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July 18, 2005

1)  In Puerto Rico, It's the American Federation of "Dues-Suckers." In his keynote speech to the AFT QuEST conference on July 7, AFT President Edward McElroy mentioned John Kerry, CAFTA, NCLB, U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings, merit pay, membership numbers, lobbying, and the current dissension in the AFL-CIO. He didn't mention that the day before, AFT established an administratorship over a 32,000-member union that had seceded from AFT in September 2004, or that there were protesters outside with signs reading "AFL-CIO, Out of Puerto Rico" and "Chupa Cuotas" or "Dues-Suckers."

AFT completed its Puerto Rico adventure by stripping of power the elected leadership of the Federación de Maestros de Puerto Rico (FMPR) and naming former FMPR President Felix Rodriguez Hernandez as AFT's Temporary Administrator. Current FMPR President Rafael Feliciano Hernandez (no relation) promises not to go quietly.

Incendiary accusations are being tossed back and forth in this ugly dispute, but the key legal issue will be whether AFT can apply its rules and administratorship over a union that seceded – regardless of whether AFT believes the secession vote met its standards.

According to AFT, "there is no doubt that an AFT administratorship is necessary both to correct the systematic repression of democratic rights that has occurred and to restore fiscal responsibility to the FMPR." The union accuses Feliciano of a "pattern of discrimination based on political orientation," "financial malpractice" and a "carefully orchestrated campaign of intimidation, interference and coercion."

Additionally, AFT asserts that Feliciano failed to abide by the FMPR Constitution in conducting the disaffiliation vote and in budget approval matters. LaborNotes reports that AFT's complaint about the disaffiliation vote was dismissed by Puerto Rico's labor commission.

Feliciano has no shortage of fiery rhetoric either. He has consistently argued that he and his slate were elected on a platform of disaffiliation, that the FMPR delegates made their desires known with their vote on the issue last September, and that the AFT no longer has any type of legal authority over FMPR.  "Its imposition of an administratorship has as much substance as the wind," he said.

In his statement to the AFT investigative panel on June 7, Feliciano stated, "The illegal and arbitrary investigation that this panel has been charged with undertaking is only dressing for the AFT's plans to stage a coup and destroy our union's precious democracy, trampling over the FMPR's Constitution and bylaws with the goal of recovering their millionaire sweetheart deal and lost power." He referred to AFT's notion of justice and democracy as "little less than medieval." (I have posted a couple of photos from the June 7 protest on the EIA web site. Many FMPR supporters wore yellow shirts.)

Feliciano has for a long time claimed that AFT was creating a parallel structure in Puerto Rico in an effort to head off disaffiliation. Now they have one. The two competing administrations now operate out of separate offices in San Juan, and have separate web sites (http://www.fmprlucha.org and http://www.aftpr.org).

There are more than a few ironies here. In it stated purpose to protect the FMPR Constitution, the AFT has suspended it "to the extent necessary to allow the administrator to perform his/her duties." FMPR has rallied and picketed at AFT hearings and events. Some of the most avid labor activists and leftists are denouncing AFT for its "labor imperialism."

After turning a blind eye to the activities of Barbara Bullock in DC and Pat Tornillo in Miami for so many years, AFT is sensitive to accusations of union presidents running roughshod over members' rights and dues money. But the national union's actions in Puerto Rico have the distinct smell of United Fruit.

2)  NEA to Grade GOP Lawmakers on a Curve. Last May, NEA hired Valis Associates, a DC government relations firm, for the specific task of lobbying key Republicans in support of the union's agenda. The first signs of Valis' work appeared last week, when the union's PAC, the NEA Fund for Children & Public Education, held a lunch briefing for GOP House members and their key staffers. The purpose of the briefing was to announce "significant changes in the way in which congressional education records will be rated in NEA's Legislative Report Card."

As is the practice with many other advocacy groups, NEA rates lawmakers on their votes on key legislation. And as you might expect, Democrats tend to get very high ratings while Republicans get very low ratings. This makes the union's much-touted bipartisanship a little difficult to defend. But NEA has a solution!

Noting that it is "increasingly problematic to construct voting records that reveal accurately an elected official's views and record on public education and employee issues of importance to NEA," the union has decided to grade on a curve.

The NEA Legislative Report Card will now rate lawmakers not only on votes, but on co-sponsorhip of key bills, committee work, "behind the scenes/caucus work," and "accessibility to NEA staff."

Members' scores in these areas will be added together to produce a composite score, which will then be converted to a letter grade and posted on the NEA website.

