It's been a punishing year for members of the United Federation of Teachers, the city union which represents hundreds of thousands of teachers and paraprofessionals across the public school system.
What You Need To Know
- The union has a lot at stake, everything from reopenings, remote learning, contracts and pay increases will ultimately be decided by the next mayor
- The candidates included City Comptroller Scott Stringer, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, Former Counsel to the Mayor Maya Wiley and former presidential candidate Andrew Yang
- The United Federation of Teachers represents 200,000 educators in the city's public school system
- Last time there was a competitive Democratic primary, the union endorsed then candidate Bill Thompson. After striking out, they had no option but to back Bill de Blasio in the 2013 general election
The pandemic wreaked havoc across schools, shutting classrooms for months and leading to the deaths of teachers. Despite a largely successful reopening effort, challenges remain about how to move forward.
With those issues front and center, the union now is trying to play a major role in selecting the next mayor and they held a forum Wednesday with four handpicked candidates which they consider the most viable ahead of the June primary.
The candidates included City Comptroller Scott Stringer, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, Former Counsel to the Mayor Maya Wiley and former presidential candidate Andrew Yang.
They all sought to impress.
"I would make sure we continue to give our teachers the tools they need," Adams told a small audience of delegates gathered at UFT headquarters.
At one point, Adams who has been supportive of charter school networks in the past was asked to defend his position.
“I’ve been extremely vociferous and about parent choice, but also district schools leaving. I believe in the smaller charter school networks," he said.
Attendants also raised questions about how to deal with the trauma the city's school children and their teachers have endured in the last year as a result of the pandemic.
Stringer said he is endorsing a proposal by the union to provide mental health services in city schools.
“The mayor right now should be figuring out how we go back with the biggest greatest mental health initiative. Psychologists, health professionals, guidance counselors, that's the UFT plan and I will implement using $1 billion in stimulus money," Stringer said.
Currently running in the top spot in the polls, Andrew Yang has been at odds with the union.
He suggested they have been an obstacle in schools reopening. During the forum, he stood by his comments, at times, performing like he didn't care to get the endorsement, all while casting blame on the current mayor.
"I expressed my frustration as a public school parent over the pace of schools reopening and I think that is a sentiment that many parents share," Yang said. "It's been a failure of leadership on the part of the mayor."
For years, the United Federation of Teachers -- which represents 200,000 educators in the city's public school system -- has been trying to get their mayoral endorsements right.
Last time there was a competitive Democratic primary, the union endorsed then candidate Bill Thompson. After striking out, they had no option but to back Bill de Blasio in the 2013 general election.
They picked a set of losing candidates in the 2001 race for mayor as well, backing Alan Hevesi, then Fernando Ferrer, then Mark Green. The eventual winner was Michael Bloomberg.
Whether or not the city’s labor sector has the power to sway an election remains to be seen.
Adams has collected the most support so far, DC37, 32BJ and the Hotel Trades Council are all backing him. Maya Wiley has the support of 1199SEIU and Scott Stringer has the backing of RWDSU, The Trades Union and the Council of School supervisors.
The union has a lot at stake, everything from re-openings, remote learning, contracts and pay increases will ultimately be decided by the next mayor.
UFT President Michael Mulgrew said the union wants to work with the next mayor to improve the state of the city's schools system particularly once the pandemic subsides.
"All I know is you have a workforce in us that knows how to get this done under terrible situations and we want to make sure we have a partner who is going to work with us," Mulgrew said.
Over the next few days delegates will hold a final vote before making the endorsement official.