misalignments, resulting in tensions that, at times, played out publicly in Executive Board meetings. This divergence underscores the importance of coalition-building and ensuring that those we are in coalition with are also champions of social justice and also agree to our Points of Unity. 

Alex: We found a lot of common ground with the other caucuses we’ve worked with.  We're all united in believing that Unity is not doing a good job running our union. We all also came together on certain issues, such as tenure and discontinuance in high school districts. Where I think we had differences sometimes had to do with tactics. We should be strategic about how to confront Unity, and also about what resolutions we’re bringing to the floor. If we do get resolutions passed, what does that mean? How are we going to hold the union accountable, to make sure that these things are carried out? I think there's also some differences in how members of our coalition view our relationship with Unity, in that some of them believe that we shouldn't be working with Unity at all. I take a more pragmatic approach to it:sometimes working with them is going to be necessary especially Janella Hinds around some high school issues. There will be situations where we cross paths with Unity, and we’ll agree with them on certain things. There will also be a lot of things that we won’t agree on. And also there was once or twice where resolutions were brought to the floor by opposition coalition members where they didn't inform Ronnie, Ilona and I beforehand. But do we leave our coalition colleagues hanging out to dry if we're ideologically opposed to some of the things that they bring up? If we're not showing solidarity in the Executive Board, you know, that could also lend to the Unity caucus seeing that and using it to their advantage. That's something that we need to talk about. What are we going to do in those spaces? How are we going to support each other? Can we be  clear in our communications about what we're bringing to the floor, so that none of us are blindsided and we all know what to expect?

Ronnie: In general, we worked really well as a team of seven. There were times when we weren't in alignment, but that is  to be expected. We're in different caucuses. We're individuals with sometimes conflicting ideas about what to do next Maybe one kind of question, which also extends to at least the MORE caucus (if not the whole education left) is who exactly is the enemy and who's an opponent. I see Unity as a political opponent, even if their strategy feels like a personal attack. I do think one of the goals is to push those who wield the power to wield it in a way that's aligned with how we think it should be. And the actual enemy is the boss, because they're the ones who ultimately have the authority to decide funding and the quality of our working conditions. Now, we can say that the union bureaucracy is really weak in fighting back against the boss. And that's enough to consider them a political opponent, but the employer is who we bargain with. And so anyway, sometimes I think that that gets confused. 

I think our best work as a team came toward the end of the school year during the contract shit show. The seven of us did a really good job of acting on our instincts. I understand that fight was also had in the negotiating committee but unfortunately that meeting was secret. It’s hard to really mobilize people around fights that happen in secret, in a space that's hidden. But fortunately, in the Executive Board we were able to make all the arguments to the UFT officialdom about why the contract was a bad one, why we should be going back to the negotiating table, and why ramming through the contract was, at odds with how a democratic union actually arrives at agreements and decisions.

StrikeHot: Alex, you mentioned working with Unity, and with Janella Hinds in particular, on a few issues. Maybe you guys could just talk a little bit about what that was like and what the challenges were in terms of working with Unity. 

Ilona: My tenure on EB has shown me the limited influence our group of seven has on the Executive Board, given the predominant UNITY presence, which often adheres unwaveringly to its party line. This was never more obvious to me than when an overwhelming number of UNITY members, including Janella Hinds, spoke out against a resolution to remove abusive admin. Even in moments where we were able to work with VP Hinds on issues like keeping the Charter Cap, or demanding greater transparency and equity with NYC's Education Budget, it has never been more evident to me that true power resides with rank-and-file engagement. Though there were moments when we could strategically harness the union's resources to back issues and/or campaigns that MORE supported, these were instances of interest convergence, and the real transformative potential lay in grassroots organizing at our worksites. I am constantly reminded of something Jia Lee, a founding MORE member says, that we have to look out for power not up. When are able to organize collectively we are an unstoppable force – we don’t have to wait for union officers or electeds to harness that. 

Alex: I mean, to be quite honest, I don't want to say Unity the enemy, but they are. They have a whole system of patronage, and that's something they have over MORE, the fact that they can literally, materially, dole out jobs, money, and benefits to people who join their caucus. It's extremely apparent, and it's a well-oiled machine. Experiencing it firsthand on the Executive Board, you see how it works. I do have to give them credit. They do their community events. They have a lot of reach in a lot of different schools. And they have members who are committed to their project, who will do anything to make sure that Unity remains in power. It’s extremely taxing because there's just seven of us in a room of 100-plus people at the Executive Board twice a month on a Monday, after a long day of work, getting yelled at, literally. I think each one of us, all seven of us, at some point or another got yelled at by somebody in that space.  Any little critique, any little thing that you say about the work that's being done in the union, Unity members take it extremely personally because they see themselves as the union. So, whenever any of us pointed that out, and whenever any of us said anything that might have been taken as criticism, people immediately jumped down our throats. They said some really nasty stuff, literally shouted people down, accused us of being traitors, andbeing anti-union, just for raising questions or resolutions that needed to be raised. So, in terms of working with Unity as a group, it's impossible. But I think where we did find some common ground was on the high school Executive Board. Janella was amenable to some things, and in the beginning of the school year, she reached out to me personally a few times. But I also see that, as part of their strategy, right? It's the carrot and the stick. I don't think Janella is reaching out to us because she particularly wants to be our friend or really support us; I think it's politically prudent for them to do that sometimes because we are a loud opposition. 

But there are some ways that we can make inroads with a fewUnity members. I mean, there were even some times where I was able to find some common ground with Leroy. He helped us out with some things. And, you know, at the end of the day, I like to think we are in a union, and there are some things in common that we have. 

Ronnie: There have been moments where we've been able to work with Unity, and we've never foregone that opportunity because it's important. The thing about being in the union is that you don't pick who your co-workers are, so you don’t pick who the union members are. It’s not like a voluntary organization. It's work. So that means that we need a degree of patience, and I think friendliness and openness, when we work with people. That bridge has always been open, and we've crossed it a few times to work with Unity. For example, we’ve been able to work with them on a tenure resolution, and on a resolution in support of the teachers from the Dominican Republic who were exploited by DOE principals. We may not like it, but Unity runs the UFT, and it does have members who are not paid staff but actual educators and our co-workers. They control the resources that we can't replicate to access and to potentially mobilize the membership. That's why we're in the union in the first place, because we think this institution is historically important for the working class, and we know we'd be a lot worse off, as New York City educators, if we didn't have one. We can’t make our own, so this is an institution that's worth fighting for.


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