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August 22, 2005

1)  AFT Loses in Puerto Rico's Courts and Ballots. The hopes of the American Federation of Teachers of regaining its affiliate in Puerto Rico were hit with two fatal blows last week.

In the first, U.S. District Court Judge Jay Garcia-Gregory ruled that the court has no jurisdiction to decide AFT's lawsuit intended to enforce its administratorship over the Federación de Maestros de Puerto Rico (FMPR), its local that disaffiliated in September 2004. FMPR is subject to the collective bargaining law of Puerto Rico (Law 45) and not the National Labor Relations Act. Thus, the AFT suit was dismissed without its arguments being considered.

The AFT administrator, Felix Rodriguez, said AFT would evaluate its legal alternatives. He also announced plans to establish regional offices and to undertake a bus tour of the country's schools to organize opposition to FMPR and garner support for the administratorship. AFT supporters also called for a boycott of the August 18 referendum on the organization's future, called by FMPR President Rafael Feliciano to put an end to the question once and for all.

If the numbers are to be believed, both the boycott and the referendum were a disaster for AFT.

With an 84 percent turnout among the island's 32,616 FMPR members, disaffiliation defeated affiliation by a margin of more than 3 to 1. Rodriguez called the referendum "a vile and fraudulent effort to deceive."

AFT has lost in every venue in Puerto Rico, but it clearly isn't giving up. With no legal or practical way to exercise authority over FMPR, its operations, facilities or finances, AFT is left with only alternative: creating a rival union. Early signs indicate AFT is considering just such a step.

In the organizing game "Survivor: Puerto Rico," AFT has been unable to outwit and outplay its FMPR opponents. It remains to be seen if AFT can outlast them.

2)  Globe, AP Teacher Union Stories Miss the Mark. Press coverage of teachers' unions is vastly improved over just five years ago, but sometimes there is backsliding, and we have two examples from the just the past two weeks.

On August 10, the Boston Globe published a story by Anand Vaishnav headlined "Some charter teachers join union," about a concerted effort by the Massachusetts Federation of Teachers (MFT) to organize the state's 2,000 charter school teachers. MFT has an associate member category, which for $58 provides liability insurance, newsletters, and participation in MFT member benefits such as a credit card and "statewide discounts on theme parks, museums, entertainment, and more." More to the point, MFT is looking for charter school teachers who will act as an organizing cadre within their respective schools.

In two months, MFT got 48 charter school teachers to sign up.

In other words, 97.6 percent of them weren't interested. But the Globe story isn't about a spectacular failure. Instead, it called the results "giving the labor group a foothold in schools that have operated free of union influence for a decade."

Michael Goldstein, founder of the MATCH charter school in Boston, summed up the situation brilliantly. "Forty-eight out of 2,000 Massachusetts charter school teachers (spread over 12 schools) got a new 'associate membership,' which means they get a monthly magazine and discounted liability insurance and some pizza coupons, and the union gets a nice newspaper headline," he wrote.

Meanwhile in California, the Associated Press published a August 20 story by political writer Beth Fouhy headlined, "National labor money largely absent from California election," which asserts, "Campaign reports filed earlier this month show that just one national union has made a significant investment in the campaign to defeat initiatives by Schwarzenegger and others seen as anti-union. The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees gave $500,000 to the Alliance for a Better California, the labor coalition."

That statement is true only if you don't follow the union money trail properly. The Alliance for a Better California received more than $4.3 million from the California Teachers Association Issues PAC. On April 19, the National Education Association Ballot Measure/Legislative Crises Fund sent $2.5 million to the CTA Issues PAC. What for? According to NEA, the grant was "funds for Phase I of efforts to oppose ballot initiatives on merit pay, teacher tenure, retirement changes and paycheck protection."

Coincidentally, the same CTA Issues PAC made a $50,000 donation to Communities for Quality Education (CQE) a mere two days later. CQE is the NEA-created front group to lead "independent" opposition to the No Child Left Behind Act.

The other big recipient of NEA ballot fund largesse this year was the New Jersey Education Association. NJEA also made a contribution to CQE this summer.

3)  Markets Beat Ideology, Even in Oakland. Observation #1. A recent study by the Bay Area Center for Voting Research found Oakland, California, to be the 5th most liberal city in America -- more liberal than San Francisco, Boston and New York and only slightly less liberal than DC and Berkeley.

