1) Union Membership
Trends in States Vary. Last
week’s Department of Labor report showed union membership reduced to its
lowest recorded level – 13.2 percent of the American salaried work force.
Numbers like that beg some sort of response from organized labor, but the
noises that came out of the AFL-CIO executive council meeting can’t be too
encouraging to union activists.
The Associated Press
reported that “labor leaders’ discussions and plans are focusing on 2004
this week earlier than ever before.” The council agreed to spend at least
$20 million to unseat President Bush. That’s their business, but union
membership declined during the eight years of the Clinton administration,
and at the rate they’re going, there may not be enough members left in 2004
to cough up $20 million.
The overall numbers are
depressing, but an examination of the state-by-state figures show that some
places are doing much, much worse than others, lowering the national average
as a result. In fact, in 14 states union membership outperformed the growth
(or decline) of the total labor force in the state. For example, in
Tennessee the work force grew by 2.2 percent, but the number of union
members grew by 20 percent. The other states where unions had a relatively
good 2002 were Alaska, California, Connecticut, Illinois, Louisiana, Maine,
Maryland, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, Oklahoma, South Carolina and
On the other hand, 11
states and DC had percentage losses in union membership in double digits –
some of them while the state’s labor force grew. They were Delaware
(-10.9%), DC (-14.3%), Florida (-10.6%), Georgia (-15.8%), Iowa (-11.4%),
Kansas (-10.8%), Kentucky (-13.2%), New Mexico (-15.8%), North Carolina
(-14.0%), Vermont (-12.9%), West Virginia (-12.4%), and Wyoming (-15.0%).
2) NEA Will Have to
Decide Soon on Policy Towards War.
The effort to involve unions in the anti-war movement is making some
headway, and NEA is placing catch-up. The California Federation of Teachers
(CFT) passed a virulent anti-war resolution, which was echoed by a number of
NEA locals. AFT issued a moderately pro-war resolution in response, and last
week’s meeting of the AFL-CIO tried to split the difference. At the national
level, NEA has been missing in action, but EIA expects the union’s silence
to end soon.
Without definitive word
from NEA, some state and local affiliates are going to begin issuing their
own resolutions on Iraq, and these are likely to differ greatly from region
to region, based on local sentiment. It also stands to reason that someone
will offer a new business item on Iraq for debate at the next NEA convention
in July. It could be like the CFT resolution, which refers to the “so-called
war on terrorism,” or it could be like the one recently passed by the
University of Hawaii Professional Assembly, an NEA affiliate, that calls on
President Bush to “step back from military action against Iraq and work to
resolve tensions and inequities in the region through the framework of the
Rather than face such
an internal debate without a policy already mapped out, NEA will likely
establish a position before it is overtaken by events. Nevertheless, on
foreign policy issues NEA’s external message often causes internal problems.
Just prior to the Gulf
War, the presidents of nine labor unions, including NEA’s Keith Geiger,
signed an open letter to President Bush that ran in the January 10, 1991
edition of the Washington Post. Titled “Let the Sanctions Work,” the
letter expressed the union officers’ concern about war in the Persian Gulf.
“We yield to no one in our condemnation of Saddam Hussein’s reckless
invasion of Kuwait and join the world community in insisting on Iraq’s
immediate withdrawal. At the same time, we believe the economic sanctions –
the strongest ever levied against a country in peacetime – must be given a
chance to work. Because we support out troops, we emphatically oppose the
initiation of offensive military action by the United States at this time.”
Two days later,
Congress authorized the use of force. A week later, Desert Storm was
launched, and 12 years ago today, Iraqi generals surrendered to Gen. Norman
Schwarzkopf at Safwan.
In March 1999, NEA and
AFT acted swiftly in the opposite direction, sending a letter to President
Clinton thanking him “for the strong action you have taken to stop the
bloodletting by Serbian forces in Kosovo.” NEA President Bob Chase and AFT
President Sandra Feldman stated their support for military action, writing,
“The world cannot stand by and allow these atrocities to continue before our
eyes.” Chase encountered heat from some NEA members and local officials for
sending the letter absent authorization by a representative body.
The union issued no
statement before or after the U.S. launched operations against Afghanistan
in October 2001.
