Schrödinger’s Union President

April 11, 2016

Schrödinger’s Union President. Covering teachers’ unions isn’t rocket science, but if the controversy surrounding Massachusetts Teachers Association president Barbara Madeloni is any indication, it might resemble quantum theory. Today’s thought experiment is whether Madeloni, in the manner of Schrödinger’s cat, can simultaneously be employed, and not employed, by the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

Two weeks ago, EIA reported on Madeloni’s unusual agreement with the university, which allowed her not only to remain a member of MTA, but run for – and be elected to – the presidency of the union. Now we have copies of both the original settlement, dated January 3, 2013, and the amended settlement, dated May 21, 2014, two weeks after Madeloni’s election. You can read both complete documents through links on EIA’s Declassified page.

For those new to the drama, Madeloni made her reputation leading resistance to edTPA, a teacher candidate assessment with all the proper education establishment and teacher union pedigree one might want. Alas, they farmed out the scoring to Pearson, Inc., which was a bridge too far for Madeloni and others who share her views.

Her May 2012 protest caught the eye of Michael Winerip at the New York Times, who wrote about it. Three weeks later, UMass Amherst notified Madeloni her contract would not be renewed when it expired on August 31, 2013. At the very least, the timing of this move was suspect, and Madeloni’s union local filed a grievance on her behalf.

Madeloni characterized the university’s arguments at her grievance hearing as “lies and distortions,” but soon after UMass Amherst offered her a settlement. In a January 21, 2013 Facebook post to her supporters, Madeloni announced that she had signed the settlement, which she saw “as a way for the University to fund my activism while I look for other work.” She wrote that she took the deal because “a fight to the finish through the union would leave me with a remedy of returning to a job, if it existed, that, because of a toxic and bullying workplace, I would not want.”

The original settlement placed Madeloni on a paid leave of absence between May 31 and August 31, 2013, after which she would receive a $74,623.90 payment and a year’s unpaid leave of absence.

Madeloni ran for the presidency of the Massachusetts Teachers Association and was elected on May 10, 2014. Eleven days later she entered into an amended agreement with UMass Amherst extending her unpaid leave until August 31, 2016.

NEA state affiliate presidents routinely take long leaves of absence from their teaching jobs, but the agreements between Madeloni and UMass Amherst are unique in my experience. The documents simultaneously set the terms of their relationship and end it. On the one hand, the amended settlement clearly states that her employment shall terminate August 31, 2016 and that Madeloni is to characterize herself as “a faculty member on leave from the University without pay.”

On the other hand, Madeloni’s employment is unlike any other employment you have ever heard of – particularly unionized employment. Here are some relevant provisions:

* Madeloni agreed to vacate her office on May 31, 2013, and “no office space shall be provided to her beyond that date.”

* The original agreement immediately terminates Madeloni’s university employment as soon as she notifies UMass Amherst that she accepted “paid employment elsewhere.” Only the amended agreement made an exception for her employment as MTA president.

* The university agreed not to contest any claim Madeloni might make for state unemployment benefits and pledged to report her status as “laid off or hours reduced by employer.”

* Should Madeloni leave the MTA presidency, her employment with UMass Amherst would end on the same date.

* Madeloni was transferred from the School of Education to the Labor Studies Program, a place she has never worked and, because of the previous provision, she never will.

* If the Massachusetts Group Insurance Commission discontinues state support for Madeloni’s insurance coverage, she – not the university – is responsible for funding the full cost of her coverage.

* Madeloni has no faculty duties, no office and cannot receive administrative support. She is also banned from participating in faculty service or governance.

* Madeloni and her heirs unconditionally release the university from suits or claims under a host of state and federal laws such as the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Massachusetts Civil Rights Act, and other claims “of any nature whatsoever.”

* Madeloni and the union agree not to undertake any further grievances against the university, even on matters arising after the date of the agreement.

* Finally, one provision states, “Madeloni acknowledges that she has received consideration under this Agreement to which she would not otherwise be entitled.”

In essence, Madeloni surrendered all the rights of a UMass employee – salary, partially subsidized benefits, staff support, collaboration with colleagues, collectively bargained transfer and grievance procedures, and claims under civil rights law against future events – in order to maintain her job status in a “toxic and bullying workplace.” I thought unions were created to prevent all that.

Madeloni’s existence in two mutually exclusive states was possible only because – like Schrödinger’s cat – it was not observed. Now that the box is open, only one can be true. The minutiae of contract law may greatly affect education policy in Massachusetts one way or the other.

Recent Intercepts. EIA’s daily blog, Intercepts, covered these topics April 5-11:

* Sanders Win in Wisconsin: Sign of Union Strength or Union Weakness? Galvanized, again.

“Hey! We Are Nominee.” The lorem ipsum candidate.

* I Have An Alibi. Second-story job.

New York State United Teachers’ Finances. Too big to fail.

North Carolina Association of Educators’ Finances. Deducted.

Quote of the Week. “As a coalition, we need to gather 900,000 signatures to get our measure on the ballot. We are about 60 percent there, and we only have about three more weeks.” – Eric Heins, president of the California Teachers Association, updating union activists on the status of a ballot initiative to extend the state’s temporary income tax hikes until 2030. (April 9 speech to CTA State Council)