December 7, 2017
An Edutopian View of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. Edutopia posted an article on December 1 about the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards headlined “National Board Aims to Certify 1 Million.” If it told the whole story, it might be headlined “National Board Aims to Pay Back $1 Million.”
NBPTS offers a voluntary national certification program for teachers that seeks to establish a higher standard than state licensure. The fees for certification total about $2,000, but some states and organizations provide financial assistance. The U.S. Department of Education has issued $10.4 million in grants to the organization through various established funds. Some school districts give nationally certified teachers additional pay.
The program has been generally well-received over the years. The Edutopia article explains that the board has certified 112,000 teachers in its 30-year existence. It does not mention that the original goal of NBPTS was 100,000 certified teachers by 2003 – a goal it did not reach until last year. Its new goal is 1 million nationally certified teachers by 2025.
This is an ambitious target, particularly since NBPTS has had trouble handling its money recently. The organization’s net assets since 2010 show a steady and troubling decline:
2010: $32.8 million
2011: $28.9 million
2012: $22.5 million
2013: $16.8 million
2014: $11.9 million
2015: $5 million
2016: $1.8 million
A $1 million, no-interest loan from the National Education Association in 2016 hasn’t stemmed the decline.
Edutopia doesn’t address the financial health of NBPTS, but does note that “the board has introduced an online tool called Atlas, which contains videos of certified teachers at work to help guide the application process from afar.”
Let’s hope Atlas is valuable, since NBPTS used it as collateral to secure the NEA loan.
The loan’s term is five years, with $50,000 repayments to NEA for the first three years, followed by balloon payments of $250,000 and $600,000 in 2020 and 2021, respectively.
Further help from the federal government or even the national teachers’ unions seems, at best, uncertain. Without a secure revenue stream, the organization’s lofty goals are unreachable, and its future is in doubt.
Recent Intercepts. EIA’s daily blog, Intercepts, covered these topics December 1-6:
* Winner of NEA PAC Giveaway Got Locked Away. How quickly one’s luck can turn.
* Don’t Pass Laws You Can’t Enforce. Ridiculous.
* Knock, Knock. Janice?
Quote of the Week. “CCEA would like to reassure you that you will continue to have professional liability insurance and be provided legal services, as well as not lose insurance plans you may have purchased through NEA’s discount program. Though many of you will never utilize this benefit, it is nonetheless there for you.” – Vikki Courtney and Theo Small, president and vice president of the Clark County Education Association, responding to the state and national unions’ cutting off CCEA member benefits because of nonpayment of dues. The unions are litigating their disputes. (December 1 CCEA letter to members)
November 30, 2017
Five Half-Truths Teacher Unions Tell. Teacher union officers and staff are professionals. They know how easy it is to get caught in a lie, particularly in the internet age. So they rarely lie.
They are also advocates, which means they know how to frame statements so that they are factually defensible but omit opposing arguments that are equally defensible. Critics sometimes deride such union statements as “myths,” but they are actually half-truths presented as whole truths.
Here are five half-truths teacher unions tell that appear impervious to any amount of counterpoint.
1. NEA and AFT affiliates in right-to-work states are not labor unions.
This statement is true insofar as the Internal Revenue Service defines a labor organization as “an association of workers who have combined to protect or promote their interests by bargaining collectively with their employers to secure better working conditions, wages, and similar benefits.” If you cannot bargain collectively you cannot be a union, the reasoning goes.
National Education Association affiliates in states like Georgia, Oklahoma and Tennessee refer to themselves as professional associations. They avoid the word “union” because unions are generally unpopular in those states.
In many right-to-work states, NEA and American Federation of Teachers’ affiliates have gained tax-exempt status by successfully applying as 501(c)(6) organizations, which primarily include business leagues, chambers of commerce, and “associations of persons having some common business interest.”
Claiming that affiliates aren’t unions is a half-truth because NEA and AFT both have unified dues structures. That is, you cannot join the Oklahoma Education Association without also joining NEA, which is without question a labor union, according to the IRS, the U.S. Department of Labor, and itself.
Every working teacher and education employee who belongs to an NEA or AFT affiliate belongs to a labor union. Their dues money goes to a labor union. They elect their union representatives, who elect the leadership. A labor union provides them with money and staff for services. Their state affiliate may call itself a business league or a professional association, but that’s a distinction without a difference.
2. Without agency fees, people who don’t join the union are freeloaders.
With the Janus case pending before the U.S. Supreme Court, teacher union representatives constantly remind us that without agency fees teachers who do not join the union will benefit from a contract without paying for it.
This is true, and there are a number of states where it is already the case. It’s a consequence of exclusive representation: Federal law states that if unions want to be the only representative of workers in a bargaining unit, it must represent everyone, regardless of whether they become union members. This can come with a financial cost to the union.
But the government doesn’t force unions to be exclusive representatives. In fact, many industrialized nations have multiple unions representing workers in the same unit. America’s public employee unions treat the idea with disdain, calling it “unworkable,” and that it would “undermine morale.”
The teacher unions also assume that a union contract is a benefit for everyone, and that certainly is not the case. Science and math teachers, low-seniority teachers, high-performing teachers, and teachers who might simply want a different insurance provider are just some of the employees who may be sacrificing individual benefits under a union contract. Unions collect dues from these folks even though the contract may be a detriment to their personal interests. So it is just as accurate to say the union is freeloading on their money.
3. The amount teacher union officers are paid.
Whether union officers are overpaid, underpaid or paid just the right amount is a judgment call, but it is hard to make that call when you can’t easily determine what they are paid.
It is not enough to grab a source document and run with the number listed. For example, NEA’s filing with the IRS states that union president Lily Eskelsen-García made $361,003 in 2016. The union’s filing with the U.S. Department of Labor says $332,944, and NEA’s budget document says $289,286.
The difference is what each source includes, or excludes, from the computation. The IRS naturally wants to know the taxable income, while NEA lists only the salary line for the president’s position. Eskelsen-García also receives an additional 20 percent of that amount as a cash allowance because NEA doesn’t have a pension plan for elected officers, and another 20 percent as a living allowance to maintain a residence in Washington, D.C., during the maximum six years an NEA president serves.
However, union officers also often defer income for tax purposes, so that their pay while in office may appear smaller. They then receive that deferred income after they leave office, sometimes years later.
4. Al Shanker “envisioned” charter schools.
The late Al Shanker, president of both the United Federation of Teachers in New York City, and the American Federation of Teachers, can rightly be called a visionary. His championing of the charter school concept that sprung from the brow of University of Massachusetts professor Ray Budde in 1974 brought the idea out of academic obscurity into the mainstream of education policy. There is also truth in the assertion that the charter concept quickly broke away from Shanker’s vision of what it should be.
But let’s not go nuts. Shanker championed a lot of things during his 33 years in union office, including A Nation At Risk. He did not put the power of his union behind his vision for charter schools, and every charter school law in every state with charters was enacted over the objections and opposition of that state’s teacher union.
Shanker’s flirtation with charters is mostly used today by AFT to paint charter schools as some sort of Frankenstein’s monster, a terrible deviation from the innovation of their creator.
5. Union dues are not used for politics.
This is the most persistent half-truth of all. Just as with officer salaries, the misinformation stems from definitions and categorization.
If you narrowly define “politics” as financial contributions to candidates for public office, then it is true, union dues are not used for politics. It is illegal to take dues money and give it to a candidate or political party.
Teacher unions often have FAQs on their web sites or literature for new members like the ones for the Lane County Education Association in Oregon:
Q: Do member dues go toward supporting political candidates?
