September 9, 2014

Shirts vs. Thin Skins: UFT in New Police Flap

NYPD T’s Revive Dispute


PATRICK J. LYNCH: ‘Management-like scare tactics.’  

It’s the rift that keeps on giving.

Less than two weeks after the United Federation of Teachers co-sponsored the controversial march led by the Rev. Al Sharpton to protest the death of Eric Garner in a confrontation with Staten Island cops over his alleged selling of loose cigarettes, the union once again found itself under siege on two fronts.

It was a battle that pitted the union hierarchy’s version of the Fashion Police against those who wear NYPD blue. It also was the latest flaring-up of tensions between the UFT’s leadership and members who are either married to cops, are staunch supporters of the department, or remember Mr. Sharpton’s incendiary antics of the 1980s and 1990s and question why their union should be aligned with him in the Garner controversy.

Sponsorship Grated

When it was first learned about a week prior to the Aug. 23 march—from the spot where Mr. Garner was apparently placed in an NYPD-banned chokehold by Police Officer Daniel Pantaleo and died soon after to the Staten Island District Attorney’s Office—that the UFT was actively involved, the police unions were infuriated.

Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association President Patrick J. Lynch sent an open letter to the New York Post—which has never concealed its scorn for both Mr. Sharpton and the Teachers union—questioning the move by UFT President Michael Mulgrew and stating that he would never consider lining up with some of the UFT’s critics to call attention to its less-popular positions. Sergeants’ Benevolent Association President Edward D. Mullins, who from virtually his first day in office a dozen years ago had challenged Mr. Mulgrew’s predecessor, Randi Weingarten, called on the UFT leader to resign, in the process slamming the “terrible contract” he negotiated with the de Blasio administration 3½ months earlier.

And more than a few UFT members took to social media to question the decision to join with Mr. Sharpton in what they said was an anti-police march.

The march proceeded peacefully, and the brouhaha might have receded into oblivion if some Teachers hadn’t worn official NYPD shirts to make their sympathies clear during the two days they spent at school prior to the official Sept. 4 opening. That brought a response from an unidentified UFT official, the Post reported, that some of them took as a threat.

‘Remain Objective’

The paper reported that the e-mail stated that “as public employees, one must remain objective at all times. Certain T-shirt messages may appear to be supportive, but individuals (parents, students) may see a different meaning in that message.”

Perhaps more ominously, the e-mail spoke of “potential implications” for their careers, stating, “Principals may report any inappropriate apparel to the Chancellor.”

The story went on to quote a teaching assistant on Staten Island saying that her Principal had called her at home the night before the first day of classes “telling me not to wear the shirt, as per the UFT.”

The paper published a photo taken at P.S. 220 in Queens the day before school started showing 30 Teachers, nearly all of them female, wearing gray NYPD T-shirts containing the department’s logo, which the Post said were supplied by the boyfriend of one who is a cop.

Asked Sept. 5 who had sent the e-mail and why they thought it was a good idea, a UFT spokesman declined comment. Police union leaders weren’t nearly as reticent.

No Blue Wall Here

Mr. Lynch issued a statement saying, “Teachers who wore NYPD shirts to school only underscore the solid relationship that exists between rank-and-file Teachers and Police Officers. Mike Mulgrew needs to consider the opinions of the vast majority of his members before misusing their dues money to support anti-police issues.”

He added, “I also find it odd that a union would use management-like scare tactics in order to suppress the free expression of their members’ ideas. That goes against all of the principles for which unions stand.”

Sergeant Mullins was even harsher, telling the Post that Mr. Mulgrew was “a hypocrite because he marched in Staten Island and he claimed the UFT had a history of being activists. Now he has Teachers who are being activists themselves by wearing a T-shirt, and he doesn’t agree with them.”