Unions Like Local Control Externally, Control Over Locals Internally

December 7, 2015

Unions Like Local Control Externally, Control Over Locals Internally. The National Education Association and American Federation of Teachers have been making victory laps to celebrate the U.S. House passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act which, according to the Washington Post, “would significantly shift authority over the nation’s 100,000 public schools from the federal government to states and local school districts.”

That’s a strange sentence to read for those of us who remember that the teachers’ unions are responsible for the major federal role in education policy in the first place, and that passage in the House was only possible because a large majority of Republicans want to limit the influence of NEA and AFT. The defanging of the Secretary of Education in a Democratic administration is also ironic, considering the unions have boasted of their role in creating the office for almost 40 years now.

Even stranger is that when it comes to internal matters, both national teachers’ unions are rejecting such policies, and taking increasingly greater control over troublesome affiliates. In recent years we’ve had:

* NEA trusteeships over Alabama, Indiana and South Carolina state affiliates.

* AFT trusteeships over single locals in Colorado, Oregon, Michigan (soon to be two), and four in Florida.

* Both unions taking extraordinary action in attempts to prevent secession by affiliates in California, Florida, Hawaii, Maryland, Michigan, Tennessee and Washington (not to mention resources committed to a hopeless position in Nevada).

And those are just the instances that escalated to crisis level. As RiShawn Biddle so ably demonstrated in a recent report for Dropout Nation, NEA routinely props up a number of its affiliates financially. That help, as you might expect, also comes with strings regarding day-to-day operations.

In some states the rebounding economy coupled with accommodating public sector managers will ease the pressure on teachers’ unions. In many others, particularly if agency fees are eliminated, the desire to keep all current affiliates under the national wing will run up against the strain of paying for it all. Additionally, the unions’ lip service to internal local control is sorely tried when the local takes positions contrary to the national parent.

The true test for NEA and AFT will be when neither the carrot nor the stick is able to keep dissident and/or weak affiliates in the fold. It might be “a new era in public education” after all.

Recent Intercepts. EIA’s daily blog, Intercepts, covered these topics December 1-7:

*  I’m the Party Pooper. The Every Student Succeeds Act is “historic”… in the sense that it’s doomed to repeat the past.

*  Memphis Disaffiliates, Alabama Amends Constitution, Nevada Teamsters on the Verge. Does NEA have a racial problem in the South?

*  Teamsters Defeat NEA in Clark County, Nevada. Will the last person at the NEA affiliate please remember to turn off the lights?

*  AFT Set to Assume Control of Detroit Local. Again restoring democracy by postponing elections.

Michigan Education Association Membership Down More Than 12%. Decline accelerated by right-to-work law.

Hmmm… Disability Groups Have Problems With NEA Policies, Too. More than annoying.

Quote of the Week #1. “I thought that was lunacy, too. We’ve abdicated control over when we come back to people who are not elected officials.” – Tim Cullen, former Wisconsin state senator and one of the 14 fugitive legislators who fled the state in an effort to keep Act 10 from passing in 2011. He said the decision on when to return “increasingly was turned over to labor leaders who wanted the Democrats to stay away because they believed it helped them build momentum to stop the legislation or eventually recall GOP officeholders.” (November 30 Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel)

Quote of the Week #2. “We teach them to say ‘I’m sorry’ and mean it.” – Lily Eskelsen Garcia, president of the National Education Association, reading from a list of things teachers do during an October 27 speech at a gala of the Campaign for America’s Future. She has spent much of the last two weeks saying “I’m sorry” to various disability rights groups and activists for referring to the “medically annoying” elsewhere in the list. Some of them have questioned whether she means it. (YouTube.com)