Prior to becoming an educator, I only had a few run-ins with unions. As an environmental investigator, I often had to oversee workers who were removing lead based paint or asbestos containing material on bridges, train tracks and buildings. After graduating Polytechnic University in 2000, with a Bachelors in Engineering, I worked on the Gil Hodges Memorial Bridge for some time. I would sport my hardhat, reflective vest, and Handspring Prism?PDA (a predecessor to the modern smartphone). I was about 100 lbs (soaking wet) and I had to tell much older, and much bigger, iron workers, from Local 361, what they could and couldn’t do. Can you picture that? They are carrying power tools heavier than me and here is this 21 year old punk saying “Ummm…excuse me. ?Uh excuse me sir. According to code, you have to fully remove that lead paint, with a needle gun, prior to torch cutting. Oh and your guys have to all wear respirators even though it’s 100 degrees out.” Luckily, only one foreman threatened to throw me off the bridge, during my seven year career as an inspector, and I think he was kidding. Having said that, I remember issues arising where the painter’s and iron worker’s unions would come rushing in when there was a dispute and the workers felt their rights were being violated. (I was not involved in those issues). ?The multi-million job would even get put on hold until the issue was resolved.
As far as the New York City Transit’s TWU union goes, I don’t have to tell you much there. Just read the many stories about the 2005 strike where the city was shut down and TWU president,?Roger Toussaint, went to jail for his members.?I thought “Wow, unions are strong.”
When I first became a teacher, I would often miss union meetings and pay little to no attention to any union issues, including tenure. “Pshhh” I thought. “Why would I care about tenure? I’m doing a great job according to my administrators, parents and the students scold me if I dared call out sick and leave them with a substitute.” I know…pretty crazy. Here I am, five years later, not only making history by winning Union Chapter Leader after 50 days of exile, but now running for the United Federation of Teachers Executive Board.
“So where is our UFT?”
Before I get to that, let’s do a very quick recap of what has happened to me (and many other whistleblowers) after I raised concerns at Berta Dreyfus IS 49
- My administrators harassed me.
- My former chapter leader, Richard Candia, worked hand in hand with Principal Linda Hill, to submit about nine false allegations that lead to 20+ investigations of me. Still under investigation.
- Principal Hill forbid me from meeting with staff members and even placed two disciplinary letters, pertaining to union issues, into my personnel file.
- Principal Hill even deleted the UFT email group I created.
- In total I received three disciplinary letters in just ten days. One of them was for staying 27 minutes too late.
- Special Commissioner of Investigation (SCI) investigators came to my class and my house and confiscated computers. I was denied any representation.
- Former?School Leadership Team (SLT)?Chairperson Susanne Abramowitz, distributed false information about me in unapproved minutes and?attempted to vote me off the team while I was absent. I’m still on.
- I was given my first and only Unsatisfactory rating based on unapproved Danielson Framework rubric. SI UFT office denied pursuing a Step 2 Grievance.
- Former Chapter Leader Rich Candia was found to have sent emails to Principal Hill with false information about me and 15 other union members. They were observed by admin soon after.
- I was ultimately prevented from entering the school building, removed from my school and sent to a reassignment center on April 26, 2012. I contacted all possible union reps and received no response from anyone for days. Meanwhile the teacher in the rubber room with me was getting emails from the Staten Island office. ?I am still removed.
- Initially, I was sent to the Petrides complex, that is ten minutes from my school. After lies and false allegations made by former DOE HR Director Andrew Gordon, they could not prove or back, I was sent to a small basement room 20 miles, two boroughs and several districts away. Violation of CR-770. It would take Michael Mulgrew almost two hours to get there by public transportation from his house. I’m still 20 miles away.
- My firstname.lastname@example.org has been suspended since May 7, 2012. No access to official email, payroll, health benefits, ARIS, EIS, paystubs etc. Still disabled.
