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December 15, 2003

1)  Wisconsin Union Denies Madison Agreement Is a Contract. The Wisconsin Education Association Council (WEAC) claims its 1978 affiliation agreement with Madison Teachers, Inc. (MTI) is not a contract and so its provisions are unenforceable in a court of law.

The surprising claim appeared in a reply brief to a lawsuit brought by MTI last April. As EIA reported on June 9, the 1978 agreement between MTI, WEAC and NEA 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.”

WEAC stated it terminated the agreement no later than February 18, 2001, though MTI denies the state union had the unilateral authority to do so. In October 2002, MTI filed a grievance against WEAC, listing 17 violations, including nonpayment of $25,665 in legal expenses. Negotiations went nowhere, prompting MTI to file suit when WEAC refused arbitration.

In its reply, WEAC claimed the court has no jurisdiction over the subject matter of the suit, and that the agreement “is not an enforceable contract.” The basis for that claim is not buried in obscure legal definitions of what constitutes a contract, but in WEAC’s remarkable statement that the document by which MTI agreed to remain affiliated with WEAC in 1978 “is a hopeful declaration of MTI’s and WEAC’s desire for cooperation, but no more than that.” WEAC said the agreement “is a statement of principles of union solidarity as they relate to WEAC, the NEA and its local affiliate, MTI.”

This is an odd position to hold. Other than one paragraph in the preamble, the agreement entirely consists of duties and responsibilities of the parties involved, and lists very specific actions that must be taken – much like any contract between a school district and a teachers’ union. Though MTI’s grievance specifically seeks reimbursement for legal services as stipulated in the agreement, WEAC stated the dispute is “not the equivalent of business disputes between two commercial entities for which arbitration may play a proper role. Here, instead, the dispute is about the values and autonomy of organized labor.”

For its part, MTI claimed the agreement embodies “the total relationship” between MTI, WEAC and NEA. MTI stated that “WEAC’s briefs are either willfully ignorant or they demonstrate an appalling lack of understanding of both labor and contract law.”

The suit is much more than bickering between a local and its state affiliate. Its outcome will ultimately determine not only if MTI will remain a WEAC affiliate, but probably the fate of a number of other Wisconsin teacher union locals that are affiliated to WEAC through MTI. MTI represents some 6,000 education employees in the state, or about seven percent of WEAC’s active membership.

2)  Another New York Local Leaves NEA; More to Follow? The Hicksville Congress of Teachers became the latest NEA New York local to disaffiliate, and is expected to join the AFT-affiliated New York State United Teachers after a short transition period.

The Hicksville union was one of the few remaining NEA locals on Long Island, whose numbers may be reduced even further. Planview-Old Bethpage Congress of Teachers (POBCT) President Morty Rosenfeld, who was defeated in a bid to become president of NEA New York earlier this year, will also discuss disaffiliation with his members and their representatives.

In a memo to POBCT members, Rosenfeld noted that the local is committed to remaining with NEA for the rest of this school year, but that “it is obvious that that organization is rapidly disappearing from Long Island and that we will have to make alternate plans. The options are essentially two – join the New York State United Teachers or go independent.”

POBCT claims about 700 members. Any change in affiliation will require a vote of the rank-and-file.

3)  Pennsylvania Delegates Defeat $25 Dues Hike. Delegates to the Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA) convention defeated a proposal to raise annual member dues by $25 in order to close a projected budget deficit and settle a contract with the union’s staff.

The defeat of the dues hike prompted the PSEA staff union to state that PSEA members “behaved like taxpayers” because they refused to “pay for quality.”

The delegates did approve a new business item that called for marathon bargaining and the use of a fact-finder or arbitrator to expedite staff contract negotiations, which have dragged on for months and caused numerous rifts within PSEA.

PSEA management told delegates that the union’s investments lost three percent of their value this year, despite a rebounding economy. The managers want the staff to sacrifice some of its lucrative benefits to close PSEA’s revenue gap.

The staff union claims its own contract proposal cuts staff salary and benefits, and that a dues increase of as little as $24 over four years would close the PSEA deficit.

4)  NEA Set to Spend $1.75 Million to Organize Charters. On October 14, EIA reported that the California Teachers Association would spend $250,000 this year to organize charter school teachers in the state, and that the NEA Board of Directors matched that funding, with the stipulation that lessons learned would be provided to other NEA state affiliates contemplating similar projects.

EIA has now learned that NEA will budget $1.75 million over a three-year period for the specific purpose of organizing charter school employees, and that the union will soon begin negotiations with AFT over any jurisdictional issues that may arise when NEA affiliates begin their work.

One high-ranking NEA official reportedly told board members that if the organizing campaign accomplishes nothing else, it might “slow the creation of charter schools.”

5)  NEA 2003-04 Resolutions. EIA regularly receives requests for the current NEA resolutions, which are adopted at the union’s representative assembly in July of each year. The resolutions go through several amendment processes before they are finalized at the convention, and publishing a definitive version that incorporates all the changes often takes months. Since NEA no longer posts the current resolutions on its web site, EIA will e-mail a copy of the 2003-04 resolutions in Adobe Acrobat format (*.pdf) free of charge to anyone who requests it. Be aware that the file is about 450 kilobytes long (95 pages).

6)  Saddam the Fortunate. Whatever happens to Saddam Hussein from this point on, he can consider himself a lucky man. History tells of similar tyrants who did not emerge from a hiding place to medical examinations, humane treatment and judicial protections.

The Byzantine Emperor Andronicus I Comnenus seized the throne in 1183 and ruled with terror and violence, much like Saddam. As the historian Edward Gibbon told it, one day in September 1185, a crowd gathered in the church of Sancta Sophia in Constantinople to commiserate about their oppression. “But their lamentations were soon turned to curses, and their curses to threats,” Gibbon wrote. “They dared to ask, ‘Why do we fear? Why do we obey? We are many, and he is one: our patience is the only bond of our slavery.’” They rose up and deposed Andronicus, who was captured trying to flee the city.

He was brought in chains before the new emperor, who left him to the tender mercies of the citizens. The crowd proceeded to remove Andronicus’ hair, teeth, one eye and one hand. He was then tied to the backside of a mangy, sick camel and paraded through the streets, where people hit and spat at him. Andronicus was finally suspended upside-down between two pillars, where people continued to strike at him. He cried to the crowd, “Why will you bruise a broken reed?” At last, two soldiers, whether through anger or pity, plunged swords into him, putting a final end to his torture.

7)  Quote of the Week. “Chris Gebben, president of the Mattoon Education Association, was one of the few people at the meeting who outwardly support the board’s [tax hike] proposal. He said schools get revenue from taxes. The truth is people don’t want to pay taxes, but they want good schools; it takes a steady reliable income to have good schools, Gebben said. Unfunded government mandates will come along and the district won’t have the ability to pay for them, he said. It is imperative that the board establish a solid base-line on taxes now to insure students a good education, Gebben said. His comments met with boos and several audience members yelled at him and called him a liar.” – Reporter Krista Lewin, describing events at a meeting of the Mattoon, Illinois, school board. (December 10 Mattoon Journal Gazette & Times-Courier)

 

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