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June 9, 2003

1)  Madison Teachers Union Sues State Affiliate. Madison Teachers, Inc. (MTI) has filed a lawsuit against the Wisconsin Education Association Council (WEAC) for violation of the terms of its affiliation agreement with its parent organization.

The lawsuit stems from the permanent affiliation contract negotiated in 1978 between MTI, WEAC and the National Education Association (NEA). At the time, MTI and several other locals were threatening to secede from the parent unions. In an effort to keep MTI under the NEA umbrella, WEAC and NEA signed an agreement that allows MTI “complete and full autonomy,” regulates any WEAC and NEA activity within MTI’s jurisdiction, guarantees that WEAC “shall pay to MTI the cost of MTI’s legal expenses on a monthly basis,” and provides for binding arbitration in case of dispute. The contract is perpetual, “unless either party enters into organizational activity which is injurious to the well being of the other.”

According to MTI, WEAC claimed that MTI had engaged in such activity and acted to unilaterally sever the contract. In October 2002, MTI filed a grievance, listing 17 alleged violations of the contract by WEAC, including non-payment of $25,665 in legal expenses between April and August 2002. The other complaints involve WEAC activities in Madison without the knowledge or consent of MTI.

After months of haggling, WEAC refused to enter arbitration, prompting MTI to file suit in Dane County Circuit Court to compel it. Though not part of the suit, MTI also alleges that WEAC is seeking to absorb MTI’s independent political action committee.

The lawsuit should be viewed in the context of an ongoing dispute between WEAC and a number of its locals over the state affiliate’s control. WEAC representatives recently approved the “Union 2010” plan, which MTI and its allies claim is an attempt to centralize the union’s power.

2)  Rebellion in Dixie II: The Union Strikes Back. Last week’s communiqué on the situation at the Louisiana Association of Educators (LAE) was bound to provoke a response, and it wasn’t long in coming. One member of the LAE board of directors described the rebellion as existing “only in the minds of some misguided and misinformed individuals.” Misguided or not, EIA reported last week that “their track record so far indicates they are a serious opposition group.” It appears the current LAE leadership is also taking them seriously.

An internal memo dated May 19, 2003 from LAE President Carol Davis and Executive Director Gene Neely to union officials and staff begins, “LAE is facing a serious challenge. This time it is not a challenge from the Governor or the state legislature. This time is not a challenge from the Federation [the Louisiana Federation of Teachers]. Instead, it is the greatest form of challenge because it is from within.”

The memo accuses “an anonymous group that apparently fears change and is unable to see the future of this organization determined by the membership and for the membership. Not only are the members of the group hiding, but their motives are also hidden behind incorrect, untrue, and often malicious attacks.”

The memo includes an attachment of what Davis and Neely call “correct information from non-anonymous sources that can be substantiated.” Though the memo makes much of the anonymity of the LAE dissidents, EIA is aware of the identities of many of them. They are actively involved in the union at all levels. And they believe they would be subject to reprisals.

Davis and Neely then answer a series of questions that were apparently published in a flier distributed at the special representative assembly in April (EIA does not have a copy of this third flier). In their answers, they deny the mistreatment of LAE retirees, or any move to reduce legal services, lobbying or political action programs. They also deny that the new LAE office building cost about 50 percent more than the money in the building fund, and answer the question “Is the IRS investigating the LAE-PAC financial books?” with the single word, “No.” (Is that a flat denial, or a judicious use of the present tense?)

The memo confirms an attempt to shift more responsibility to local associations, and confirms a regular audit of the LAE legal department by NEA. It also addresses the question of membership losses under Neely, who was hired in 2001, with the declaration, “LAE has lost membership for 14 years in a row.” Now there’s an endorsement!

LAE’s new member brochure reads in big letters, “Get Involved and Help Make LAE the Organization You Want It To Be.” But if you want it to be a healthy, growing organization, you’ve got your work cut out for you.

3)  The Incredible Shrinking California Teacher Shortage. Section III D of the California Teachers Association’s (CTA) Statement of Mission, Goals, and Objectives states that “California faces the need to recruit well over 200,000 new teachers in the next five years.”

* February 22, 2000: “California faces a severe teacher shortage and will need an estimated 330,000 new teachers over the next 10 years.” – California Teachers Association (CTA) press release.

* November 16, 2000: “Our state alone will need at least 300,000 [new teachers] during this same 10-year period.” – CTA Vice President Barbara Kerr, in testimony to the Little Hoover Commission.

* January 2002: “In fact, we need to hire 20,000 new teachers every year for the next decade just to hold our own.” – CTA President Wayne Johnson in a radio ad.

* June 8, 2002: “No wonder there is a huge teacher shortage and growing worse every year.” – CTA President Wayne Johnson to the union’s State Council.

* December 2002: “[W]e must do something about the problems that are creating the frightening teacher shortage.” – CTA President Wayne Johnson in his column in the California Educator.