Political observers will have their own angles on this, but what strikes EIA as funny is the idea that NEA believes that it is possible – and desirable – to rate lawmakers by subjective standards, to assign a numerical value to their observed accomplishments, and then judge whether these men and women should be rewarded with financial contributions and other tangible benefits on an individual basis. And don't forget the high-stakes standardized test; you can fail the NEA candidate questionnaire with one or more "wrong" answers.

Won't this NEA "merit pay" destroy the collegiality of the House and Senate? Won't lawmakers refuse to share their "staff accessibility" tips with each other? Is NEA prepared to "fully fund" its PAC commitments as Republicans fall over themselves to get a higher rating? Don't all of our lawmakers deserve a high NEA PAC rating?

You're right. Those are lousy arguments.

3)  Madison Local Wins Court Appeal Against Wisconsin NEA Affiliate. The Wisconsin District 1 Court of Appeals ruled that the affiliation dispute between Madison Teachers, Inc. (MTI) and the Wisconsin Education Association Council (WEAC) must proceed to arbitration, granting a long-sought victory to the local.

MTI sued WEAC in June 2003 over the interpretation of its 1978 affiliation agreement. The agreement allows MTI "complete and full autonomy" and provides for "binding arbitration in case of dispute." In 2002, the unions had a dispute over legal fee reimbursement and jurisdictional issues, but the agreement specifically calls for the arbitration services of Ronald W. Haughton. Mr. Haughton was too infirm to mediate this dispute and, in fact, passed away two weeks ago.

WEAC had claimed Haughton's services were essential to the agreement and so unilaterally severed its affiliation agreement with MTI, prompting the suit. You can read EIA's updates of the case's progress here, here and here.

WEAC has not stated its intentions and, as is the usual case, has not made a public statement or a rank-and-file communication (to EIA's knowledge) about the dispute with MTI during its three-year duration. Evidently lawsuits by affiliates, lawsuits against staff unions, and national takeovers of seceded affiliates are none of the members' business.

4)  Communicating with a Big Hammer. Speaking of WEAC, the Wisconsin State Journal is a little upset with the state teachers' union. WEAC was one of the sponsors of the Badger State Games, a sports event for about 11,000 amateur athletes.

As is the norm at such events, sponsors provided a goody bag for the participants. According to the Journal, the bag included a mini-soccer ball, a key chain, a water bottle, coupons, and an eight-page glossy pamphlet titled: "Wisconsin's Great Schools: UNDER SIEGE." Yep, the union put its standard political literature in a goody bag for athletes.

"No matter what you think about teachers or the vital and difficult job they do, the point is this: They shouldn't beat us over the head with their political agenda at benign events involving our kids," the Journal commented, adding, "Suppose Pro-Life Wisconsin had put in a pamphlet that screamed: 'Every kid deserves to be born!'"

EIA has often noted the lack of subtlety in the union's message, and it raises a question about why the unions don't let actual teachers help craft it. In the classroom, when Johnny doesn't get it, you don't scream at him until he does, do you?

5)  Union Membership Growth Sector? At next year's NEA Representative Assembly, delegates will decide whether to add a membership category for "friends of education" – which is a lot easier to print on a form than "people who will actually shell out cash money to read the union's party line advertising." This measure could increase NEA membership, but the union is bringing up the global rear in this field.

In the Punjab, there exists an Unemployed Elementary Teachers Union. Many members were arrested at a rally in Ludhiana last week. I'm guessing the rally was not about working conditions.

This is a real growth opportunity for teachers' unions. After all, you need a college degree, a teaching license and a job to become a working teacher. But anyone can be an unemployed teacher! It's a huge market!

6)  Students Unruly While You're Away? Call Out the National Guard. Richland County School District 1 in South Carolina has a chronic shortage of substitute teachers, but help is on the way. The local Air National Guard unit is developing a community service project that would allow up to 50 Guard members to work as substitute teachers.

"We do hope to go into the schools and be role models – not as military members but just as hardworking citizens in the community," said spokesman Lt. Col. Les Carroll. For those of you who worry about such things, the airmen will not be allowed to recruit students.

This could be a benefit to teachers everywhere, who will now be able to add "calling in an air strike" to their classroom management toolkit.

7)  New EIA Slogan? Hat tip to blogger Daryl Cobranchi, who headlined his posting of EIA's coverage of the NEA convention, "Torturing Himself So You Won't Have To."

8)  Quote of the Week. "He said, 'The teachers union is really, really strong here, but I'm willing to stand up to the teachers union if necessary.'" – Greg Nelson, general manager of the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment for the city of Los Angeles, describing the words of L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa in a July 11 meeting with city officials. (July 12 Daily Breeze)

 

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