NEA prefers to have
everyone singing from the same sheet music. On the issue of Iraq, it may
sound more like fusion jazz than classical symphony.
Arrested for Robbing Florida Local Union.
The scandal at the Washington Teachers Union, in which local officers
misappropriated $5 million in union dues for personal luxuries, was a
high-profile story for a lot of reasons: it happened in the nation’s
capital, it involved a large sum, the people involved were high-powered
political players, and the cash was spent ostentatiously. What reporter
could resist a tale of alligator shoes, fur coats and Tiffany silver?
But what is more
striking is the amount stolen relative to the organization’s income. The
accused officers were in office for less than eight years, during which time
they apparently stole a full 18 months’ worth of member dues. How did that
go undetected? A similar story is unfolding in Florida, where it won’t get
as much press attention.
Rebecca Baird Modine,
the former office manager for the St. Lucie County Classroom Teachers
Association, was arrested and charged with forgery and organized fraud for
stealing more than $90,000 from the union’s bank account, according to
published reports. Modine had been employed by the union for seven years,
and was suspended in January for reasons unrelated to the theft of funds.
She allegedly pilfered 250 blank checks, and would write herself one
whenever the mood struck her. She was caught because she tried to cash one
of the checks (after her suspension) after the account had run out of money.
Membership numbers for
the St. Lucie union are unavailable, but a generous estimate would be about
1,200 active members. Unless the union has an exorbitant dues rate, it
appears that $90,000 would be a substantial chunk of its income. Though the
sum is much smaller than in DC, the question is the same: How does one empty
a union account without anyone noticing?
4) New Teachers
Suffer Because of California’s Mistakes.
California continues to lead the nation in throwing the biggest parties when
tax revenues are up, only to suffer the biggest hangovers when they are
down. The state reduced class sizes, issued billions in school construction
bonds, raised teacher salaries across-the-board to where California teachers
are now the highest paid in the nation, and sent recruiters to the business
world, other states and overseas in an effort to overcome a devastating
Three years later,
districts are increasing class sizes, the state’s bond rating continues to
fall, the state budget is tens of billions of dollars in deficit, and
teachers by the thousands are being warned of layoffs. Layoff notices are
being sent to more than 2,500 teachers in only three districts –
Oakland, San Diego and Fresno. That’s nearly enough teachers to staff the
entire Seattle school district.
Some of these folks are
still paying college loans, or they changed careers to fill the need for
teachers. After their experience, who will answer the call next time?
5) NEA Director
Goes Libertarian?! Matt Jacobs is
the president of the Sewanhaka Federation of Teachers, represents New York
on the NEA Board of Directors, and is a candidate for vice president of NEA
New York. He is an independent thinker, and as such has found himself quoted
on these pages in the past (to his personal displeasure, I might add).
Jacobs’ latest essay
http://sft-nea.org/letter.htm) is a treat. After detailing the many
evils of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), Jacobs presents what he calls
“a modest revolutionary proposal.” He calls upon state governments “to
overthrow this unprecedented federal usurpation of their power to control
education by simply refusing to comply.” Jacobs suggests that refusing the
hundreds of millions of dollars in federal aid that accompany NCLB is not
only right, but cost-effective. NCLB funding, he states, “is a lure that,
once swallowed, compels states to expend many times that amount complying
with unwanted, educationally unsound federal mandates.”
Though it may pain many
NCLB supporters, Jacobs is right. And, though it may pain Jacobs, his
principle also applies to most federal funding. In turn, many state
governments roll it downhill, coupled with funding, to lure local
governments and school boards into complying with unwanted, educationally
unsound state mandates.
Jacobs is not the first
New Yorker angered by federal overreach. When New York delegates met in June
1788 to decide whether to ratify the U.S. Constitution, one delegate argued
that the state legislatures would act as a check on federal powers. To which
delegate Melancton Smith replied that he “could see no possibility of
checking a government of independent powers, which extended to all objects
and resources without limitation.”
6) Quote of the
Week. “I am with disbelief.” –
Idaho Education Association President Kathy Phelan, describing her reaction
to the introduction of a paycheck protection bill in the state legislature.
(Associated Press, March 3)