- As punishment for supporting me, the staff was forced to stand in line, single file and sign out one by one after dismissal. All 90+ of them. Took two months to fix that.
- My personal email@example.com has been blocked from ever sending any email to ANY @schools.nyc.gov account. DOE Tech states only the chancellor or high up can make this request.?Still blocked.
- My other school account on www.berta49.org was also suspended last May. I can only receive staff related emails from my colleagues who forward it to me. Still no communication from Principal since June 8, 2012
- I was prevented from going to my classroom to collect my five years worth of personal belongings. Only after I took the principal and DOE to Small Claims Court, did they start shipping me some things.?Still missing items.
- At my new location at 8201 Rockaway Blvd, I was harassed and an employee posted pictures of me around with a red flag next to it. I told my supervisor and she responded “Wow, you must be a celebrity!” and made no effort to take them down.
- I have been prevented from participating in ANY Professional Development opportunity. Still denied and even pulled out of an iPad training that took place in my room.
- I live streamed to expose the Rubber Room process, that even UFT attorney Adam Ross stated “doesn’t exist”. The DOE responded with a public statement of “Francesco Portelos has been extremely difficult to work with“.
- All my grievances have been denied with no evidence to back the hearing officer’s decision. No arbitration scheduled.
- I have been blocked from participating in School Leadership Team meetings, even though as Chapter Leader, I am mandatory member. They will not put me on speaker phone, read my agenda items, show me the budgetthat I asked about ?over 400 days ago and now prevent me from seeing minutes.
- They will not share with me the school Safety Plan and even UFT the UFT Safety Director, David Kazansky, denied pushing forward my?Safety?Grievance. By the way, ?my school is on the state’s?Persistently?Dangerous List
I think you get the point, even though I could go on with much more detail, but I have a Federal Lawsuit and need to keep some facts.
Onto our president, Michael Mulgrew. Now reading these twenty plus items above and reading the corruption I uncovered while in exile (All Down Hill), you would think that the UFT, AFT or NYSUT would see this story and say “Holy Crap! Francesco Portelos has a spine, a voice and knows his way around documenting and technology…is he?possessed by?the spirit of Al Shanker? Quick hoist him up on a chair and let us march across the bridge with him and all the many, many, many, many, many railroaded teachers in NYC! We will take the field of education by force!”
But alas, that didn’t happen…Take ?a breather, nuke some popcorn and make sure you are sitting down for what did happen!
The stronger attacks on me seemed to have started around the end January?2012. UFT Vice President of Middle Schools, Richard Farkas, had just left our school and told us Principal Linda Hill was on the UFT’s “Principals in Need of Improvement” List. To date, I don’t know what that means and no one can explain it to me. I started sending him and other UFT leadership, including Michael Mulgrew, emails asking for help. I have to mention, that all recipients were members of the UFT’s Unity Caucus. Just saying. Keep in mind our chapter had a turncoat chapter leader and no one from the UFT addressed our attacked chapter members from February 8, 2012, where we were told to “All play nice in the sandbox” to the end of May 2012, right before elections.
Now I could share all the 35 emails I sent to UFT President Michael Mulgrew, during the last year of attacks, but that isn’t worth my time. Just know that he did not respond to any ?of them.
Here are some though.
My two colleagues and I decided to attend an iPad training class at UFT Headquarters in March 2012. I sent Michael Mulgrew the?following?email.
I will be at an event at Shanker Hall tonight. Would it at all be possible to meet for a few minutes to discuss the issues about a Principal in Need of Improvement on?www.protectportelos.org?
I did however run into Mr. Mulgrew at the threshold of the blue double doors that lead into the large room where the Delegate Assembly takes place.
I’ll try my best to paint a picture of what happened as I will never forget it.
He was speaking to someone and as the man left I approached our president.
Portelos: “Excuse me. Mr Mulgrew?”
Mulgrew: “Oh please…call me Mike.” [sticks his hand out for a shake]
Portelos: “OK. Hi Mike. My name is Francesco Portelos and I sent you a–?
