Candidates spar with words as teachers union election looms
The New Haven Federation of Teachers prepares for its regularly scheduled Dec. 7 elections for its executive board.
Courtesy of Kayla Briere
Dave Cicarella, incumbent president of the New Haven Federation of Teachers, recently unveiled his slate of 24 union members for the executive board of the local teachers union.
The slate includes eight newcomers for the executive board which represents “the diversity of our district,” according to Cicarella. Cicarella’s slate faces a challenge from another slate, dubbed Fighting For Our Future, led by Leslie Blatteau, a teacher at Metropolitan Business Academy. Fighting For Our Future is running on a platform of a more democratic, transparent and reinvigorated union. Cicarella’s slate is running largely on their experience as well as the goal of negotiating a fair and effective contract in the next year.
“David’s very careful always to have very broad representation in any body that he puts together, whether it’s a committee or the executive board, or his slate, so that we have representative representation from every constituency,” Marianne Maloney, current head steward of NHFT, told the News. “He really listens to what we bring to the table, and he’s done a fabulous job for us.”
While Fighting For Our Future and Blatteau echoed some of Maloney’s praise for Cicarella and the incumbent executive board members, Blatteau was critical of the “disconnect” between their members and beliefs.
She also pointed out that while the union had worked to deal with specific day-to-day issues, many teachers did not feel as if they were really part of the union. Her slate hopes to change this with a new set of executive board members.
“We’re running really a purposeful, kind of on-the-ground organized campaign,” Blatteau said. “We hear the concerns of as many members as possible, and we’ve had hundreds of conversations with fellow union members to hear their ideas, their concerns, both about their schools, about what’s going on in our classrooms, and about how their union can better engage with them and serve them.”
Cicarella disagreed with Blatteau’s characterization of the board, arguing that the union is “made up of teachers” whose voices are included, heard and respected during every important deliberation.
He characterized criticisms of the executive board’s communication and transparency as “unfortunately just campaign rhetoric” that was not “really grounded on the facts.”
Another flashpoint between the two campaigns has been the committees within the union which help drive negotiations and policies. Fighting For Our Future, according to Blatteau, wants to increase the number of committees from the current eight to include a labor and staff retention committee.
Blatteau said the proposed labor committee would focus on helping teachers understand the meaning of being part of a union as well as the history of NHFT, while the staff retention committee would strive to decrease staffing turnover throughout the district.
Cicarella pointed out that many of the members of his opposing slate had never answered his annual call to serve on committees, saying it “was hypocritical” for members of the other slate to speak on the subject when they themselves hadn’t served on any.
“I’m not going to chastise our colleagues for not signing up for committees because I understand how busy the life of a teacher is,” Cicarella added. “But it’s a bit hypocritical for them to talk about the committees. They’ve never volunteered for anything… None of them, not one of them has ever volunteered for the committee. And now they’re saying when we get and take over to union, we’re going to revive the committees. Where have you been for the last 15 years?”
Blatteau said that many in her slate were active members within their community, New Haven and their schools, and that several members already serve on the executive board and are stewards at different schools throughout the district. When one member of the slate tried to join the Bylaws Committee, Blatteau said, it was dissolved, and when another attempted to join committees, they were “not welcomed.” Moreover, she argued that through “listening and reflecting on what people have to say,” they are ready to lead and serve in the union.
While committees form one aspect of the disagreements between Cicarella’s slate and Fighting For Our Future, another important distinction Cicarella has made between the two slates was on a more ideological level.
“Our slate is strong, they’re outspoken, but again, not over the top, we’re very different from members of the other slate who are very vocal,” said Cicarella. “I choose not to operate the way my opponents do. I don’t believe in calling people out in public to get a little press or your name in the paper because it very quickly destroys relationships. There’s a time and a place to march and rally, but we try to do that very judiciously, which has been a hallmark of my leadership.”
The New Haven Federation of Teachers will be holding its elections on Dec. 7.
Correction, Nov. 18: A previous version of this article incorrectly named the Fighting For Our Future campaign as the Forward Together campaign. It also incorrectly stated that members of the Fighting For Our Future slate serve on union committees. The News regrets these errors.