A: No, your dues pay staff salaries and provide funds for the various services (the Oregon Education Association) offers to members.
You will note that the question is very specific, allowing for a definitive answer, while the language about how dues are spent is vague.
The problem is that most people broadly define politics to include lobbying, independent expenditures, issue advertising, ballot initiative campaigns, rallies, protests, and endorsements. All of those things are paid for with dues money, which every union member, regardless of his or her political views, contributes. Virtually every other type of political spending other than direct contributions to candidates and parties is made with dues money.
If you are a Republican union member, you have paid, do pay, and will pay to help elect Democrats to office. If you are a New Jersey Education Association member who supports state Senate President Steve Sweeney, you paid a lot in an unsuccessful attempt to remove him. If you are a National Education Association member who supported Bernie Sanders, well, you were paying for Hillary Clinton before you even realized it.
As you can see, explaining these issues takes time and space. In politics, you usually lose an argument if your opponent makes straight, simple claims and you are the one doing the explaining. That’s why teacher unions like to reach for half-truths from their communications toolbox.
Recent Intercepts. EIA’s daily blog, Intercepts, covered these topics November 27-29:
* NEA & Nevada Affiliate Cut Off Las Vegas Teachers Access to Union Benefits. They’ll have to get their pet insurance elsewhere.
* “Well, I Have a Job to Do!” School bullying.
* Montana Merger Vote Set For January 20. New union would represent about 90% of all government employees in the state.
Quote of the Week. “Many legal experts have criticized the rigid inflexibility of the union’s position, pointing out that it is contrary to contract clause principles, inconsistent with general contract and economic theory, and effectively depresses the salaries and benefits of new generations of public employees.” – attorneys for California Gov. Jerry Brown, in a brief filed in response to a union lawsuit against his 2012 pension reform law. (November 22 Sacramento Bee)
November 21, 2017
NYSUT’s Secretary-Treasurer Resigns. A top official in New York state’s teachers union who also taught full time in local schools resigned his management position, effective immediately, at the union’s board of directors meeting on Saturday.
Teachers who serve as union officers are typically granted a leave from their school positions because of the hours required to teach effectively.
Martin Messner had served as secretary-treasurer for New York State United Teachers since April 2014, but his leave of absence from the Schoharie Central School District was not renewed this year. Messner returned to teaching health and physical education full time in September while conducting his union duties on nights and weekends with a reduced salary from NYSUT, a move that generated buzz on teacher blogs.
“Yesterday the NYSUT (Board of Directors) and AFT offered me a different way to serve our members and I accepted. As of today I’m resigning as the NYSUT Secretary-Treasurer. I will be helping out with the transition to prevent any gaps while we restructure.”
There was no immediate word on what Messner’s new position is, or whether he will continue to work for NYSUT or for the American Federation of Teachers. His severance package, however, is generous: 3.5 months of salary, a two-year pension credit, and $25,000 for a 529 benefit plan or a tax-deferred annuity. He will also be paid $5,000 a month as a consultant by the AFT and NYSUT from March-August in 2018.
“I actually made the decision to return to the classroom (absent change in my leave situation) back in late August,” Messner told Union Report. “If my leave had been extended I wouldn’t have left (the NYSUT position). My intent in working crazy hours was to finish up some projects that I was working on and then leave while providing an adequate transition. At the Board meeting I was offered a new role that would address my concerns about transition and allow me to see my kids at night. It was appealing to me and I took it.”
Messner added that he was “very proud of what we accomplished and I leave NYSUT’s operational budget in a strong position. I’m hopeful that the next secretary-treasurer can build on what I did.”
The NYSUT board of directors has the authority to fill the secretary-treasurer vacancy until the union’s next representative assembly in April 2018. However, it appears Messner’s duties will be divided among the other executive officers, with first vice president J. Philippe Abraham handling much of the load.
Recent Intercepts. EIA’s daily blog, Intercepts, covered these topics November 17-20:
* Using Union Dues to Purchase Twitter Eggs? Sock puppets, trolls, name your epithet.
* Updates from Florida and Nevada. As expected, Clark County school district off the hook in union dispute.
Quote of the Week. “Bargaining and filing grievances have become opaque processes that are divorced from workers’ lives, and removed from any kind of collective struggle. Rather than workers feeling like they run their union together, the model of service unionism creates a transactional relationship between two separate entities, the worker and the union.” – Mindy Isser, an SEIU organizer in Philadelphia, who thinks “we need our unions to be more left-wing and we need rank-and-file members to be politicized.” (November 16 The Nation)
November 16, 2017
The New Jersey Education Association Doesn’t Care What You Think. By any objective measure the New Jersey Education Association had a very good Election Day. Its chosen candidate, Democrat Phil Murphy, was elected governor. Murphy spoke to attendees at the union’s convention last Friday and soon after named NJEA president Marie Blistan to his transition team.
Twenty-four of the 32 state Senate candidates NJEA endorsed won their races, but one losing race may have attracted more attention than all the other contests combined.
The union endorsed Fran Grenier, a pro-Trump Republican, over Democrat and state Senate President Steve Sweeney. Sweeney is one of the most powerful politicians in New Jersey and an officer of the ironworkers union. But he often locked horns with NJEA over pension reform.
The union spent an estimated $5.3 million trying to defeat Sweeney, an astonishing amount considering his district is home to fewer than 54,000 voters. Despite its best efforts, Sweeney cruised to a 17-point victory.
Some members and quite a few Democratic legislators are angry that the union spent so much money that could have been put to better use in more competitive districts. But NJEA officers are having none of it. In a statement released after the election, they claimed Grenier’s “insurgent campaign electrified New Jersey politics and energized NJEA members.”
Both Blistan and NJEA executive director Ed Richardson have taken to op-ed pages to justify their actions, using the same theme.
“Fortunately, I answer only to the members who elected me to lead our union,” wrote Blistan in the Newark Star-Ledger.
“We are an extremely democratic, member-led advocacy organization,” wrote Richardson in the Cherry Hill Courier Post, adding that members “deserve a union that answers only to them, not to any pundit or politician…. So we don’t owe an explanation to anyone who isn’t an NJEA member.”
They are both correct: union leaders do not answer to outsiders. Despite its enormous influence on state politics, NJEA is a private organization that can conduct its internal operations pretty much any way it wants. Whether NJEA is “extremely democratic,” “member-led,” or even answerable to the rank-and-file is a matter for debate, however.
To get a better read on how members actually felt about the campaign against Sweeney, Kelly Heyboer of NJ Advance Media went to the union’s convention. It’s not much of a leap to believe that teachers attending a union convention are more likely to be in touch with what the union is up to, rather than less. But here is what Heyboer found in a random, unscientific sampling of 100 NJEA attendees.
Twenty-eight thought it was a good idea for NJEA to spend the money to defeat Sweeney. Another 28 thought it was a waste of cash. But a sizable plurality of 44 members “didn’t hear anything about it or didn’t care how the NJEA spent its money.”
Carly Sitrin of NJ Spotlight also covered the convention. She didn’t take a poll, but her observations were similar. She reported that few NJEA members seemed aware of the battle with Sweeney and that most “expressed their disconnect or disinterest in dealing with politics.”
That might be a small sample size, but it is still significant. Blistan was elected president of NJEA in a statewide vote that drew — I am reliably informed — about a 10 percent turnout. When she says she is answerable only to the members who elected her, she’s referring to only a fraction of the membership.
NJEA is like most unions in that they are democratically run — but by, and for, those who are most active in the union. They don’t go out of their way to determine the views of members who are less engaged in union activities, and they certainly don’t seek out those who might oppose the union’s stances. The people who show up to conventions already support what the union is doing and its judgment in how it spends dues.
