Iannuzzi Out As NYSUT President

The longtime president of the statewide teachers union was ousted this weekend by delegates at the union’s Representative Assembly.

Richard Iannuzzi, who had been president of the New York State United Teachers union since 2005, lost to a slate led by Westchester County leader Karen Magee, backed by the United Federation of Teachers.

Magee is the third president in NYSUT’s 42-year history, and the first woman to hold the post.

“Our team stands for change and our work begins now,” Magee said in a statement.

“That includes taking on the tough fights and communicating clearly with decision makers at every level. We will be the voice they cannot ignore. We will defend public education and public service. Period.”

In the weeks ahead, Magee said she she and her team of officers will travel the state to call on “each and every member to BE the union, as we unite for change.”

In addition to Magee, delegates re-elected Andy Pallotta as executive vice president and approved two new vice presidents: UFT vice president Catalina Fortino and Paul Fortino, a special education teacher in Patchogue-Medford and president of the Patchogue-Medford Congress of Teachers.

Iannuzzi was only the second president in the union’s history, and the contested vote to oust him was a rarity in NYSUT’s history.

But Iannuzzi faced criticism for not aggressively pushing back against Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s policies, especially a 2013 teacher evaluation law.

Delegates at the 600,000-member union’s New York City confab on Saturday had supported an Iannuzzi-backed measure that declared a vote of no-confidence in state Education Commissioner John King and called on him to resign.

Nevertheless, the move had little impact on the final vote count.

The vote also comes as a number of high-profile education issues come to a head this year in Albany, including withering criticism of the state’s rollout of the Common Core assessments.

Magee will take over the union as Cuomo seeks to make changes to the teacher evaluation law after the state budget delayed aspects of the Common Core standards for student assessment.

Cuomo had previously warned against altering the law, but last week indicated he would make changing it a priority in the post-budget session.

It also remains to be seen what impact the union’s change in leadership will have for Cuomo’s political calculus this year.

NYSUT and other public-sector labor organizations have been deeply unhappy with Cuomo’s fiscal agenda this year, and the union-backed Working Families Party has gone as far as to suggest it could endorse someone else for governor this fall.

Klein And Labor Flex Muscles On Pre-K

From the morning memo:

It was a quick “no” uttered by Senate Republican Leader Dean Skelos on Monday that launched a thousand press releases as de Blasio himself was wrapping up his first State of the City address that included an impassioned push for the tax plan.

What Skelos did was confirm the obvious, and something that he has sort of said only a few weeks earlier: He is against a vote on the Senate floor for a bill that would allow New York City to raise its income taxes in order to pay for universal pre-Kindergarten.

This time, affirming his opposition to the measure ignited something of a wave among Democrat officials and labor unions who saw a chance to remind opponents and observers of their growing power, especially on this issue.

The comment that raised the most eyebrows was Independent Democratic Conference Leader Jeff Klein, Skelos’ governing partner in the Senate, who declared he would not approve a budget that “fails to realize the vision Mayor de Blasio and I share” of universal pre-K.

More interestingly, Klein also took a direct shot at Senate Republicans, reminding them he was the reason why they retain power in the chamber in the first place.

“Senate Republicans comprise a minority in this chamber–they want more support for business tax cuts and we want more support for our kids,” Klein said. “Only by working together can we achieve a balance that works for everyone.”

It’s a striking comment, if only because Klein has never really defined the majority coalition in those terms before.

Aside from Klein trying to create some agitation over the passage of the state budget — it’s a hallmark for Gov. Andrew Cuomo that budgets are passed on-time over the last three years — the Skelos comment was also a chance for the New York City-based labor organizations backing the universal pre-K proposal to flex their muscles.

City labor organizations did little to hurt Senate Republicans in key battleground races, especially in Brooklyn where Sen. Marty Golden was victorious despite a strong Democratic challenger.

This time around, unions suggested they won’t sit on their hands.

