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March 29, 2004

1)  New NEA Political Group to Influence What “America Learns.” Faced with Internal Revenue Service and U.S. Department of Labor investigations concerning its political activities and reporting, the National Education Association has created a new advocacy organization that will be able to use both dues money and state PAC money to advance the union’s goals.

Called “America Learns,” the new group is a “social welfare organization,” as defined by the Internal Revenue Code section 501(c)(4). The ACLU and the NRA are examples of 501(c)(4) organizations. Such groups are allowed to lobby, provided it isn’t their primary activity. They may not participate directly or indirectly in political campaigns.

The organization’s primary focus will be on “spreading the word about the misguided so-called NCLB law, and how to fix it.” Any doubt that the organization will be controlled by NEA was erased by the identity of its board of directors. Anne Davis, president of the Illinois Education Association, will chair the board. The other two members are Robert Bonazzi, executive director of the New Jersey Education Association, and Maurice Joseph, NEA’s deputy general counsel. The executive director for America Learns is John Hein, most recently the associate executive director of government relations for the California Teachers Association.

NEA is asking its state affiliates to contribute a minimum of $1 per member to America Learns, which can come from the union’s general fund, PAC fund, or outside donations – though these are not tax deductible.

2)  Utah Support Employees to Vote on NEA Affiliation. After a bad organizing year, NEA is hoping for a major membership pick-up in Utah by hooking the entire Utah School Employees Association (USEA) in one fell swoop. USEA represents education support employees statewide and has been bouncing from one national affiliation to another over the past year.

USEA disaffiliated from the American Association of Classified School Employees (AACSE) to hook up with the National Association of Classified School Employees (NACSE) last August. NACSE also has statewide affiliates in Washington, Minnesota and California. In announcing their decision, USEA officials told members, “The needs of classified employees will never be the priority of teacher organizations like AFT or NEA. While these organizations are very large and well known, teachers control them and their priority will always be teachers. The best organization for classified employees is an organization that is controlled and works for only classified employees.” The union’s executive board approved NACSE affiliation in October.

Well, something changed their minds in a hurry, because last month the USEA executive board distributed a memo to local officers, announcing its recommendation to affiliate with NEA. USEA officers negotiated a direct affiliation deal with NEA. That is, USEA’s current members will not become members of the Utah Education Association. Additionally, NEA approved reduced national dues for four years, gradually increasing until reaching full ESP dues (currently $73.50). USEA delegates will debate and vote on the plan at their May 1 meeting.

This arrangement causes a problem, because the Utah Education Association has members who are education support employees, and NEA cannot have two affiliates in competition for the same members. So, the same day, the Utah Education Association House of Delegates will vote on a by-laws change to exclude classified employees from membership. One assumes those members will be encouraged to join USEA.

The USEA board is already distributing a laundry list of benefits NEA will provide, and is informing members that USEA “will retain our ability to determine our own programs, services, policies and such things as state legislative priorities.” Apparently they haven’t read the UniServ agreement yet.

USEA would provide a much-needed membership shot-in-the-arm for NEA, but it probably will be a short-term financial burden. Reduced dues, particularly for support employees, are a loss leader. The Iowa State Education Association, facing budget problems of its own, recently eliminated reduced dues for new teachers.

3)  Washington Charter Situation Puts NEA on the Spot. Delegates to the Washington Education Association (WEA) representative assembly approved an effort to overturn the state’s new charter school law through a ballot initiative. If the union gathers the 98,000 signatures necessary to place the initiative on the ballot, the law would be suspended until the election is held.

WEA’s “last stand” approach to charters places NEA in something of a quandary. In 2001, the national union formed a special committee on charter schools. The committee issued a report, which was made official NEA policy by a vote of the union’s representative assembly in July of that year. The policy calls for a “middle-ground approach” in dealing with the issue of charter schools, and explicitly rejected “the option of reverting to the position of categorical opposition that NEA took when the charter school concept was introduced in the early 1990s.”

At the same time, NEA budgeted $1.75 million for a pilot project to organize charter school teachers. The project is being run by the California Teachers Association, with an eye to replicating its efforts elsewhere.

The problem for NEA will arise when WEA asks for money from the NEA ballot initiative fund. A $5 per member annual assessment is accumulated and doled out by NEA to state affiliates who apply for grants for their state and local initiatives. Will NEA fund organizing charter schools in one state while funding their elimination in another? Would helping fund the WEA initiative violate national union policy?

AFT exhibits similar schizophrenia on the issue. The Pennsylvania Federation of Teachers boasts charter school employees among its members, while the Ohio Federation of Teachers is considering a ballot referendum to outlaw the schools. “[Charter schools] are a cancer we need to cut out and cut out fast,” Tony Miceli, a member of the Cleveland Teachers Union executive board, told the Toledo Blade.

Perhaps the unions should straighten out their internal policies on charter schools before they start advocating one for the public.

4)  Through the Grapevine. Here are a couple of items that come from excellent and reliable -- but single -- sources. EIA will provide more details as they become available:

* Word out of Miami is that the AFT administratorship over the United Teachers of Dade (UTD) will not end until October, when elections for new officers will take place. AFT took control of the local after a series of financial problems and an FBI raid last April, which led to the arrest and subsequent jailing of former UTD President Pat Tornillo for mismanagement of union dues.

* Word out of NEA headquarters is that OWL.org, the union’s long-troubled, multi-million dollar web portal, is about to undergo yet another facelift and restructuring, possibly accompanied by a name change. EIA suggests “Yahoo.”

5)  Hawaii Back-Ends 31 Percent Pay Hike for University Professors. Negotiators for the state of Hawaii and the University of Hawaii Professional Assembly (UHPA), the union representing university faculty, reached agreement on a six-year deal worth an accumulated 31 percent increase in pay. UHPA is the largest single higher education local affiliate of NEA, with some 3,100 members.

The agreement, coming after UHPA members had taken a strike authorization vote, averted a second faculty strike in the past three years. The raises include a one percent retroactive hike, then 3 percent, 2 percent, 5 percent, 9 percent, and 11 percent in the 2008-09 school year.

UHPA President Mary Tiles called the raises “a start.” Gov. Linda Lingle said she expects the state to pay for the contract with revenues from an expanding economy.

The unanswered question is what the agreement will mean for other government employee unions also in negotiations with the state. The Hawaii State Teachers Association goes back to the bargaining table this week and has already said it expects the state to make more movement in light of the UHPA contract.

6)  Quote of the Week. “Content sometimes is really overrated. A teacher is like an artist, a coach. He has to be able to inspire children.” – Philadelphia middle school teacher Nick Perry, commenting on the news that more than half of the city’s middle school teachers failed their content exams for certification as “highly qualified” teachers. Nearly two of every three teachers who took the math exam failed it, though one teacher who achieved a perfect score said the test “mostly included seventh- and eighth-grade math and touched on high school math.” (March 23 Philadelphia Inquirer)

   

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