Both Blistan and Richardson noted that NJEA-endorsed candidates were screened by 125 members. Who are these 125 members? “NJEA’s officers, the NJEA Executive Committee, the county association presidents, the NJEA Government Relations Committee, the Congressional Contact Committee, the president of New Jersey Preservice Education Association, the NJREA [retirees association] legislative chairperson, and two NJREA regional legislative chairs.”
All these folks are members, but the most accurate way to describe them is as a small group of elected officers and representatives that made the decision leading to an outlay of more than $5 million on a quixotic campaign. It appears most members — even active ones — knew nothing or cared nothing about it.
NJEA’s officers feel comfortable saying they are answerable only to members because they know it’s not really true. No one will lose his or her job over the Sweeney debacle. There will be no reform, or even review, of the PAC endorsement process. Rank-and-file members will not get a greater say in union affairs because they don’t seem to want one.
Their lack of a bond to the union works nicely for those in charge, but it will be a double-edged sword if and when teachers no longer have to join, or pay. Maybe then NJEA officers will be answerable to members, but there will be a lot fewer of them.
Recent Intercepts. EIA’s daily blog, Intercepts, covered these topics November 9-15:
* Former “Teachers Union Gone Wild” Target Turns Up in the Middle of Addiction Treatment Scam of Union Members. “Brokers and consultants are also often paid to send union members to particular centers; and some treatment centers hire family members of union workers to ensure referrals.”
* Nevada State Education Association Says It Has No Obligation to Provide Financial Information to Affiliates. Or even respond to requests.
* Just Say It: Dues Money Is Used for Political Activities. A lot of members are misinformed about this, and the union wants it that way.
* Veterans Day: My Students Could Have Killed Me. My only teaching experience wasn’t quite like yours.
Quote of the Week. “[Problems that predate the election of Donald Trump include] a fractured mass media which allow people to create news silos that tell them only what they want to hear.” – Mark Gruenberg, reporting for the Press Associates Union News Service, a service of the International Labor Communications Association, on the remarks of Becky Pringle, the vice president of the National Education Association, who was speaking to attendees of a Common Cause conference, held in the auditorium at NEA headquarters. (November 8 Workday Minnesota)
November 9, 2017
Why Millennials Can’t Save Unions. The decline in union membership has been going on so long it is as certain as the sunrise. The percentage of American workers who belong to unions is about half of what it was 35 years ago. The only thing that has kept organized labor from fading into obscurity is the public sector, whose unionization rates have been relatively steady over the same period.
Observers see both crisis and opportunity in the new generation of workers. Some note that millennials tend to support group effort, are more politically liberal, and have a generally positive attitude about unions. Others point to age group figures that show unions have almost three times as many members over 35 as under.
Consideration of both points of view together yields a three-dimensional picture, but when we add a fourth dimension — time — we discover something unexpected about how union membership and age interact.
Using Bureau of Labor Statistics historical data, we find that the unionization rate of all employees under 35 is 7.4 percent. For those 35 to 64, it is 12.9 percent. But ten-year trends show that the unionization rate of the younger cohort has barely changed. It was 7.8 percent in 2006. It is the older group that has dropped significantly, down from 14.8 percent in 2006.
Raw numbers make the difference plainer. There were 16,000 fewer young union members in 2016 than in 2006, but there were 1.1 million fewer older union members.
So while many commentators and union leaders have emphasized the need for outreach to younger workers (myself included), unions have generally maintained their membership levels. The unions’ loss of so large a share of the older workforce, however, comes as a shock.
The available statistics cannot tell us if the trend holds for both public sector and private sector employees, or if teacher unions alone have had this experience. But should the U.S. Supreme Court ban agency fees, a tidal wave of millennials would have to join the labor movement to offset old losses and new. The problem for unions is larger than any combination of charter school teachers, graduate teaching assistants and digital media reporters can solve.
Recent Intercepts. EIA’s daily blog, Intercepts, covered these topics November 2-8:
* IRS Auditing NEA. Right now, that’s all I know.
* What’s Going On at the Chicago Teachers Union? Couldn’t muster a quorum to vote on “a necessary step for the future of public education.”
* Washington Education Association’s School Funding Campaign Is Being Funded by NEA. $400,000 grant includes money for opposition research.
* A Good Election Day for Teacher Unions, Marred Only by Wasted $5.3 Million. The full dues of 6,000 members failed to elect a pro-Trump Republican.
* Updates on Nevada/Clark County Union Dispute. This is going to take some time.
Quote of the Week. “The labor movement might have disappeared entirely were it not for the postwar rise of government employee unions.” – Timothy Noah, employment and immigration editor at Politico. (November 7 Politico Magazine)
This throwaway line is one of the most underappreciated facts of American politics and economics.
November 1, 2017
AFT Says Loss of Agency Fees May Reduce the “Progressive Agenda.” Last week Union Report reported on a directive sent by the National Education Association listing “8 essentials” that should shape local collective bargaining agreements if the U.S. Supreme Court overturns agency fee laws in the coming Janus case. Such laws allow unions to collect payments from non-members, ostensibly to cover the costs of contract negotiation.
Oral arguments in the case may occur as early as January. Plaintiffs will argue that agency fees levied by public-sector unions are unconstitutional because bargaining with the government is a form of political advocacy with which they may not agree.
The unions will argue that engagements with the government as an employer are fundamentally different from those with the government as sovereign, and that workplace “coherence” makes it necessary for non-members to subsidize the majority position. They will claim that fee-payers are not supporting unions’ political speech in any meaningful way.
Which makes the information being disseminated by the American Federation of Teachers to local activists all the more curious. Last week AFT sent Rob Weil, its director of field programs for educational issues, to speak to the Baltimore Teachers Union. In a presentation titled “Janus, Unions, and the Rest,” Weil explained the basics of the Janus case, listed some remedies in the event of an adverse decision, and warned of the implications to AFT and its partners and affiliates.
Among the remedies was one that unions believe will be the next point of contention in a post-Janus world: maintenance of dues agreements. Inserting these agreements in new contracts is one of NEA’s “8 essentials,” and they are also promoted more generally among public-sector unions. The idea is to create “a narrow and individual time frame when a member is permitted to quit the union, usually a year after signing.” Although courts frequently overturn efforts to limit when members can resign, AFT suggests maintenance of dues language can still extend the time they would have to pay.
Even with this planned circumvention, Weil warned that public-sector unions will see an immediate loss of income. In a series of PowerPoint bullets, he predicted an additional ideological effect on union affiliates and partners:
- “Some unions will be unable to stay afloat. This ruling will make it hard for them to exist.
- “The weakening of unions weakens the ability of unions and their social partners to fight for working people.
- “Unions will be forced to spend larger amounts of time and money on membership maintenance instead of other more progressive union activities.
- “The progressive moment [sic] as a whole, and many specific groups, will lose resources (both $$ and people) which will lessen their impact. Some social partners may, unfortunately, no longer exist.
- “The progressive agenda may have to be reduced in reaction to the new rules regarding dues collection.”
It is hard to square the unions’ argument that agency fees are not subsidizing political speech with the claim that their loss will lead to a reduction in the progressive agenda. Even staunch unionists might feel that AFT would benefit from spending more time and money on membership maintenance.
Although their overall numbers will be reduced, it is conceivable that unions will become more progressive organizations. Those who pay dues out of personal choice, rather than mandated obligation, are more likely to support their unions’ political goals as well. There will be less union, but it could be union concentrate.