“We will be bringing hundreds of our members to Albany to express directly to our state legislators that this is one of our highest priorities, and we will remember in the Fall elections who took a stand for working families,” said Kevin Finnegan, the political director of 1199 SEIU United Healthcare Workers East.

A few observers reminded me on Monday that Skelos does have a face-saving opportunity with granting the tax hike OK for New York City. While some legislators may face heat for backing a tax hike, they note the state budget contains $2.2 billion in tax breaks, including a plan that would offer a two-year property tax rebate, which Gov. Andrew Cuomo has said amounts to a “freeze” on increases — a proposal that could be a key exchange for the city’s tax hike.

That all being said, this may just be all moot. Cuomo has shown little willingness to back the de Blasio plan, going as far as inserting his own statewide version of universal pre-Kindergarten that would be funded out of the existing budget.

Last month, Cuomo and de Blasio both made a big point of showing how great friends they were, and how the policy debate over pre-K is one that will largely be resolved, somehow.

CSEA’s Donohue: Union Unlikely To Endorse Cuomo

Public employee union leaders on Wednesday blasted Gov. Andrew Cuomo and his plan to close various facilities including prisons, psychiatric care facilities and disability centers.

One of the harshest critiques came from Civil Service Employees Association President Danny Donohue, who called Cuomo a “moron” and a “monkey” for his economic policies and planned facilities closures.

In an interview, Donohue said the labor organizations that represent public workers are frustrated with the Cuomo administration.

“Very honestly we’re fed up,” he said. “We’re fed up with being the whipping boy for the governor.”

CSEA did not endorse Cuomo during his 2010 campaign for governor.

The leadership of the Public Employees Federation did, thinking that a looming contract negotiation would go smoother with Cuomo, a move that turned out to be a miscalculation on their part.

Donohue wouldn’t ruled out, but said it was unlikely to grant an endorsement of Cuomo this year, either.

“CSEA did not endorse him last time and very honestly we’d be hard pressed to endorse him this year,” he said.

The rally, which also featured the union that represents correction officers as well as the American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten, was held to publicly oppose the plan to downsize state human services facilities.

Cuomo’s office has pointed to the need to downsize the facilities, given the increase number of empty beds and better allocation of resources.

Cuomo is also backing a plan that would transfer the developmentally disabled from institutional settings into community-based group homes and residential centers run by non-profit organizations.

“We’re getting tough with the governor because we want the Legislature to stand up and call him on these things,” Donohue said, adding, “He’s attacked public employees from the day he took office. What’s nightmarish is he forgets he is one. New York is open for business, but for some people.”

In addition to money-saving contracts, Cuomo also successfully created a new, less generous pension tier in 2012, a move that was staunchly opposed by public-employee groups.

Cuomo’s support among labor households, however, remains strong, according to a Siena College survey.

Las Vegas Union Doubles Down To Keep New York’s MMA Ban

Hours before UFC officials and fighters were scheduled to hold an event at the state Capitol to re-ignite their push to lift the ban on their sport in New York, opponents of that effort beat them to the punch with an email and graphic video that depicted ultimate fighting as both violent and anti-woman and linked it to the spate of sexual harassment scandals that hit the Legislature last year.

“After a year of men behaving badly in Albany, do our lawmakers really want to send a message to parents and communities in New York that we are going to allow a viciously violent sport into the Empire State? Do we really want a sport whose biggest stars have exhibited disgustingly inappropriate behavior towards women and flagrantly used performance-enhancing drugs?” the email asked.

The email included a link to a YouTube video of UFC fighter Anderson Silva breaking his leg in a title fight last year.

It also notes that women’s rights activists have tried without success to get UFC fighter Quinton “Rampage” Jackson suspended for his degrading behavior toward women – including a mock rape video he posted on-line and several incidents in which he behaved inappropriately toward female reporters while they were trying to interview him.

In addition, the email highlights the decision earlier this month by UFC/MMA champion Georges St-Pierre to take an indefinite leave as Ultimate Fighting Championship welterweight champion due to the sport’s lack of uniform drug testing for mixed martial arts fighters – a policy that he said “bothered me greatly.”

