Some New York City school teachers are angry that their union, the United Federation of Teachers, is supporting a march next Saturday led by Rev. Al Sharpton, in protest against the death of Eric Garner, writes Zak Koeske of the Staten Island Advance.
"I am humiliated to be affiliated with this union," Heather Gartenberg posted on the UFT's Facebook page. "This is disgusting!"
The UFT represents 200,000 public school teachers and paraprofessionals and is one of the sponsors of the Sharpton rally which is a protest against Garner's death while in police custody. However, some are seeing the march as an "anti-police" event. One union member stated that the members of UFT were not contacted about the union's support of this rally, and added that she only learned of the union's sponsorship by reading about it in a news article.
Many school workers are married to NYC policemen, have policemen in their families, and even more consider the police force abandoned by their fellow city workers if the union supports this effort. However, union president Michael Mulgrew has said, in an interview with the New York Post, that, "Teachers want to help ensure that something like this doesn't happen again".
On Sunday, dissatisfied city teachers called for the resignation of Mulgrew over his decision to support the march, reports Ryan Lavis of Staten Island Live. Mulgrew stood behind the union's participation in the rally.
"I will respectfully listen to my members â¦ but at the same time, the idea that we can't support the police and the community — if that's the paradigm we have, then we should just close up shop now," Mulgrew told the Advance Sunday afternoon, prior to news breaking of the petition demanding his resignation.
Diane Morton-Gattullo, a paraprofessional at PS 29 in Castleton Corners, started the petition calling for Mulgrew's resignation.
In the online petition, she wrote: "Mulgrew is dragging me unwillingly into the current racial and police issues and aligning me with Rev. Sharpton! I am an educator not an activist and I serve the needs of all students! Shame on you Mulgrew!"
Mulgrew maintains that the UFT has a long history of activism concerning students, families and the communities of the city. He says that a transparent investigation into Garner's death is needed and that the march will show the the rest of the country that New York City believes in justice for all.
Even though the UFT Facebook page has more than 600 comments, most of which are against the participation in the march, the union is steadfastly standing by its decision, writes Lavis. And now there is one more entrant into the fray — the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association. President Pat Lynch wrote a letter to Mulgrew which was published in the New York Post.
"Mulgrew knows that UFT is under siege from all sides, and this is purely an attempt to distract attention from the mounting criticism," the letter reads. "How would he like it if police officers lined up with the activists who oppose his efforts to shield bad teachers and undermine effective charter schools?"
Michael Gartland of the New York Post reports that Lynch suggested that Mulgrew was currying favor with politicians and Al Sharpton and not helping the city's union members or the city's 1.1 million school children. Meanwhile, labor insiders are shocked that two of the city's most powerful unions are airing their dirty laundry in public. A fellow union leader expressed his dismay.
"It's just not right," said Bill Pelletier, former VP for the Transit Workers Union. "For the leaders to get involved with this is out of character."
He said such disputes are usually resolved privately at the Central Labor Council.
Mulgrew has been under fire recently for his leadership style. An unsettling rant at a convention in Los Angeles was caught on video, and some in the audience were frightened at the manner in which Mulgrew spoke concerning his advocacy of the Common Core Standards — which included a threat to punch Common Core critics in the face.
"If someone takes something from me, I'm going to grab it right back out of their cold, twisted sick hands and say it is mine!" he threatened. "You do not take what is mine!"