Given that progressive elements within the unions are already dissatisfied with the status quo, significant changes to the ideological composition of membership because of Janus may lead to more internal problems for NEA and AFT than external problems for their education policy aims.
Recent Intercepts. EIA’s daily blog, Intercepts, covered these topics October 27-31:
* Iowa State Education Association Having No Problems Winning Recertification. Only four of 220 teacher union locals are disbanded.
* Florida Staff Union Is Keeping the NLRB Busy. Coercive actions and statements.
Quote of the Week. “Charter educators joining our ranks would add 1,000 members, increase our collective resources and remove the threat of multiple, competing education unions. A merger would also prepare us for future battles and limit charter proliferation….” – Karen Lewis, president of the Chicago Teachers Union, urging CTU representatives to vote in favor of absorbing the local affiliate for charter schools into CTU. (October 2017 Chicago Union Teacher)
October 26, 2017
NEA’s Post-Janus Plan for Teacher Contracts. We have spent a lot of time analyzing the possible implications of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in the Janus case that would end the union practice of charging agency fees (or “fair share” fees, as the union calls them) to public sector employees who do not become members. Past Union Reports have discussed the potential effects of such a decision on education policy, partisan politics, and union finances.
These are all extremely important, but what will the school districts and local teachers’ unions in your community do if agency fees are eliminated?
Before I answer that, I should point out that in most places there will be no immediate change. For all the union anguish about the effects of an adverse Janus ruling on working people, the case involves only public sector unions where agency fees are currently permitted. A little quick arithmetic with Bureau of Labor Statistics numbers tells me that is somewhere south of 5.8 percent of the U.S. workforce.
States like Texas and North Carolina do not permit public sector collective bargaining at all. Other states like Florida and Nevada permit public sector collective bargaining through an exclusive representative, but do not permit the levying of agency fees. The teachers’ unions in those states will continue to conduct business as they always have. They won’t feel any pinch until subsidies from the national unions begin to shrink due to an overall loss of revenue.
Teachers’ unions in states that charge agency fees, including California, New York, New Jersey, Illinois, and more than a dozen others, will have to make immediate adjustments to their collective bargaining agreements with local school districts. The National Education Association issued to its highest ranking activists a list of “8 essentials to a strong union contract without fair-share fees.”
All eight were designed to maintain the union’s cash flow and access to potential members in the absence of a law that requires them to pay dues or fees.
1) Access to new-hire orientations. The California Teachers Association has already managed to get this provision written into state law. A sales pitch to a captive audience without opposing views permitted should keep member recruitment up.
2) Access to unit member information. Whether a teacher joins or not, the union wants every home address, phone number, and e-mail, updated “preferably on a biweekly basis.”
3) Access to work sites and communication with members. “…and potential members.” The contract is also supposed to prohibit rival organizations any access at all.
4) Release time for leaders and activists. The purpose of release time was to allow teachers to serve as a union officer, or to take leave of their paid duties to work on union contract negotiating teams. The goal appears to be to expand this to include time for whatever task the union chooses to assign.
5) Payroll deduction of dues. Chasing after members to pay their dues is time-consuming and costly, as with a business trying to get customers to pay bills. Better to take the money before they ever see it.
6) Maintenance-of-dues payments. This one is the most insidious. We have already seen a version of it instituted in NEA’s and AFT’s Minnesota affiliate. This contract provision would require teachers to pay dues for at least a full year, even if they drop their membership a day after signing up. This is an attempt to circumvent repeated court rulings that teachers can resign their membership at any time. Under this type of regime, you could resign any time, but you would keep paying unless you revoked your payroll deduction authorization during a union-designated window of time.
7) Payroll deduction of PAC contributions. This is not necessarily connected to the issue of agency fees, but many union membership forms include a box you have to check if you don’t want donations to the state PAC taken from your paycheck.
8) Savings (severability) clause. Aware that some of these provisions may be subject to court challenge, NEA wants to ensure that if one provision is struck down, the others would remain in effect.
All of this is disappointing on two fronts. Those who think the loss of agency fees means the end of public sector union power are sadly mistaken. But it is also a letdown for those who thought the unions’ post-Janus focus would be on making membership relevant to a new generation of teachers. Instead, the unions elected to simply change the locks on the cell doors.
Recent Intercepts. EIA’s daily blog, Intercepts, covered these topics October 20-25:
* Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? New York City teachers will soon be getting some unexpected home visits.
* Good News for Newsom Is the End for Eastin. Sucking up to the union your entire career is no guarantee of anything.
Quote of the Week. “I didn’t get the teachers union’s support because their number one issue is stopping charters.” – Antonio Villaraigosa, candidate for governor of California and former United Teachers Los Angeles organizer. (October 24 San Jose Mercury News)
October 19, 2017
Teacher Turnover Is High — Except When Compared With Other Professions. “They came on in the same old way,” the Duke of Wellington said of the French attacks at Waterloo, “and we saw them off in the same old way.”
I was reminded of this line after reading yet another report by the Learning Policy Institute to frighten us into thinking the U.S. has high teacher turnover rates. Their foray into this territory last year was rebuffed by the elementary methods of a) looking at the numbers; and b) comparing them with those of all other professions. Lo and behold, public education employees quit their jobs at a lower rate than virtually any other profession in the United States.
Not to be deterred, this year LPI insists once more that teacher turnover rates are dangerously high, despite the best efforts of organizations like the National Council on Teacher Quality to refute those claims. LPI says “policymakers should pursue strategies that can improve teacher retention in all schools.” What strategies? Higher pay, smaller class sizes, and greater investments in education.
This is an unusual dispute, in that both sides agree on what the rate is. Data from both the federal labor and education departments put the attrition rate — that is, the percentage of employees who leave teaching — at about 8 percent. LPI would prefer it to be around 3-4 percent, the rate it finds in Finland and Singapore.
Rather than go far afield, it seems sufficient to say that comparing the labor economics of the United States with those of two countries whose combined populations are less than that of Ohio is problematic.
But if you want to compare attrition rates, suppose we look at employers who most certainly pay well, have excellent benefit packages, and have enlightened attitudes about working conditions and employee well-being: the two national teacher unions.
I examined the list of employees for both the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers in Department of Labor filings for the most recent two years. Of 539 NEA employees, 52 were gone the next year (9.65%). Of 386 AFT employees, 46 were gone (11.9%).
Those are great rates of retention, but the public school teacher retention rate is better still.
That is not to say that teachers everywhere are, or ought to be, happy with their jobs. Just as we have seen with the teacher shortage issue, teacher retention is not a national problem with the generic solutions LPI provides. In some places higher pay would make a difference; in others, smaller class sizes. There are some places that could benefit from more turnover to make jobs available for a new generation of teachers and/or teachers of color.
Nevertheless, when the 2018-19 school year begins, I expect Learning Policy Institute shortage and turnover studies will come on in the same old way. God willing, I will still be here to see them off in the same old way.
Recent Intercepts. EIA’s daily blog, Intercepts, covered these topics October 13-18:
* The Straight-Face Awards. The New Jersey Education Association’s campaign against the state’s leading Democratic legislator is leading to some really funny takes.
* Hugs and Missing Tweets. AFT embraces NJEA’s nemesis.
* Nevada Infighting Escalates. Masters of their domain names.
Quote of the Week. “For the next year, she combed through public records and yearbooks, reached out to victims, cold-called district officials, and even showed up at their homes to stitch together a timeline that tracked how, over three decades, a school district had repeatedly opted to protect a powerful male teacher accused of abuse, at the expense of children.” – from a Columbia Journalism Review profile of Portland Oregonian reporter Bethany Barnes and her series of articles documenting 30 years of sexual harassment allegations against a local teacher. (October 18 CJR)
October 12, 2017
NYSUT Secretary-Treasurer Teaches Full Time, Manages Union Finances on Nights and Weekends. Teaching is a demanding job. We know this because teachers tell us so, reporting that they spend upwards of 50 hours each week on classroom duties and after-school tasks.
