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August 20, 2007

1)  Searching for the Real Union Candidate. Yesterday the Associated Press ran a story by Ron Fournier headlined "Democrats Preach Virtue of Labor Unions." The candidates were speaking at an Iowa labor forum. Organized labor is one of the mainstays of the Democratic Party's political ground operations, and it isn't surprising to find the candidates fiercely competing for its support.

The story included Sen. Chris Dodd's oft-cited declaration, "I'm a union guy!" But how many presidential candidates are, in fact, "union guys?" These are people who mention their humble origins, and are now vying for the most powerful position on the planet. How did they get there?

There are often stories about politicians who preach the virtue of public schools, but send their own children to private schools. It made me wonder how many candidates preaching the virtue of labor unions are speaking from first-hand experience. How many ever had union dues taken from their paycheck? How many had to visit the union hiring hall to get a job?

I don't want to give the impression that my research was exhaustive or conclusive, but I can find only one major candidate who undoubtedly has belonged to a union. Ever. More on that shortly.

Hillary? Nonprofit, Congressional and private law work.

Obama? Editor for the Business International Corporation, nonprofit director, and private law.

Richardson? Straight into the federal government from college.

Biden? Private law and politics.

Union guy Dodd? Peace Corps, military, private law, politics.

Kucinich? Straight into politics.

Certainly John Edwards, son of a mill worker? Well, it was North Carolina, so it was probably non-union, but nevertheless, Edwards' mill worker dad was a supervisor at the textile plant by the time John was 12, so he was management, not labor. John? Private law and politics.

How about the Republicans? Giuliani? No. Huckabee? No. Romney? No. McCain? No. The one and only presidential candidate who holds a union card is Fred Thompson, member of the Screen Actors Guild, bringing to mind the only union president ever to win the highest office in the land: former SAG President Ronald Reagan.

Now it's possible that one or more of the candidates have held jobs with union membership, and it just isn't obvious without their specific job titles and working situations at that particular time. But it's clear that their personal road to prominence wasn't open to union vehicles. When next we hear these folks preach, remember what they practiced.

2)  NEA Slated to Send $3 Million to Utah for Anti-Voucher Campaign. The National Education Association board of directors held an urgent meeting via conference call last Friday concerning the upcoming referendum on school vouchers in Utah.

The NEA Executive Committee has the authority to unilaterally approve affiliate requests for money from the union's national ballot measure fund up to $500,000. But the request from the Utah Education Association was for $3 million, and required the sanction of the NEA board of directors.

Union officials felt the decision was too time-sensitive to wait for the board's regularly scheduled meeting of September 28, hence the conference call. The Utah campaign was discussed and board members voted electronically via a secure website.

EIA has not yet heard the official results of the vote, but feels confident stating the request was approved.

3)  Minority Rules. It hasn't generated much comment of which I'm aware, but seven unions have petitioned the National Labor Relations Board to order employers to bargain with unions, even if they do not represent a majority of workers. Their petition was supported by 25 law professors.

So, let's see if I have this straight: If there is a representation election, the employer is prevented by law from taking sides. To avoid the possibility that some employers might break the law, we replace elections with card checks, which can install unions but cannot remove them. If the union fails to achieve majority support, the employer must still bargain with the minority union. If the union achieves majority support, other individuals or representatives are excluded from bargaining their own terms and conditions with employers.

You will own a buggy whip.

4)  Austin City Limits. You may have seen a headline in your local newspaper the same or similar to the one in the Washington Post. It accompanies a story from the Associated Press and it reads, "Teachers Say Yes to Pay Tied to Scores." And since the function of any good headline is to get you to read the story, this one served its purpose. Alas, the picture on the box doesn't match what's inside.

It turns out the teachers in the headline are teachers at nine schools in Austin, Texas, who are part of a pilot program involving Education Austin, the merged NEA-AFT local. Great, where else? Uh, Denver and Minnesota, whose programs are two years old and not exactly praised within the union.

The story mentions Education Austin receiving help from national AFT, but fails to mention that national NEA is barred from helping because of its resolutions.

This is not meant to belittle the absolute fact that there are district and unions working together in places to try new things. But for every Toledo or Columbus peer review program, for every Rochester "living contract," for every Denver or Austin performance pay project, for every New York City union-run charter school, there are literally thousands of school districts and local unions that won't touch any of them with a barge pole.

5)  100% - 50% = 76%, or Something. I came across a story in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch headlined "For many teachers, the job's too much." And for once, I'm not going to rant about phony teacher turnover data. Actually, I need math help.

The story contains two distinct statistics. In the space of three sentences, the reporter cites a) "as many as half of new teachers in public schools leave before they hit the five-year mark"; and b) "about 24 percent of teachers nationwide have five or fewer years of experience."

I'm having trouble constructing an example where both of those statements are true. My first problem is that the first statistic describes a ratio of new teachers only, while the second refers to a ratio of all teachers. My second problem is computing a scenario that is not only mathematically true, but historically true, based on the knowledge that the teacher force is roughly five percent larger than it was five years ago. My third problem is dealing with percentage over time, and a cumulative percentage at that.

So, help me out, math teachers. Here we have a real world mathematics word problem. I'm reasonably good at math, but it's possible I'm simply missing the obvious equation that accounts for all the variables I've mentioned. If you can't help me figure it out, I'm going to have to ask Winnie Cooper.

6)  A Whiter Shade of Pale. 1994 – The Burlington, Vermont, school system decides that a concerted effort must be made "to attract and retain a diverse staff in order to assume the highest possible level of professional excellence in our schools."

2007 – The number of African-Americans among Burlington's 337 teachers: zero.

7)  NEA Affiliate Personnel Moves. * Vince Giordano takes over as executive director of the New Jersey Education Association, succeeding Robert Bonazzi. Giordano has been an NJEA staffer for 37 years.

* Ray James, a member of the South Carolina Education Association board of directors, was appointed to the SCEA vice president position, replacing the late Judy Fair.

* Former Vermont Press Bureau chief Darren Allen is the new Vermont NEA communications director, replacing Laurie Huse, who retired after 30 years.

* North Carolina Association of Educators President (and former NEA Executive Committee member) Eddie Davis is toying with the idea of running for state superintendent of public instruction.

8)  Last Week's Intercepts. EIA's blog, Intercepts, covered these topics from August 13-20:

* The Mystery of the Missing Link. Is NEA proud of its NCLB conspiracy flow chart, or not?

* NEA, AFT and Wikipedia. Yes, NEA has edited its own Wikipedia entry, but it isn't censoring criticism.

* Mrs. Miguel, However, Cannot Get Her Job Back. You murdered someone?! Oh, it was only your wife.

9)  Quote of the Week. "We used to march in it every year, but nobody showed up. Now the union makes going to it mandatory." – Bob Burgie, sheet metal worker and members of Teamsters Local 137, discussing the Labor Day Parade, which the New York City Central Labor Council decided to cancel this year. (August 16 New York Daily News)

 

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