The email was unsigned but it was sent by Metropolitan Public Strategies, which is the consulting firm founded by Neal Kwatra – a former top aide to AG Eric Schneiderman. Kwatra also happens to be the former political director of the New York Hotel Trades Council, an influential union with deep ties in the Democrat-controlled Assembly, where opposition to lifting the MMA ban has prevented the bill from moving forward.

I contacted Kwatra this morning, and he said HTC is not the client he’s representing in this instance. Instead, the interested party is Culinary Local 226 – a local union in Las Vegas that has a long running fight with the majority owners of UFC – Frank Fertitta III and Lorenzo Fertitta – because they happen to also own the Las Vegas-based Station Casinos, which aren’t unionized.

This local Vegas battle has been playing out here in New York for several years, and the MMA bill has been the casualty of that fight.

MMA supporters were hopeful of seeing the legislation move that year – especially since one of its most outspoken opponents, former Assemblyman Bob Reilly, was no longer in office. The UFC said lifting the ban, which has been in place since 1997, would generate some $135 million worth of revenue for the state, and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver indicated that it seemed inevitable that MMA would eventually be legal in New York – just like it is now in 49 other states.

But then the sexual harassment scandals started cropping up in the Assembly, increasing the power of the female members of the Democratic conference – including several key lawmakers who are deeply opposed to ultimate fighting.

Now the UFC officials are back in Albany to re-start their campaign to see their sport legalized. They had an event today with fighters, supporters and the bill sponsors – Assembly Majority Leader Joe Morelle and Sen. Joe Griffo. They noted that a poll conducted last fall by the Global Strategies Group and commissioned by UFC found support for legalizing MMA in New York is 45-28 percent, and support among those under 45 years old stands at 61-20 percent. When told that MMA is legal in the other 49 states, support among New Yorkers for legalizing it here jumps to 55-32 percent.

“Legal in 49 states. Increases tourism and helps create jobs in the state. Supported by a majority of New Yorkers. Those are the reasons the Governor and Assembly should jump on the bandwagon and finally pass the bill,” siad Ike Lawrence Epstein, senior executive vice president and COO of UFC. “And there’s not a single legitimate reason to keep New York as an outlier in the country and in the world.”

Mulgrew ‘Absolutely’ Not Interested In Taking Over NYSUT

UFT President Mike Mulgrew is pushing back against allegations by supporters of NYSUT President Dick Iannuzzi that he is backing a challenge to Iannuzzi’s leadership team because he wants to control the statewide teacher’s union himself.

“Absolutely not,” Mulgrew told me during a brief telephone interview this afternoon as he was en route to Albany for a series of NYSUT board meetings. “We love being members of NYSUT. We love to support the work of NYSUT, but all of us working together makes a stronger state union.”

“…We are a democratic union, and every three years there’s an election,” Mulgrew continued. “People have differences of opinion. The current leadership can make its own decisions. They can run or they can decide to step aside. It’s up to them. Clearly, there are people here – locals from all across the state – saying that we need a change. I thank the current officers for their service, but it’s time for a change.”

Mulgrew insisted he and the UFT waited as long as it could before wading into this fight, which was brought to his attention when a group of disgruntled NYSUT members from across the state came to him and suggested it was time for a leadership change. Mulgrew said he did not instigate the change, even though NYSUT’s executive vice president, Andy Pollatta, is a candidate on the insurgent slate.

(Traditionally, UFT gets two members on the NYSUT leadership team – of which Pallotta is one – while the unions outside NYC get the other two and the president is selected by consensus).

I asked Mulgrew if this fight is really about Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Iannuzzi’s clearly stated desire for NYSUT not to repeat its 2010 non-endorsement.

“The union gets together and makes its decision; no one person has the power to make a decision about who we endorse or don’t endorse,” Mulgrew responded. “Clearly we have issues with a lot of the educational policies, but right now what we’re focused on is the budget and getting more money into schools across the state. We need to do everything in our power to avoid drastic cuts that force people to lose their jobs and children into large class sizes.”