Being an executive officer of a teachers union is also a demanding job. Unions report that their officers work 35 to 40 hours each week.
Doing both jobs at the same time is problematic at best, so school districts typically grant state and national union officers release time while they serve their elected terms. These leaves of absence are routinely extended, sometimes for decades. Districts hire substitutes to replace union officers, and the union generally reimburses the district for that cost. Sometimes the district pays both the union officer and the substitute, without any reimbursement.
Martin Messner was elected secretary-treasurer of New York State United Teachers in April 2014. The board of the 900-student Schoharie Central School District, about 43 miles west of Albany, granted Messner a three-year unpaid leave of absence from his job teaching health and physical education at the junior high and high school.
Messner was re-elected to his post in April 2017, but the board extended his leave of absence only until June. When school started in September, Messner reported for work. District Superintendent David M. Blanchard confirmed to Union Report on Oct. 3 that Messner has “returned to a full-time teaching position.” It’s not clear why the school board rejected a longer leave for Messner this time around.
The NYSUT constitution states that its executive officers “shall be eligible, at the discretion of the Board of Directors, to serve NYSUT on a full-time basis.” This is what Messner did during his first term, but there is no indication that NYSUT’s board was informed of Messner’s return to the classroom, much less officially authorized it.
Messner’s teaching salary is $57,527 this year, according to a public record database maintained by the Empire Center. He also draws about $240,000 in base salary from his union position, according to NYSUT’s Internal Revenue Service filings.
Arthur Goldstein, a United Federation of Teachers chapter leader who blogs at NYC Educator, wrote that his contacts say Messner is doing his NYSUT work on “nights and weekends” and is drawing a NYSUT salary now reduced by the same amount as his teaching salary, or $182,473 a year instead of $240,000.
“And by the way, if my job were treasurer, I’d also be a little uneasy sending out the message that my nights and weekends, after working full time as a teacher, were worth 180K a year,” Goldstein writes in his Oct. 1 post entitled “Nice Work if You Can Get It.”
Messner could not be reached for comment.
NYSUT spokesman Carl Korn told Union Report, “Martin Messner is teaching in Schoharie County, and while he continues to serve as NYSUT secretary-treasurer, it is with a reduced salary.”
NYSUT’s finances are troubled, with roughly $144 million in debt and $413 million in unfunded pension liabilities for its own employees (not teachers whose retirement is covered by the state). In March, one labor advocate referred to the 600,000-member union’s staff pension system as a “Ponzi scheme.”
Messner’s bio boasts of the many positions he oversees for NYSUT: He heads up the Local Action Project and the Leadership Institute; he serves as chair of the Member Benefits Trust, Employees’ Retirement Plan; the NYSUT Plan for Former Employees of NEA New York; the Financial Review Committee; the VOTE-COPE Committee; and the Disaster Relief and Scholarship Fund.
Can he be doing all this while leading kids in jumping jacks?
Perhaps NYSUT is making sufficient accommodations so that Messner can ably perform both jobs full time. But if that’s the case, why are any union officers granted release time? If the secretary-treasurer of the largest teacher union state affiliate in the nation can teach full time, why aren’t union officers in California or Florida or anywhere else returned to the classroom?
It is more reasonable to believe that the man in charge of NYSUT’s money is shortchanging his members, his students, or both.
Recent Intercepts. EIA’s daily blog, Intercepts, covered these topics October 6-11:
* Colorado Mystery. A staff union decertification election?
* Moving Pictures. AFT gets into show biz.
* Weird But Accurate Headline: Labor Union Imposes Trusteeship Over Department of Labor Union. Plus, local labor union officers file unfair labor practice against Department of Labor for abetting national labor union.
Quote of the Week. “[UFT’s ruling Unity Caucus] will come out and call anyone pushing a fragmentation drive real nasty names long before it ever got to the stage where there is a new union. I would expect they would say anyone signing or spreading a petition to make a separate bargaining unit was Hitler, Mussolini, the devil and maybe Stalin all rolled into one.” – James Eterno, United Federation of Teachers chapter leader, curbing any enthusiasm for the idea of splitting off a high school teachers union from UFT. (October 5 ICEUFT Blog)
October 5, 2017
Top NEA Leader Promises a Progressive ‘Uprising,’ But Is He Part of the Establishment Problem? John Stocks is the executive director of the National Education Association. He is arguably more powerful than the union’s president, who is constrained by term limits.
Stocks was in northern Idaho last month to deliver a speech to the Idaho Conservation League. This isn’t as strange as it seems: Stocks served a term in the Idaho legislature in the late 1980s and still has many contacts throughout the state.
In his speech, Stocks predicted “a tremendous resurgence of people who are going to take back their country.”
“I assure you, in a relatively short period of time, there will be an uprising,” he said. “(It) will in fact fuel a more progressive future. That’s what’s going to happen. When it happens, we need to have the infrastructure in place to take advantage of it.”
Stocks announced this at the Hayden Lakes Country Club amid “a sumptuous catered dinner” and no-host bar. Club membership is $20,000 with monthly dues of $457. The job application to work there states: “If employed, I understand that I have been hired at the will of the employer and my employment may be terminated at any time, with or without reason and with or without notice.”
Stocks was not totally unaware of his environment. “I suspect many in this room have tremendous privilege,” he said. “I know I do, as a white male heterosexual, tremendous privilege, coming from a family that was upper-middle class.” He called on the audience to use their privilege to stand for justice.
It may take a while for the progressive revolution to reach Hayden Lakes, but Stocks has long been committed to achieving it elsewhere. In a 2011 profile no longer available online, his former business partner was quoted as saying: “I wouldn’t be surprised if he walks in there with a 20-year plan in his pocket. And it won’t be limited to the NEA. He’ll be leveraging the NEA to remake America in his progressive vision.”
Stocks may see himself at the forefront of a progressive movement, but he is also a Democratic Party insider. He was instrumental in manipulating the NEA endorsement of Hillary Clinton in the 2016 primaries to shut down supporters of Bernie Sanders. He forwarded a confidential NEA memo to the Clinton campaign after the NEA board voted to endorse her.
Stocks also serves as board chair of the Democracy Alliance, “the largest network of donors dedicated to building the progressive movement in the United States.” After Donald Trump’s victory in 2016, one Democratic strategist said of the group: “You can make a very good case it’s nothing more than a social club for a handful of wealthy white donors and labor union officials to drink wine and read memos, as the Democratic Party burns down around them.”
I don’t know if there will be a progressive uprising. But uprisings of any sort usually do not bode well for those with privilege, money and power, a group to which Stocks assuredly belongs.
Recent Intercepts. EIA’s daily blog, Intercepts, covered these topics October 2-4:
* AFT’s Disclosure Report Stirs Things Up. What to do with other people’s money.
* Nevada State Education Association Sets Up Unity Web Site. Unity? Not so much.
Quote of the Week. “No one wants this job. It’s a tough committee. The work can be very discouraging.” – Ben Allen, (D-Santa Monica) chair of the California Senate Education Committee. (September 24 Ventura County Star)
September 29, 2017
Teacher Hold ‘Em in Nevada, as Fractious Union and Its Largest Local Trade Lawsuits. The Clark County Education Association, representing 10,000 teachers who work for the Las Vegas schools, filed a lawsuit earlier this month against its parent affiliate, the Nevada State Education Association, alleging a breach of fiduciary duty and breach of contract.