At that moment, Michael Mulgrew releases the handshake, turns on his heel and walks right out of the door. Not another word. Not an “excuse me a moment”…nothing. Just a sharp soldier style turn to his right and marches away leaving me dumbfounded. My two colleagues came up to me a moment later and I think my mouth was still open, my hand was still out and my heart was pounding. “What’s wrong dude? You speak to your boy Mulgrew?” one asked me. I responded with “He just walked away from me after I told him who I was. I’m?screwed!“
I’ve replayed that moment a hundred times in my head since then. With each unanswered email I send him and each day I drive 40+ miles away I think…there is no way I misread that whole thing.
Then comes November 2012. A crazy eight months later. Even though I was heavily involved with and a proud member of the Movement of Rank-and-file Educators (morecaucusnyc.org) I was also speaking with Michael Shulman and Johnathan Halabi of the New Action caucus. After all we are all a union. I went to UFT Headquarters and addressed the 90 member Executive Board. The same board I am going to be part of as of July 2013. The Executive Board meets twice a month, has a pretty nice spread of food and allows ten minutes of their meeting for member speakers. I was given all ten minutes to speak, since no other member signed up. I?obviously?could have taken all ten minutes, but only took about three to run down the list of some of atrocities?I had faced. Most of our top UFT leadership was up front; Michael Mendel, Leroy Bar, Richard Farkas, Serling Roberson. Who was missing? UFT President Michael Mulgrew. As I spoke about how my chapter leader started nine of the twenty allegations against me and was sent so far away, I noticed more and more members paying attention. Still no Michael Mulgrew. I finished to applause from the board and walked away from the microphone. As I sat down and looked up, who do you think walks right in at that very moment? I’ll give you a hint. It rhymes with Fidol Peru. Of course my mind goes to “What an odd coincidence that he missed my speech in the very room he walked away from me from eight months ago”
Wait…it gets even stranger!!
After the meeting I stayed and spoke to some of the members. Some came up and said “Keep fighting. You will win.” One told me something very interesting though. He said “Francesco, you know what is weird? As you were speaking earlier, I went to grab a bottle of water from the next room [where the catered food was]. In there was Michael Mulgrew, by himself, back against the adjacent wall, and it seemed as though he was just listening.”
That only accents the thoughts I had back in March and have to this day. Through my own personal experience and speaking to many, many rank and file members, the UFT has turned their back on too many educators. This MUST change. It is up to US or we are doomed.
As I attempt to wrap this post up, I’ll just share a few more unanswered emails to Michael Mulgrew and other leadership. Pay attention to the dates. I bit my lip for too long.
Date: Mon, Jun 11, 2012 at 12:16 PM
Subject: Harassment of a reassigned teacher
To: “firstname.lastname@example.org” <email@example.com>, “firstname.lastname@example.org” <email@example.com>, “firstname.lastname@example.org” <email@example.com>, “firstname.lastname@example.org” <email@example.com>, “firstname.lastname@example.org” <email@example.com>
Today is the 47th day of my removal from school. I have no charges presented before me yet. I want to share what has transpired at my reassignment center. I was given guidelines to follow my second day. I’m the only one out of 8 teachers to get any rules. An excerpt is attached.
-I was invited into an iPad training class last Thursday across the hall. I helped them more than they helped me. My supervisors secretary ok’s me attending. When my supervisor, Shawn? Thompson CFN 211, found out she pulled me out. I was given no other work and it was preferred that I sit doing nothing at a cubicle rather than professionally develop.
-Today I was still not given any new work and began reading about curriculum and the special ed reform on my laptop. My supervisor came down to my floor and told me, and only me, to put the laptop away. I showed her the guideline attached and stated I was using it as part of my DOE position. She wouldn’t listen and demanded I put it away.
-In addition the attached pictures were posted up at my reassignment center to mock me.