Cuomo this week proposed a 3.8 percent increase in state education aid, but schools – particularly those upstate – say that’s not enough to make up for deep cuts made in previous years and will still result in spending cuts at the local level.

NYSUT President: VP Authorized Cuomo Contribution

NYSUT President Dick Iannuzzi is accusing the union’s vice president of authorizing a $10,000 donation to Gov. Andrew Cuomo last month and his changing political contribution rules as a result.

The contribution was surprising when it was first discovered in Cuomo’s campaign filing this month, given that it was the first donation the union’s PAC had given to the governor since 2009 and that the relationship has been rocky at best.

At the time, NYSUT spokesman Carl Korn declined to “categorize the reasons behind it.”

In a message posted on his supporters’ website today, Iannuzzi writes that Vice President Andy Pallotta purchased a $10,000 table at Cuomo’s birthday fundraiser, but was only directed to purchase three tickets.

“When the request came for a fundraiser for Governor Cuomo, I directed (NYSUT Executive Vice President) Andy Pallotta’s staff to purchase me a ticket to the event and suggested that Andy and UFT President Michael Mulgrew also attend,” Iannuzzi wrote. “Upon my arrival, I learned that Andy had unilaterally authorized (NYSUT’s political action committee) to purchase a $10,000 table for 10—highly unusual given the sentiments of our members statewide.”

Iannuzzi added that as a result, contributions over $5,000 now require the approval of VOTE-COPE’s members.

As Liz noted earlier, there is an internal battle between the statewide teachers union and their New York City counterparts, the United Federation of Teachers.

The full note from Iannuzzi is after the jump. More >

UFT Sides With Insurgents In NYSUT Power Struggle (Updated)

A significant rift has developed between UFT President Mike Mulgrew and NYSUT President Dick Iannuzzi, with the downstate teachers union honcho backing a slate of challengers against his statewide counterpart’s leadership team.

Mulgrew announced his support yesterday on the website of “REVIVE NYSUT” – the insurgent arm of the statewide teachers’ union that is challenging Iannuzzi and his allies in a fight for the NYSUT leadership. The opposition slate includes Andy Pallotta, NYSUT’s current executive vice president and a Mulgrew ally.

“We support the REVIVE NYSUT Unity slate,” Mulgrew wrote. “We have heard the voices from locals across the state and agree with their call for change.”

UPDATE: Pallotta is the REVIVE member who is drawing the most attention, due, I believe, to his Bronx roots and his alliance with Mulgrew. But he is seeking re-election to his current post. The presidential candidate challenging Iannuzzi is Karen McGee, a NYSUT Board member and president of the Harrison Association of Teachers in Westchester County.

Pallotta et al also has the support of NYSUT’s former executive vice president, Alan Lubin, who wrote on the REVIVE website:

“Four incumbents say ‘Now is not the time to change leadership.’ That’s an argument used in Union elections since the beginning of time. (Including by me, in the past!). We are past that argument now. The REVIVE NYSUT leaders argue for new approaches, new coalitions, and improved outreach and much more involvement and input from locals across the state to bring NYSUT to a higher level.”

NYSUT’s internal power struggle has been the talk of education blogs for several weeks now, but so far has failed to break through into the mainstream media. The fight recently surfaced when state Education Commissioner John King suggested during a CapTon interview that Iannuzzi’s motive for advancing a “no confidence” vote against the commissioner might be more about problems within his own house and less about unhappiness with the Board of Regents’ implementation of the controversial Common Core curriculum.

Common Core – or, more specifically, its impact on the controversial teacher performance evaluation process (which, by the way, both NYSUT and the UFT signed off on) – is indeed a source of consternation among NYSUT members, especially on Long Island, where opponents have been particularly vocal. This is one of the prime examples offered by the anti-Iannuzzi faction about why the current leadership team needs to go.