Soon after, NSEA and the National Education Association filed a countersuit also charging of breach of contract, as well as unjust enrichment and fraud.
The dueling lawsuits are just the latest in a long series of conflicts between NSEA and its locals, particularly Clark County, whose membership comprises almost half of NSEA’s total. I questioned the outlook for the Nevada union’s survival last March, and now a crisis appears imminent.
The Clark County lawsuit details the timeline of its deteriorating relationship with NSEA and lays out what the local union wants.
Early in 2017, Clark County asked NSEA for “a return on investment analytic assessment” to compare what the local’s members receive from NSEA in return for their state dues. Clark County also wanted a neutral third party to review the last three NSEA budgets. One of the reasons it gave was particularly interesting:
Members of CCEA contribute through dues money to the NSEA’s Advocacy Fund and have a right pursuant to the NSEA bylaws and policies to know how money is being spent in that fund and further to object to any payments made by NSEA to political causes or interests to which those members object.
Clark County maintains that its dues transmittal contract with NSEA expired on August 31. Without such a contract, the local union is still collecting state dues from members and putting the money into an escrow account until the dispute is resolved.
NSEA, which had been willing to let the problem linger, was moved to immediate action by the suspension of about half of its total dues money reaching its coffers. Along with attorneys hired at NEA national headquarters, NSEA filed a countersuit last Friday. In true Nevada style, it upped the ante.
The parent union claims the dues transmittal agreement is still in effect, and that by collecting and withholding state and national dues, Clark County is being unjustly enriched and is violating NSEA’s and NEA’s property rights. The parent unions further accuse the local of committing fraud by continuing to advertise state and national union benefits such as liability insurance, to which its members are not entitled if their state and national dues are not paid.
Deploying the big guns doesn’t seem to have had the desired effect on Clark County. The local’s president and vice president posted this video in response:
The Clark County’s officers repeatedly insist they have no intention of disaffiliating from NSEA and NEA. However, with no money going up the chain to the parent unions, and no parent union services coming down the chain to the local, they are already in a de facto state of disaffiliation.
While such public disputes between local teacher union affiliates and parent unions are rare, this one is not unique. Madison Teachers, Inc. and the Wisconsin Education Association Council had an affiliation agreement dispute that went on for years, including litigation and withheld dues. The dispute was ultimately resolved, and just this year the Madison local moved its headquarters into the WEAC building.
The difference in Nevada is that Clark County is one of NEA’s largest local affiliates, and has clout within the state that is unmatched by any other NEA local in the nation. One could reasonably argue that NSEA and NEA need Vegas much more than Vegas needs them.
All in or fold? It’s high-stakes poker with a multi-million dollar pot.
Recent Intercepts. EIA’s daily blog, Intercepts, covered these topics September 25-28:
* Supreme Court to Hear Agency Fee Case. When the facts are on your side, pound the facts. When the law is on your side, pound the law. When neither is on your side, pound the table.
* The Return of the New Jersey Kerfuffle. The New Jersey Education Association’s $1.2 million executive director compensation barely makes the top five of its spending outrages.
* The X-Punged Files. A peek into the way the teacher discipline sausage is really made.
* First Set of Iowa Locals Vote Overwhelmingly to Recertify Union. 13 down, about 1300 to go.
Quote of the Week. “I didn’t want to fight with them. I still don’t. I believe in teachers. I believe in collective bargaining. There was resistance to virtually everything we did. I wanted to partner, but they just fought us tooth and nail.” – former Los Angeles mayor (and United Teachers Los Angeles employee) Antonio Villaraigosa, discussing his fractious relationship with the teachers’ union. (September 25 Los Angeles Times)
September 22, 2017
Union Officers’ Guilty Pleasure. It’s no secret that I am critical of teacher unions. One would expect that my views would draw the unanimous ire of National Education Association and American Federation of Teachers officers and employees, and I get my share. One state affiliate president referred to me as “a card-carrying member of the dark evil forces.” An AFT activist once accused me of running guns to the Contras in the 1980s. (I was a U.S. Air Force C-130 navigator in Japan at the time so, for him, it was a logical conclusion.)
But from a former NEA president on down, there have been many teacher union staffers and elected officials who have braved the potential embarrassment to let me know that they enjoy and/or appreciate my work. Here are some of them, anonymized because to keep them from experiencing any ill effects from their colleagues.
- State affiliate president: “You want to know anything that’s going on in NEA, you talk to Antonucci. No one’s ever told me he got something wrong.”
- State affiliate executive director: “I’m a huge fan. I read your stuff all the time. We’re sure you have bugs at NEA headquarters.”
- AFT national staffer: “We don’t agree a lot of the time, but I appreciate your skills as a reporter, and I think a lot of AFT members feel the same way. You’re getting stuff and publishing it before we get it.”
- State affiliate board member:“I can’t wait to read your next item that I’ll love and piss me off. Good organizations pay close attention to news that is both uncomplimentary and accurate.”
- NEA headquarters staffer: “Your name was mentioned in a staff meeting today in order to chill blood and strike fear into hearts.”
- State affiliate vice-president: “Please know that I shall continue to depend on you as the best and most reliable source of information about what’s going on in NEA and AFT – but don’t quote me on that!”
- State affiliate board member: “Our state president was annoyed that Antonucci gets all the information from our Board meeting almost verbatim.”
- State affiliate staffer: “I’m very impressed with your stuff. As someone who is intimately involved in a lot of the things you write about, I’m even more impressed that you’re right as often as you are.”
- State affiliate staffer: “As an employee of an NEA state affiliate, I get more credible information from you than from my employer. I am thinking about circulating your stuff either immediately prior to or immediately after staff meetings just to liven things up!”
- Local affiliate vice-president: “I’ve always been impressed with your ability to report on events taking place in rooms where you’re not allowed.”
- State affiliate staffer: “I have worked for the [teachers’ union] for almost ten years. Your reporting on the day to day issues I run into are unmatched by any other source.”
- State affiliate staffer: “They (sic) must have contacts all over the country. The speed with which they find out what is going on is amazing and frightening.”
- NEA headquarters staffer: “I don’t want to be tarred and feathered by my colleagues, but I want to tell you that you continually and consistently get it right.”
So if you are a union official or employee that hates what you read in Union Report or on my blog, you are in the majority. But if you enjoy it and maybe even occasionally find yourself nodding your head in agreement, know that you are not alone.
Recent Intercepts. EIA’s daily blog, Intercepts, covered these topics September 15-20:
* Las Vegas Local Denies Plan to Disaffiliate, Still at Odds With State Union. The volcano bubbles…
* Nevada NEA Affiliate Fires Back at Las Vegas Local. …followed by the fallout.
* Those Darn Employees. Union board of directors faces staff picket line.
* Polling Is Ammunition, Not Information. Vouchers are very popular or very unpopular. Take your pick.
Quote of the Week. “Nobody – no matter who you are, whether you’re a Democrat or a Republican – is beyond the potential wrath of organized labor.” – Tom Scott, California state executive director of the National Federation of Independent Business. (September 18 Sacramento Bee)
September 14, 2017
When NEA Speaks to the National Press Club, the Faces Change But the Song Remains the Same. Last Friday, National Education Association President Lily Eskelsen García delivered a speech to the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.
She denounced the policies of the Trump administration while calling for common ground because “most people are good people — they want something good for kids and their families and their communities. We can argue over what’s a good idea or a bad idea, but time and time again, I’ve seen people come together when you can show them a plan that makes sense.”