-I am placed in Ozone Park, outside my district, over an hour from my house fort over a month, and in violation of CR 770.
-In addition I am attaching my findings from a FOIL request where it shows my allegations against that principal are true.
What will my union do for me?? The number of people asking that question is rapidly growing. I have no answers for them.
Subject: 48 Days since reassignment. No Charges.
“firstname.lastname@example.org” <email@example.com>UFT,Day 48 of my reassignment.Outstanding issues to be addressed by the UFT:1. Removed from school with no charges 48 days ago.
2. Assigned to Ozone Park an hour outside my district in violation of CR 770
3. Since Mr. Farkas came to my school on Jan 26 and told us my principal was on the Needs Improvement list she has increased her Union Busting tactics to this day.
4. My DOE email and payroll access had been suspended. My school email has been suspended as well. I’m the UFT delegate.
5. I cannot enter the school building to retrieve my belongings.
6. DOE employees have lied and made false accusations about me. According to a statement at a DA, Mr. Mulgrew said it should be reported to OSI. I reported it to OSI who sent me to SCI. SCI sent me back to OSI. Almost 2 months later Chris Dalton from OSI told me they don’t investigate false accusations by adults. Who does? NYC Charter section 1116 was violated.
7. Crazy discipline issues at Berta Dreyfus IS 49. Riot took place and staff was hurt. Admin prevented cuffing and tried to sweep incident under the rug.
8. The principal now has the staff waiting on line to sign out past dismissal time and told them it was my idea. Tomorrow is chapter elections and I’m running for chapter leader. More union busting.Gentlemen,
There is a PERB complaint in as well as a Federal Law suit being submitted. My situation is blatant retaliation. Where is my union support????
Date: Wed, Jun 13, 2012 at 2:56 PM
Subject: I won Chapter Leader from Rubber Room!! A first?
To: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, STERLING ROBERSON <firstname.lastname@example.org>
? ? I just received the call that I won the Chapter Leader position at my school. Is this a first ever win from a reassignment center? This is a big win and I feel like a pheonix rising from the fire. I just wanted to share. I guess today is my last DA as a delegate.?
Date: Mon, Jun 18, 2012 at 10:12 AM
Subject: Invitation to IS 49 at 2:22pm
To: “email@example.com” <firstname.lastname@example.org>, “email@example.com” <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Cc: “email@example.com” <firstname.lastname@example.org>, “email@example.com” <firstname.lastname@example.org>Good morning,
I wanted to see if any of you had just 10 minutes to spend at our chapter during dismissal. The union members wait on line to sign out one by one (100+) after dismissal bell. Even the students made fun of the teachers. It takes forever. We believe this is a way of getting back at the staff for voting me in as new Chapter Leader. (see page 19 of 06/17/12 NY Post). With the help of Staten Island reps we will initiate grievances, but think a visit from one of you might do the job much quicker. The admin had been union busting for awhile now. Thank you.-Francesco Portelos
Protectportelos.org\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\The District Rep responded for the members to grieve. They did not.\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\
Date: Thu, Sep 6, 2012 at 11:01 PM
Subject: Rubber Room Journal
To: Leroy Barr <email@example.com>
Cc: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.comMr. Barr,
The rubber rooms are alive and strong. They are just restructured to hide how many people are reassigned, but I’m sure the UFT is well aware of this. There are about 7 of us here at 8201 Rockaway blvd. What is the UFT’s plan to resolve this?? Some sit since February with no charges. I just had dinner in the city with more railroaded teachers. Some stated that they too are reassigned out of their district. This is a violation of CR 770.http://wp.me/p2kdPG-cf?Rubber Room JournalI shared my allegations on Protectportelos.org yesterday. Media is now calling me. I’m not left with many choices. Now I find that students are retaliated against as well when their parents speak up.In addition, the principal does not communicate with me, the Chapter Leader, and forces all members to physically sign out at dismissal. There is no delegate. She has a ” long term sub”? instead of ATR etc.They are making a mockery of the UFT. I invite the executive board to hold a short meeting at my school.Thank you.-Francesco Portelos
UFT Chapter Leader IS 49
*sent from Samsung Galaxy Tab\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\
Date: Tue, Sep 11, 2012 at 10:25 AM
Subject: CSA not working together with UFT at R049
To: Linda Hill <LHill2@schools.nyc.gov>
Cc: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, Leroy Barr <firstname.lastname@example.org>, email@example.com, Sean Rotkowitz <firstname.lastname@example.org>, email@example.com
Dear Principal Hill,
NO RESPONSE FROM ANYONE.