* June 5, 2003: “If you don’t care where you’ll go, you can find a job.” – CTA President Wayne Johnson to the Sacramento Bee.

4)  Miami Recovery Plan Leaves More Questions Than Answers. The AFT-appointed administrator of the United Teachers of Dade unveiled a 10-point plan to create “A New UTD” in the wake of union’s financial scandal. In a major press conference last Friday, Mark Richard announced a layoff of more than a third of the UTD staff, a cut in salaries and benefits for those who remain, $1.7 million in new financial assistance from AFT, and a 10 percent reduction in dues. In addition, NEA and AFT will fund a forensic audit of the Miami local, as soon as the FBI investigators return financial records they seized during the April 29 raid of UTD headquarters. Richard also told reporters that all UTD credit cards were cancelled and the locks were changed on the doors.

The measures taken in Miami are much more drastic than those instituted in Washington DC, where the AFT local had a similar scandal. “We are literally taking back our union,” said Richard. “There are no kings, and there is no kingdom.”

Who’s taking back whose union from whom?

Former UTD President Pat Tornillo is the obvious and appropriate villain of this performance, but AFT seems happy to link his alleged misappropriations to UTD’s financial state, while at the same time claiming the FBI investigation has nothing to do with UTD’s finances. It is a tap dance worthy of Bill “Bojangles” Robinson.

Considering UTD’s straits, Richard needed to cut staff, executives and salaries. He needed an AFT bailout, and to stop the hemorrhaging of members, he needed to cut dues. But what happens when equilibrium is restored?

If UTD Acting President Shirley Johnson can do the job for $89,500 – less than the $122,070 she was making, and far less than the $243,000 Tornillo was making, why shouldn’t all AFT local presidents, especially with those with fewer members than Miami and in lower cost-of-living regions of the country, also make $89,500?

Richard laid off 24 of UTD’s 68 employees. Most of these were from the financial and legal departments, which AFT is now handling. Was UTD overstaffed, or were the layoffs merely a transfer of costs to AFT?

Richard reduced dues by 10 percent. Was UTD overcharging on dues, or will the dues level be restored when AFT leaves?

These are not idle questions. If Tornillo’s sole offense was stealing $300,000 in union dues for his personal benefit, then the salaries, staffing and dues levels instituted under his reign have relatively little to do with it. If, on the other hand, the AFT takeover was prompted by overstaffing, inflated salaries, building overruns, and dues set too high, why aren’t other locals attracting the same scrutiny?

Or AFT itself. During the 2001-02 school year, AFT President Sandra Feldman received $328,941 in salary, $50,900 in allowances, $57,820 in disbursements for official business, and $48,325 in other disbursements, for a grand total of $485,986. Twenty AFT locals were listed as overdue in repaying loans to the national headquarters, for a total of more than $850,000. How is it that AFT can afford to administer UTD, plus shell out $1.7 million in grants and interest-free loans?

This taking-back-our-union thing could get to be contagious.

5)  Stand By Me… But Not Too Close. EIA strongly encourages you to read the report Stand By Me: What Teachers Really Think About Unions, Merit Pay and Other Professional Matters by Public Agenda (http://www.publicagenda.org). It’s one of those “pick and choose” studies, by which I mean advocates and critics of unions can each select interesting data to support their points of view. There aren’t too many surprises, though it is nice to see empirical evidence to support the existence of the vastly differing opinions of new teachers versus those of veteran teachers. I won’t comment further, because I don’t want to scoop myself. The Milton and Rose D. Friedman Foundation will soon publish a piece I wrote on this very issue, tentatively titled “The Tao of Teachers’ Unions.” The Public Agenda report strongly supports this clip from it, and I suspect both the unions and their critics will agree: “What teachers’ unions can sell to every teacher, however, is security. Even the best teachers desire protection from arbitrary administrators, litigious parents and unruly students.”

6)  AFT Sets Late Payment Notification Rules for Locals. “Here’s a suggestion: When a local is more than one month delinquent in its dues payments to the state and national affiliates, notify the members of that local.” – May 5, 2003 EIA Communiqué.

“Under the new procedures, affiliates that are two months behind in per-capita payments will receive notification in writing, along with a request for full payment. Failure to remedy the arrearage within 30 days ‘shall precipitate direct communication within two weeks from the AFT to the affiliate’s executive board and its state affiliate.’ If dues are not paid within 30 days of that communication, the AFT will communicate directly with the affiliate’s members within three weeks, informing them of the arrearage and how it affects their local and their rights and status as AFT members.” – June 2, 2003 Inside AFT.

7)  Quote of the Week. “As with many state education associations, we need to enhance some of our systems for communicating and delivering services to our members. The fact is, our system sometimes exhibits some significant disconnects; too often there are disconnects between VEA headquarters and field; too often there are disconnects between UniServ staff and local leaders; too often there are disconnects between local leaders and the worksite association representatives.” – Virginia Education Association Executive Director Jerry Carruthers, in remarks made at the union’s April 2003 Delegate Assembly.

 

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