Eskelsen García’s plan is “to make every public school as good as our best public schools.” This can be done, she said, through equal access, equal opportunity, and equal respect, but not through “test prep and cutthroat competition with private charters.”
She went on to describe wonderful NEA-supported programs in Texas, New Mexico, Minnesota, and New Jersey.
While the White House might have objected to the tenor of Eskelsen García’s remarks, there was little to stir up the masses outside the Beltway. NEA presidents make periodic visits to the National Press Club, and they usually offer up a similar vision of utopia if only their agenda were followed.
I am cursed with a long memory, and so I recall the original NEA president National Press Club speech. Bob Chase delivered it 20 years ago, and he used the occasion to introduce the concept of “new unionism.”
New unionism was prompted by a dire internal report NEA commissioned from a public relations firm that concluded the union had no credibility in the education reform debate. The firm suggested NEA’s image-improvement campaign “should be launched in a speech by President Chase in which he acknowledges the crisis, says some things for their shock value to open up the audience’s minds (e.g., there are bad teachers and our job is to make them good or show the way to another career), and then details the association’s substantive programs to improve public schools — those already in existence and those that will be expanded or launched in the months ahead.”
Chase did just that. He admitted NEA had been “a traditional, somewhat narrowly focused union” that was “utterly inadequate to the needs of the future.”
He said, “America’s public schools do not exist for teachers and other employees. They do not exist to provide us with jobs and salaries.”
Chase went on to follow his PR firm’s advice and say, “there are indeed some bad teachers in America’s schools. And it is our job as a union to improve those teachers or, that failing, to get them out of the classroom.”
Just as Eskelsen García would do 20 years later, Chase called for greater collaboration among stakeholders, but his plan to improve schools contained items quite different from those on Eskelsen García’s list, including higher academic standards, stricter discipline, an end to social promotions, and less bureaucracy. He then described wonderful NEA-supported programs in Indiana, Illinois, and Ohio.
One other 1997 union effort Chase mentioned stands out noticeably today: “Imagine the president of a local NEA union taking the lead in founding a public charter school, a new school that she and her colleagues manage by themselves, without a principal. I just described the work of Jan Noble, president of our affiliate in Colorado Springs.”
NEA’s 1996 Charter School Initiative deserves a retrospective of its own, but as failures go, it didn’t come close to the debacle Chase also touted in his Press Club speech: Disney’s Celebration Teaching Academy in Orlando, Florida.
“It will be for educators what a teaching hospital is for doctors: a place where teachers from around the nation can come to sharpen their skills and be exposed to best practices,” Chase said. “NEA professionals on site will help to shape the curriculum and to direct the academy’s Master Teacher Institute.”
He told the audience that “the Celebration Teaching Academy is exactly what the new NEA is all about: a commitment to lifting up teachers as professionals and to revitalizing public education.” Chase put NEA’s money where its mouth was, contributing $500,000 to the academy.
The academy never got off the ground. It was “stillborn, a victim of educational infighting,” according to a husband-wife pair of journalists, Douglas Frantz and Catherine Collins, who moved with their kids to Orlando specifically to take part in the Disney community and schooling experiment. The experience was so disastrous they wrote a book about it.
In her speech, Eskelsen García emphasized the importance of taking action. Chase was no different. “I deal in practical, concrete, tangible changes. I deal in results,” he said.
“The new NEA is about action,” he told the Press Club audience. “And, on that score, I challenge the American public: Watch what we do, not what we say.”
In the 20 years since, we have watched what NEA does. The evidence suggests there’s no point in listening as it tells us what it’s going to do — again.
Recent Intercepts. EIA’s daily blog, Intercepts, covered these topics September 8-13:
* When the Hand Grenade Gets Lobbed Back. Let’s play “Who’s a Segregationist?”
* NEA Director Goes Nuclear in Dispute with New Jersey Education Association. Election kerfuffle could lead to new disclosure requirements for 33 state affiliates.
* Trouble in Paradise? Hawaii State Teachers Association employees file ULP complaints against the union.
Quote of the Week. “It’s like buying two new iPads a month and throwing them in the trash.” – Sharon Thornton, a hairdresser from Delaware, describing what it’s like to pay Obamacare premiums without a government subsidy. (September 4 Associated Press)
According to the story, “Some are expecting premiums for 2018 to rival a mortgage payment.” My premiums already exceed my mortgage payment. By quite a bit. They rank as my second biggest expense – just behind taxes.
September 7, 2017
When Unions Don’t Protect Teachers’ Jobs. The most common criticism of teacher unions is that they protect bad employees. It can often take years and hundreds of thousands of dollars to fire a tenured public school teacher. Sometimes districts don’t even bother trying — even if the teacher is in jail.
But protecting teachers isn’t as straightforward as many believe. The district, the union, and often the union’s insurers all have economic interests that help determine how a teacher termination case will proceed. The teacher may have less influence over the outcome than any of these other players.
Teachers start in a probationary period of two years or more; during that time they can typically be dismissed for any reason or none at all. After completing probation, the teacher receives tenure — or, as the unions prefer to say, due process protection.
Semantics aside, dismissing or reprimanding a tenured teacher must follow prescribed procedures set out in collective bargaining agreements, school district policies, and state law.
It is very rare for a teacher with tenure to be fired simply because he or she is not very good in the classroom. Cases that result in termination usually involve misconduct of some sort, like inappropriate contact with a student, intoxication at school, or excessive absences, among other offenses.
After a series of warnings and documentation, the district may decide to terminate the teacher; in most cases the union will intervene by filing a grievance alleging violation of the contract, bias, or a similar charge.
One of the union’s primary purposes is to provide job protections for teachers. They are highly motivated to perform this function because it demonstrates the union’s value to other members. And because grievances generally do not require the services of an attorney and can be handled by a staffer (because they are procedural rather than legal) the task of filing a grievance is usually performed without undue delay.
If the district doesn’t respond by backing off from the discipline or dismissal action, it advances to arbitration or termination hearings, the teacher normally requires some form of legal representation. This can be provided by a union attorney or a private attorney contracted by the union.
What isn’t commonly understood by the public, or even by teachers, is that the union has wide discretion to pursue, or not pursue, the defense of its members. If the union and/or its attorney determines that they are unlikely to prevail, or the costs may be excessive, they may counsel the teacher to resign, transfer, or accept a lesser punishment.
If the union is paying for the individual teacher’s representation, it makes the final decision. Occasionally, a teacher faced with dismissal or discipline decides to forego union representation and hires his or her own attorney in order to maintain some control over decision-making.
So while school districts complain about the costs and time involved in teacher dismissal cases, unions also incur costs and time loss. Cases often proceed to resolution not necessarily based on their relative merits, but on cost-benefit calculations made by both sides.
Unions provide teachers with protections not only against employers, but against parents, students, and any other individual who might file suit. Sometimes these cases overlap with teacher discipline or dismissal cases; in that event the school district and the accused teacher are usually on the same side.
The National Education Association provides $1 million in liability insurance. It touts this member benefit when recruiting teachers, and denies it to those who only pay agency fees.
Lawsuits against teachers are rare, but typically involve parents claiming teachers have discriminated against, mistreated, or abused their child. Some states have laws that provide liability protections for school employees and/or limit the extent of damages paid. NEA’s insurance provider specifically states that its coverage kicks in only after all other insurance sources are exhausted.
The insurer also states that it will “investigate, defend, negotiate, and settle any claim even if such claim is groundless or fraudulent.” Once again, the entity paying the price decides how to pursue the teacher’s case, even if it means settling a charge against the teacher that is fraudulent.