But there’s also chatter that what this is really all about is an effort by the UFT to wrest control of its parent union once and for all. This theory is primarily being pushed by the pro-Iannuzzi faction, which thinks Mulgrew, who has a close relationship with Gov. Andrew Cuomo, is particularly miffed that Iannuzzi is apparently unwilling to even entertain the possibility of endorsing the governor for re-election this fall.

(Recall that NYSUT remained neutral in the 2010 governor’s race, as did several other unions. Cuomo hasn’t done much since he took office to improve his relationship with much of the labor community. If anything, that relationship has deteriorated, thanks to the passage of Tier 6 and the 2 percent property tax cap, as well as several contentious contract negotiations with public employee unions).

This is the final year of Iannuzzi’s three-year term. Technically speaking, the NYSUT elections take place in April, and since the UFT controls some 40 percent of the vote, the outcome is going to be close.

But the union is holding a board meeting tonight and tomorrow in Albany at which the topic of trying to avoid the coming bloodbath will no doubt be broached. I did reach Iannuzzi this afternoon, and asked if he would consider stepping aside to avoid a fight – epsecially given the fact that this is an important election year in which the union I’m sure wants to play a big role.

“I will be in this until the end,” Iannuzzi replied. “I’ve been part of NYSUT for 40-plus years, and I know what NYSUT is. It’s an organization that has a really delicate balance between New York City and the rest of the state. It won’t be NYSUT if this crowd takes over.”

Neither Pallotta nor Mulgrew has yet returned a call seeking comment.

Also this weekend, a group of some 50 NYSUT local leaders from around the state – basically, everywhere EXCEPT New York City – will be meeting separately at an Albany hotel to discuss their support of Iannuzzi, but also their vision for the future of the union and what it should look like going forward. This group of Iannuzzi backers also has a wesbite:

King To Iannuzzi: Your Issue Is With Cuomo & Legislature, Not Me

In an interview that will air on Capital Tonight this evening, state Education Commissioner John King shrugged off the news that NYSUT President Dick Iannuzzi plans to ask his Board of Directors for a no confidence vote on King’s leadership, saying that in his opinion, the teachers union’s real beef appears to be with Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the Legislature.

King argued that what NYUST is really after is a renegotiation of the teacher performance evaluation deal struck in 2012, and not a delay of the implementation of the Common Core curriculum.

“I understand Mr. Iannuzzi is under a lot of internal pressure; I understand that may lead to attacking me,” King told me earlier today. “But it strikes me that that the real dispute he has is the with the governor and the Legislature.”

“I know he expressed his disappointment with the governor’s State of the State for not backing down on the evaluation law on which we all agreed,” the commissioner continued. “So, the question really for NYSUT is: They’re committed to the Common Core, they’re comitted to the evaluation system; they have to explain why they think we should change the evaluation that we all agreed to that we all believed is in the interest of students.”

Technically speaking, Iannuzzi expressed dismay during a CapTon education roundtable that the governor did not address the Common Core issue in his State of the State address. But the two issues really are inextricably linked, since the union is seeking a three-year moratorium on using Common Core test results in the performance evaluation process.

During his interview, King reiterated his support of the Common Core and again rejected the idea of a moratorium, calling it a “distraction.” He said a subcommittee tapped by Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch to review the curriculum’s implementation will likely report back with suggested changes – should it determine any are needed – sometime in February.

Iannuzzi told me on CapTon last night that if the Board of Directors approves his request for a no confidence vote in King – apparently the first time in its history the union has made such a move – then the motion will be put to the NYSUT representative assembly in April. The only way a vote could be avoided, according to Iannuzzi, would be if King relents on the moratorium question before the spring.

You can watch my full interview with King at 8 p.m. and 11:30 p.m. tonight.

Watch Here >> (TWC ID required)
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Exclusive: NYSUT Will Seek No Confidence Vote On King

In an exclusive Capital Tonight interview, NYSUT President Dick Iannuzzi revealed he will soon ask his Board of Directors to bring an apparently unprecedented vote of no confidence on state Education Commissioner John King in response to what the union feels is a failure to respond to the growing concerns over the Common Core curriculum.

