1) "We Are at War" - NEA's Plan of
Attack. With the situation in Wisconsin
stabilized, if not settled, there is time to examine the National Education
Association's strategy for its short-term future. Though reasonable
arguments can be made that the collective bargaining measures in Wisconsin,
Ohio and Idaho aren't significantly different from the status quo in other
states, there should be no mistake about it - NEA sees them as a threat to
its very existence.
The reasons are not hard to understand.
NEA has enjoyed substantial membership and revenue growth during the
decades-long decline of the labor movement. It is now the largest union in
America and by far the largest single political campaign spender in the 50
But after some 27 years of increases,
NEA membership is down in 43 states. The union faces a $14 million budget
shortfall, and the demand for funds from its Ballot Measure/Legislative
Crises Fund is certain to exceed its supply. Even the national UniServ
grants, which help pay for NEA state affiliate employees, will be reduced
In the past, NEA has routinely faced
challenges to its political agenda, mostly in the form of vouchers, charters
and tax limitations. But the state legislative and gubernatorial results in
the 2010 mid-term elections emboldened Republicans for the first time to
systematically target the sources of NEA's power, which have little to do
with education and everything to do with the provisions of each state's
public sector collective bargaining laws.
Hence the Manichaean battle in Madison.
There has been a virtually non-stop expansion of the scope of public sector
collective bargaining over the past 35 years. If the tide turns, it may take
a lot longer than 35 years to get those privileges back.
"We are at war," incoming NEA executive
director John Stocks told the union's board of directors last month,
outlining a plan to keep NEA from joining the private sector industrial
unions in a slow, steady decline into irrelevancy to anyone outside the
headquarters of the Democratic National Committee. And like any good war
plan for an army under siege, it allows for a defense-in-depth while
preparing for a decisive counterattack.
The first line of defense is to stop
anti-union legislation at its point of origin. The Wisconsin Education
Association Council tried to head off Gov. Walker's bill with its "bold
reforms" campaign. After the bill was introduced, there were massive
rallies, sit-ins, and Democratic senators fleeing the state, along with
various other parliamentary maneuvers.
The second line of defense is judicial.
In Wisconsin, the public sector unions have already stalled the
implementation of the collective bargaining bill through court order. But
that isn't the only place. NEA successfully blocked a new law preventing its
Alabama affiliate from collecting dues through payroll deduction. Even if
these court battles fail, the time consumed will enable NEA to prepare its
third line of defense, which is electoral.
Recalls are not out of the question, but
it's more likely that NEA and other public sector unions will seek to ride
an increase in activism and a perception of GOP overreach into large
victories in 2012. Whatever hostile laws slip through the first two lines
will be eliminated by new majorities of union-friendly Democrats.
While arguably weaker than in years
past, NEA is still a political powerhouse, and will not be content with
lying against the ropes, being pummeled by Republicans. Union officers are
smart enough to recognize that the best use of its resources is in the
states, rather than in Congress and the White House. Rommel once observed
that "the battle is fought and decided by the quartermasters before the
shooting begins." NEA will see to it that its state affiliates are supplied
with all the ammunition they need.
Despite its budget shortfall and freeze
on executive pay, the national union is flush with cash, and aims to
double the size of its political war chest. The bulk of this money will
go to the state affiliates, though the national union will have a larger
hand in how it is disbursed.
We can expect the state affiliates to
spend most of it opposing unfriendly bills and initiatives, but with more
money available, there will still be plenty left to fund measures like the
capital gains and income tax hikes in Massachusetts.
The need to modify the budget to
accommodate reduced revenue actually works in NEA's favor in a crisis. Just
as with government budgets, reductions in NEA budgets tend to cause
squawking from the recipients of those funds. In today's atmosphere, the
union will be able to reallocate money to its foremost priorities with
little pushback from internal constituencies.
NEA's growth in membership and political
influence over the years has been accompanied more recently by increasingly
bad press. In response, the union will be "building a new external narrative
about NEA as dedicated to improvement of the profession, student success and
Historically, NEA has been slow to
embrace new technologies, but the new external narrative requires prominence
on the Internet and social media. The NEA message will naturally appear in
all its publications - electronic and otherwise - but with a need for rapid
response there will be emphasis on the union's
Education Votes web page and its associated Facebook and Twitter
outlets. We will also see a greater presence by NEA's officers in the
Accompanying NEA's PR strategy will be
new research on pensions, tenure and teacher evaluations, collective
bargaining and, of course, funding.
Finally, NEA recognizes that its success
or failure relies on feelings of solidarity from AFT, private sector unions,
and parents. It will downplay differences on side issues in order to gain
support on its priorities.
Whether NEA can do all - or any - of
these things is an open question. My own judgment is that the union is
better as an immovable object than an irresistible force. It is much more
likely to successfully stymie its opponents' initiatives than it is to
successfully prosecute its own course of action.
Ultimately, the Republican governors,
lawmakers and activists have their work cut out for them. They will be met
with defiance, roadblocks, stalling, foot-dragging and subterfuge for as
long as these proposals work their way through the legislative process and
long after they become law. In the end, NEA may help elect friendly
politicians who will restore their lost powers and revenues.
But the same tactics that may gain such
victories will negatively affect the union's public image. Win or lose,
NEA's actions will "build an external narrative" that no PR strategy can
alter. The outcome of NEA's war is still very much in doubt, but that battle
has already been decided.
2) Last Week's Intercepts.
Intercepts, covered these topics from March 15-21:
Pink Slip Day Comes Too Early. Just about everyone agrees the process is
Idea. What goes around can come around.
Who’s Responsible for Phony Indiana Memo? No reply to my e-mail.
At a Loss. Not everything is a political weapon.
NEA and AFT on Opposite Sides of Evaluation Reform in Connecticut. Which
side are you on?
Quote of the Week.
"In an interview, Van Roekel said, `It's obvious to the people here that
high-performing countries without exception have strong unions. You have to
have strong collaboration with whoever is implementing the policies.' When
asked if lower performing countries have collective bargaining, he said he
didn't know. `I think we have good unions in America, but we're not in the
top,' he said." - Education Week's Liana Heitin, reporting on remarks
by NEA President Dennis Van Roekel at the International Summit on the
Teaching Profession. (March 17