Observation #2. The union campaign against Wal-Mart has been especially well-funded and visible in California, particularly in areas of the state where unions still tend to have a great deal of influence.

Observation #3. On Wednesday, Wal-Mart will open a new store in Oakland, for which it had 400 job openings.

Observation #4. More than 11,000 people applied for those 400 openings.

Capsule Analysis. The Change to Win/AFL-CIO arguments over organizing vs. politics are irrelevant. Anyone with a sober view of the situation – who in organized labor is successful and who is not – must come to the conclusion that unionism is today almost entirely a public sector phenomenon. Unions themselves have trouble finding (and paying for) union hotels, union printers and union contractors. In the public sector, on the other hand, union growth is only limited by the growth of government, which is no limit at all.

4)  Connecticut Files NCLB Lawsuit. The state of Connecticut sued the federal government today over the No Child Left Behind Act, using many of the same arguments present in NEA's lawsuit against NCLB. That's good news for NEA, but why didn't Connecticut simply join the NEA lawsuit, as the union has been begging state governments to do for two years?

EIA already answered that question in June 2004. Both the states and the NEA want more federal money and fewer federal strings. But the states know that the unions will use the very same arguments against state funding policies. Better to keep your distance and seek to cut a deal with the feds.

5)  Release Time Debated in Des Moines. Here's a public discussion you don't see every day. The Des Moines, Iowa school board is questioning whether a full-time release for the president of the Des Moines Education Association (DMEA) is actually a good idea.

DMEA President Alan Young currently is released half-time from his middle school teaching position to perform union work. He wants to be a full-time union president. The district would continue to pay his $68,000 salary and benefit package to him, while the union picks up the $44,000 cost of his replacement.

"Young argued that the situation doesn't allow him to do his union job effectively," reports the Des Moines Register.

And get this: DMEA will receive a grant from its parent affiliates, the Iowa State Education Association and the National Education Association, to help pay the $44,000. Why the taxpayers should shell out $68,000 and receive a teacher the union salary scale tells us is only worth $44,000 is left unanswered. I guess that differential pay thing is only a bad idea if the teacher wants to work at a high-poverty school, instead of at union headquarters.

6)  Public Education Policy World May Solve Nation's Energy Crisis. The Associated Press reports that rising oil prices are leading researchers and investors in Texas to devote money and resources to the conversion of bovine excrement into clean-burning fuel. The people involved are under the impression that Texas cattle herds are the best source for the raw material, but EIA knows the nation's leading producers of such raw material can be found in the public education establishment and policy world.

For example, the light bulbs in the EIA offices are powered exclusively from the gas generated by this single web page.

7)  EIA Blog Now Has RSS Feed. It has been a busy couple of weeks in the sprawling complex at the EIA Operations Center. The new web site is up and running, the blog updates are going smoothly, and the dead drop is filled regularly. But was that enough for the Internet generation? No! Immediate requests arrived for an RSS feed for the blog, something with which EIA had only a marginal familiarity. Nevertheless, at EIA the market rules! So, after a crash course over the weekend, the feed is operational. Just click on the XML link at to subscribe.

Also, for those of you who enjoy the "Contract Hits" feature, the plan is to add a new hit each Thursday.

8)  Quote of the Week #1. "I'm not in favor of charters. As far as I'm concerned, they are just private schools in a different suit or a fancy dress." – United Teachers Los Angeles President A. J. Duffy. (August 11 Los Angeles Times)

Quote of the Week #2. "The [union] movement has about as much chance of organizing workers at Wal-Mart stores as the FBI has at finding Jimmy Hoffa or O.J. has trying to locate his wife's killer." – Wesley Brown, business editor for the Arkansas News Bureau. (August 20 Arkansas News Bureau)

Quote of the Week #3. "Politics are saturated with gratuitous, disingenuous, symbolic and intellectually dishonest actions. The lawsuit that the California Teachers Association, state schools Superintendent Jack O'Connell and others filed against Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on [August 9] embraces all of those dubious tendencies." – Sacramento Bee columnist Dan Walters, writing about a CTA lawsuit that claims the governor violated the law when he failed to appropriate the full Proposition 98 guarantees for education. The state legislature is not named in the suit, even though it approved the budget with the reduced amount, fulfilling the requirements of California law – making the suit frivolous on its face. (August 12 Sacramento Bee)


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