Date: Mon, Sep 17, 2012 at 7:18 PM
Subject: Reassignment letters
To: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.comMr. Mulgrew and Mr. Ross,
Thank you for taking the time to speak with me after the chapter leader meeting last Wednesday. As you can imagine, my saga is not only the craziest thing I have ever experienced, but also the craziest I ever heard from any educator. Mr. Ross, as per your request, attached are the three reassignment letters I received. One from R049 to Chambers. One from Chambers to Petrides and One from Petrides to Ozone Park.Emil Pietromonaco came to visit last Thursday and can confirm that I have been placed in the old “Rubber Room” setting. I was only given 3 days of BS busy work since April 26, 2012. That goes for all others there with me. The only difference from the old “rubber rooms” as we can see is that now we are just spread out and mixed in. I was thinking with the video (News conference on eliminating the so-called “rubber rooms”)?out and tons of stories stating there are no “Rubber Rooms”, them now existing makes the DOE and UFT look bad. So in order to save face, can’t the UFT just say they didn’t know the members were subjected to the same setting as the pre 2010 reassignment era and is now taking action to change it.Possible changes:?
- Members whose allegations are not sexual in nature or are a threat to students should remain in the school building and continue teaching or have administrative duty.
- The SCI cases should also be limited to a shorter time frame.
- Accusers should be subject to?perjury?charges if found to make false allegations.
UFT Chapter Leader IS 49
*Sent with Samsung Epic
Date: Wed, Nov 21, 2012 at 2:12 PM
Subject: 100 School Days
To: DMWalcott@schools.nyc.gov, firstname.lastname@example.org, Gordon Andrew <email@example.com>, Becker Lawrence <firstname.lastname@example.org>, email@example.com, Courtnaye Jackson-Chase <CJackson-Chase@schools.nyc.gov>, THernandez5 <THernandez5@schools.nyc.gov>, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, Bryan Glass <firstname.lastname@example.org>
???? Today is 100 school days since I was removed from my school, Berta Dreyfus IS 49. That is 100 days that countless students lost out on a high quality education. I know it sounds arrogant, but I know what I taught and what the students learned.
There are no charges against me. I have not been charged with anything at all. Sure I have a growing list of ridiculous allegations against me, but nothing I know of is substantiated. I’m not surprised.
The list of citizens that follow my story grows daily as does the number of members of the press. They question how all this started right after I alleged financial misconduct on Principal Linda Hill. A month after I contacted OEO and informed them Assistant Principal Joanne Aguirre got drunk at a bar, asked me to come to Atlantic City with her and strip to my underwear…I was removed. Me, not her. Me, not the principal.
As per the April 15, 2010 agreement, it seems like the UFT and DOE need to get together and review our cases. I say our because I went around the Rubber Room today and found educators here since February with no charges.
Let me be clear however. Putting me back tomorrow does not solve the loss of education, that members on this email are responsible for.
We are waiting…
Date: Fri, Jan 11, 2013 at 4:47 PM
Subject: Remote Union Meeting Held Today
To: Linda Hill <LHill2@schools.nyc.gov>, Denise Diacomanolis <email@example.com>, JAguirre3@schools.nyc.gov, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, Thomas Fox <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Cc: Sean Rotkowitz <email@example.com>, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, Leroy Barr <firstname.lastname@example.org>, email@example.com, Adam Ross <firstname.lastname@example.org>, email@example.com
Enjoy your weekend!