“The frustration level is overwhelming,” Iannuzzi said of his membership. “…The time has come. We have to address this now, and what we see is a state Ed Department that’s saying: Let’s see how much time we can buy, maybe this will go away.”

Iannuzzi could not recall such a vote beind taken before.

He said the NYSUT Board of Directors will meet within the next two weeks, and he feels confident they will approve his request. The resolution will then go before the union’s full representative assembly in April – assuming, Iannuzzi said, that if by that time its call for a three-year moratorium on using Common Core exam results for so-called “high-stakes decisions” on teacher evaluations has not been heeded.

King has so far rejected the union’s quest for a moratorium, saying it’s a “distraction” from the goal of using the Common Core to improve student performance.

Iannuzzi also bemoaned the lack of a mention about Common Core in Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s State of the State address yesterday, calling it a “missed opportunity.” He said waiting for the Board of Regents task force to complete its review of the implementation will take too long, noting still more tests will be administered during that time, heighting the worry over their long term impact among teachers and students alike.

The subcommittee formed by Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch to conduct this review is scheduled to report back “on a small timeline.”

In the meantime, it’s likely the Legislature will try to act on this issue. Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver said this week that a “case has been made” for the delay and implementation of the Common Core standards, but he also wants to wait to see what “remedial actions” the Board of Regents takes before moving forward with legislation.

The full interview with Iannuzzi, who was part of a panel on education policy in Cuomo’s State of the State address along with School Boards Association Executive Director Tim Kremer and state Council of School Superitendents Deputy Director Bob Lowry, will air at 8 p.m. and 11:30 p.m.

King is scheduled to appear on tomorrow’s Capital Tonight, and we will be sure to ask him for his response to Iannuzzi’s comments. In the meantime, SED spokesman Dennis Tompkins emailed the following response:

“The moratorium NYSUT wants would require a change in state law. But talk of a moratorium is a distraction. The focus should be on our students.”

“Every year, 140,000 high school students leave high school without the skills they need to succeed in college or a career. The evaluation system and the Common Core together will help our students succeed. NYSUT’s leadership should honor the commitments they’ve repeatedly made to both.”

Watch Here >>

Progressives Unite To Support Caucus Agenda

A coalition of so-called progressive advocacy organizations – including a number of powerful labor unions and the labor-backed Working Families Party – has formed a new entity to support and push for the wide-reaching liberal agenda proposed this session by the Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic and Asian Legislative Caucus.

People for New York is loosely designed on the concept behind the now-defunct Committee to Save New York, which was funded by deep-pocketed business and real estate interests in support of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s top policy proposals (pension and tax reform, the property tax cap etc.) in the early years of his governship. Also involved: Left-leaning nonprofits and advocacy groups like Make the Road NY, Citizen Action and Strong Economy for All.

The Committee to Save New York was quietly phased out when stricter donor disclosure rules approved by the Legislature as part of an early Cuomo-pused ethics reform package kicked in. But before it folded, the committee spent millions of dollars – mostly on TV ads – to push the more fiscally conservative elements of Cuomo’s agenda.

A source involved in creating People for New York said this group won’t be raising or spending big money, but will be lending outside support to the caucus as it pushes for a range of issues – some of which Cuomo is on board with (like the property tax circuit breaker), and some of which he is not (like marijuana decriminalization, which the governor said just yesterday is no longer a top priority).

“We’re sending a message to the Governor that a progressive agenda is New York’s agenda,” the source said.

That same source forwarded the invite that appears below to a post-State of the State reception that People for New York is hosting in Albany, at which a number of speakers will be giving their reactions to the governor’s speech.

In addition, coalition members will be handing out “score cards” so speech attendees can grade Cuomo on a variety of issues – from the DREAM Act and education funding to campaign finance reform and the acceleration of the minimum wage hike, which Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver has already said will be a priority for his Democratic conference this session.