1) Oregon Education Association Staff Strike Enters
Second Week. EIA
reported two weeks ago that it could be coming, and now the 42
professional employees of the Oregon Education Association are on strike
against the teachers' union.
For those new to the world of organized labor, many of
the people who work for teachers' unions and their affiliates are themselves
members of a labor union, called a staff union. Typically in NEA, the
associate staffers (assistants, clerks, support workers) belong to one
union, and professional staffers (UniServ directors, communications and
legal specialists) belong to another. Just as in school districts, they
engage in collective bargaining, with union executives acting as management
in these scenarios.
The result is ironic and amusing. A union of labor
negotiators deploys its usual repertoire against the teachers' union itself,
while union management tries to hold the line against ballooning salaries
and benefits, often complaining about union tactics. On those surprisingly
frequent occasions when contract disputes turn into staff strikes, it leads
to extraordinary events.
Back in July 2004, I wrote what may still be the only
study of NEA staff job actions, with many great primary source anecdotes.
It's still available online.
The press has noticed the Oregon strike, which began on
Union workers on strike – against union
Negotiators authorize strike against Oregon teachers union
Medford OEA workers picket against union
OEA finds shoe on the other foot
The staff union is providing its own original material,
however. I have posted a video from the picket line on the
EIA homepage. The associate staffers, who aren't on strike, took
personal days on the 15th to join their colleagues on the picket
line and apparently have been doing so during their lunch breaks as well. In
at least one instance union managers called the police to monitor staffers
on the picket line. For its part, the staff union picketed the home of OEA's
bargaining chair over the weekend.
OEA management has posted only a
short notification on its web site, stating the union "does not want a
strike and stands ready to resume negotiations and work toward a
More importantly, the notice tells members, "If you are
in need of OEA member services during the strike, please contact your local
OEA UniServ Council office and your request will be forwarded to an
Now, who would that "appropriate person" be? Are they
saying there is someone still working during the strike who is covering the
responsibilities of a striking worker?
How does the union feel when school districts try that?
2) From Union President to Voucher Supporter.
When Doug Tuthill, former president of the Pinellas Classroom Teachers
Association and national NEA activist for many years, became president of
the Florida School Choice Fund, well, let's just say
it didn't pass unnoticed. Jay P. Greene went Ghostbusters on us and
warned that "dogs
and cats are living together."
But Tuthill has always been something of a union
maverick. He was a new unionist well before
NEA President Bob Chase took up the call and made it official policy.
Tuthill's essay in the February 1997 NEA Today, headlined "Time
to Face the Hard Truth," could have been written today – which might
explain why Tuthill has gone over to the Dark Side.
"The traditional role of education
unions has been to protect members from the negative effects of
dysfunctional school systems," Tuthill wrote more than 11 years ago. "That's
not enough anymore. Today's education unions must take on the task of
transforming these systems. Our primary goal must be to create learning
systems in which all adults and children achieve at high levels."
Well, new unionism disappeared with
Chase, but Tuthill didn't vanish. He was still hopeful that new unionism
could return, as evidenced by his statement in 2004 (see
item #3 here):
"While Bob's speech excited NEA members around the
country and generated lots of buzz in the national media, New Unionism
bogged down in the execution stage. Public education is a massive
enterprise, and making even small improvements is daunting. After a few
years of speeches, discussions, articles, workshops, and initiatives, New
Unionism faded from the limelight, but the Phoenix may be rising from the
He suggested that if NEA were bold, it could involve
itself in hiring, placement, charter school management, support to home
school instructors, and membership services for private school teachers.
We now know that new unionism did not rise from the
ashes and that NEA was not bold. Union supporters may criticize Tuthill's
decision, but they can't claim he didn't make every attempt to change the
system from within.
3) Obama Optimist Sees Education Glass Half Fuller.
Among those trying to make education an important issue in Campaign 2008 is
the New York Times, which is publishing Education Watch, a
back-and-forth between the Pacific Research Institute's Lance T. Izumi and
Berkeley professor Bruce Fuller.
In a recent installment, Fuller
explained why Obama "is
right about education." He made salient points, including that it is
unfair to paint Obama as beholden to teachers' unions and education special
interest groups. Obama's education policies may be a standard Democratic
tune, but there is plenty of evidence that he is not merely marching to the
Not content to score in that regard,
Fuller overplayed it and claimed the unions are marching to Obama's
beat. "Unions are generally opposed to merit pay, but Mr. Obama has
succeeded in getting the nation's largest teachers union, the National
Education Association, to be more forward looking in terms of incentive
plans," Fuller wrote.
This doesn't pass the laugh test. How "forward looking"
NEA has become is certainly open to debate, and whatever movement there has
been cannot reasonably be credited to Sen. Obama, whose influence over NEA's
positions is, frankly, zero.
And just as an aside: Can we establish a moratorium on
references to NEA as "the nation's largest teachers union?" There are only
two national teachers' unions, and even if we were to extend the definition,
the third largest would probably be the independent Akron Education
Association in Ohio. There are other teachers' organizations, but they are
not unions. If a descriptive clause is needed, "the nation's largest union"
would be both accurate and relevant.
4) Last Week's Intercepts. EIA's blog,
Intercepts, covered these topics from September 8-22:
Why Cleveland Enrollment Is Down. Do we send kids to school to "make
connections" with teachers, or to learn something?
Whew! No Teacher Layoffs… in Vegas!? The poster child for the nationwide
teacher shortage avoids layoffs.
Quote of the Week.
"There is no incompatibility between a woman who's a teacher and who works
as a sex worker. I can't imagine what the problem would be." – Catherine
Healy, national coordinator of the Prostitutes Collective in New Zealand,
discussing the case of a primary school teacher who is moonlighting as a
prostitute. Prostitution is legal in New Zealand. (September 21
New Zealand Herald)