Date: Mon, Jul 30, 2012 at 6:39 PM
Subject: Warrengate – Hiding Misconduct in Education
To: “firstname.lastname@example.org” <email@example.com>, “firstname.lastname@example.org” <email@example.com>, “firstname.lastname@example.org” <email@example.com>, “firstname.lastname@example.org” <email@example.com>, “firstname.lastname@example.org” <email@example.com>, “firstname.lastname@example.org” <email@example.com>Dear elected UFT officials,
What do you think? Warrengate – Hiding Misconduct in Education?http://wp.me/p2kdPG-9WCurrently I have a federal law suit, a PERB improper practice case and a Small Claims case all this fall. I have several allegations against them and there are about 18 allegations against me. Half of? those allegations against me were called in by former Chapter Leader Richard Candia. When I found out what he did it made my chapter leader victory so much sweeter.
*Sent with Samsung Epic\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\
Date: Mon, Aug 27, 2012 at 12:00 PM
Subject: The DOE is still railroading me
To: firstname.lastname@example.org, Sean Rotkowitz <email@example.com>, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.orgGood afternoon,
As my chapter members (R049) start to go into the classroom and set up, I am designated back to the Rubber Room next week. We have the following severe issues that need to be addressed:I am the Chapter Leader of R049 and:
- Principal Linda Hill has ceased all communication with me for months
- I am a mandatory member of the SLT with upcoming meetings to start
- My members have no delegate and therefore no representation in school at all
- I am still in the Rubber Room at Ozone Park
- My DOE email, payroll access and school based gmail has been disabled since May.
- The principal is still planning on having all 100+ members sign out at the end of the day
- I am still stationed out of my district in violation of Chancellors Regulation 770.
- We should file an Article 78 Grievance
I know I am meeting with the Staten Island DR and BR after CL training, but these are things to keep in mind. Mr. Mulgrew, this will be the 15th email to you since January. The other?14?have remained unanswered.
Date: Fri, Oct 26, 2012 at 1:29 PM
Subject: A new SCI investigation
To: email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org
Cc: Bryan Glass <email@example.com>I just had a quick and cordial visit from the investigator on the attached card. He informed me I’m the subject of a new investigation. Let’s play ball!? I have plenty of punches left for this punch for punch game the DOE wants to play. I haven’t even dug into my real digital arsenal yet.Anyway, I’d rather use my own personal attorney, Bryan Glass, for representation. I don’t think I’ll be speaking to SCI again until my federal case is over. I’ve counted a total of 5.5 hrs of conversation with them since February. I think that is more than cooperative. I’m still in the Rubber Room, while my principal, who stole,? and AP, who touches children, are still in the building.Any thoughts?-Francesco Portelos
UFT Chapter Leader IS 49
?In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.?
-Martin Luther King Jr.\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\
Date: Wed, Jan 16, 2013 at 10:20 AM
Subject: Still nothing
To: Adam Ross <firstname.lastname@example.org>, email@example.com, Leroy Barr <firstname.lastname@example.org>, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org
??? I’m under investigation for 352 days. I’m out of the classroom 266 days. I have been charged with nothing. “Where is the union?” is the number one question I’m asked by a growing number of members who are spreading my story. My chapter leader had a hand in putting me here. My union leaders are expected to help get me out. Do you realize how weak we look?
Please do not respond anything about grievances. We all know that’s bull.
UFT Chapter Leader IS 49
?In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.? -Martin Luther King Jr.
“Where is my union?” is an all too common question asked by our members.
This Spring we should ?demand M.O.R.E. from our union. I know I am.
Feel Free to comment below. I do not block any comments. If I wrote something untrue, please feel free to correct me.
Like I said, I bit my lip for far too long.