Teachers might even face criminal charges for a work-related incident, such as abuse of a student. In such cases NEA coverage includes up to $35,000 reimbursement of attorney fees — but only if the teacher is ultimately exonerated or the charges are dismissed.
Teacher liability insurance is a battlefield in right-to-work states where NEA and the American Federation of Teachers have to compete for members with other, non-union teacher organizations. All parties use their policies as a selling point, but insiders admit that the value of what they’re offering is overhyped.
The former president of the Texas Federation of Teachers called high levels of liability coverage “an expenditure of money that does no good for anybody.” The Oklahoma Education Association general counsel admitted that its liability policy “has only paid a handful of claims, none over $50,000 since 1980.” An unaffiliated teacher union in Georgia called liability insurance from rival unions a “scam.”
Unions constantly battle the public perception that teachers are guaranteed jobs for life. But they also benefit from the fact that their members have much the same perception. For many of them, job protection is what keeps them paying union dues year after year. It is only the small number of teachers who have to draw on that protection who discover its limitations.
Recent Intercepts. EIA’s daily blog, Intercepts, covered these topics August 31-September 6:
* Billion Year Contract. Member for life?
* Washington Education Association Employees Set Strike Date of Sept. 27. But it probably won’t come to that.
* Why Wait Months for Union News? Get your Labor Day news on Memorial Day.
* Two Things People Love Until It’s Time to Pay Them. Actions speak louder than polls.
Quote of the Week. “I was still in high school in the ’70s when these elections took place.” – Lynette Claeys, a UniServ director for the Iowa State Education Association, describing when most teacher unions were certified as exclusive bargaining agents in the state. A new Iowa law requires union to hold a new certification election prior to contract expiration. (September 4 Quad City Times)
August 30, 2017
Have We Hired Too Many Teachers? Scholar Warns of Economic ‘Time Bomb.’ Any day of the week you can find an article warning of the national teacher shortage. The latest is from Washington Post columnist Valerie Strauss, who blames a dearth of teachers on “low morale over low pay, unfair evaluation methods, assaults on due-process rights, high-stakes testing requirements, insufficient resources and other issues.”
There’s nothing new about these alarms; they date back to at least the early part of the 20th century. As I’ve noted, since that time we have almost quintupled the number of teachers and also cut the student-teacher ratio in half (student population data are here and here).
So it is refreshing to find a report on actual teacher staffing numbers from a respected academic who is willing to call them what they are: “a ticking time bomb.”
In an Education Week report on the National Center for Education Statistics latest school staffing survey — which showed the number of teachers was growing faster than student enrollment — University of Pennsylvania Professor Richard Ingersoll characterized the teacher workforce as “ballooning.”
“Financially it’s a ticking time bomb, we think,” Ingersoll said. “The main budget item in any school district is teachers’ salaries. This just can’t be sustainable.”
It’s easy to see what Ingersoll means. NCES produces its survey every four years. Almost all public school staffing took a hit during the 2012 survey, as districts laid off thousands during the recession. Hiring was bound to return to normal levels afterwards.
If we go back to 2008 we get a clear picture of the growth of America’s public school workforce. While, student enrollment in 2015-16 was virtually identical to what it was in 2007-08 — almost 49.3 million students — the number of employees in 2016 was substantially higher.
The population of teachers grew from 3.4 million to more than 3.8 million — an increase of 12.4 percent.
But teachers comprise only half of the public school labor force. Over the past eight years, the numbers of administrators, bureaucrats, specialists and infrastructure support employees have also ballooned. The ranks of vice principals and assistant principals grew by 8.3 percent. Instructional coordinators and curriculum specialists increased by 10.5 percent, and there was between 5 and 12 percent growth in the number of nurses, psychologists, speech therapists, and special education aides.
Again, this larger group of employees is responsible for the same number of students as were enrolled in 2008.
Not all professions have grown over this period. There are fewer secretaries, librarians, school counselors, and teacher aides (other than in special education). Some support employees may effectively be paying with their jobs for all the new teacher hires.
The immediate financial impact is troubling, but that’s just the start. Many of those additional teachers, vice principals, and curriculum specialists will qualify for a pension. Many states will find themselves shortchanging those who teach in order to fund those who no longer teach.
As much as we think of schools as buildings, desks, and books, more than 80 cents of every dollar spent on public education goes toward the cost of employee salaries and benefits. When a recession hits, the only effective way to cut costs is through reductions in the labor force. Yet when additional appropriations are made, most will be spent only two ways: on more compensation for education employees and/or more education employees.
Professor Ingersoll told Education Week it was tough getting a handle on the national education labor market. “We never were able to figure all of it out,” he said.
This is understandable. The labor market for teachers has never been based on student enrollment, only on the amount of money available to spend. Raising that money is easier if there is a teacher shortage of crisis proportions.
Debunking teacher shortage panic requires swimming against a tide of conventional wisdom — much like reporting on average teacher salaries. If there is a teacher shortage, it may be because we will keep hiring more and more teachers until we finally run out of available adults.
Recent Intercepts. EIA’s daily blog, Intercepts, covered these topics August 18-29:
* CTA Employees Reach Tentative Agreement. Plenty of money to go around.
Quote of the Week. “Obviously, these charges are based on lies and they’re using it as a negotiating tool because we’re in bargaining. That is a tactic that unions can use. I personally find it without honor, dishonorable, to use that kind of tactic. But they are within their rights to do that.” – Mike Gandolfo, president of the Pinellas Classroom Teachers Association in Florida, describing unfair labor practice complaints filed by the union’s own employees against him. (August 18 Tampa Bay Times)
August 16, 2017
Why Teacher Unions Really Want to Organize Charters, But Can’t (Yet). Over the past few years we have seen major efforts to unionize teachers in charter schools in Los Angeles, Chicago, and Washington, D.C. Some have been successful, others not, but teacher unions and their allies continue to hope they can make significant inroads in the charter school movement.
These efforts face significant challenges, not the least of which is the unions’ continuing opposition to the establishment of new charter schools and hostility to many that currently exist.
In public statements the National Education Association and American Federation of Teachers say they aspire to providing the best education for students and the benefits of collective bargaining for teachers. But if we want a more complete picture, we can find it in a remarkable document produced by the Pennsylvania State Education Association almost 17 years ago.
At the time charter schools were in their infancy and PSEA was mostly concerned with charters managed by Edison Schools, an aggressive for-profit company. To address the challenge, the union created a 17-member task force called the Charter Schools Strategic Options Project.
The task force worked for most of a year on a report presented to the PSEA board of directors and adopted as official union policy on November 30, 2000. While Edison Schools ultimately disappeared from the charter management scene, the report survives because of its prescience in forecasting what charters might become and candor in revealing PSEA’s motivation for opposing and unionizing them.
The task force understood the limitations of outright opposition. “Attempts to prevent the granting of charters can have negative public relations consequences,” the report states. The authors knew that “even if charters never produce the educational innovations promised by their early proponents, they will continue to extend their reach because they provide an expanded range of consumer choices and also provide options for students who are not fitting well into their regular public schools.”
The task force saw the employment of non-union charter school teachers as a form of “outsourcing,” and recommended organizing them to prevent a decline in union membership.
This isn’t unusual, but the task force’s rationale was astonishing in its forthrightness. The report notes that the state’s public sector collective bargaining law granted unions “a legal monopoly” explains why that’s important:
“Once we obtain majority representative status, PSEA becomes the exclusive bargaining agent. IN NO OTHER ENDEAVOR PSEA UNDERTAKES CAN IT ENJOY THIS EXCLUSIVE POSITION… The main source of PSEA’s influence is that almost all Pennsylvania teachers are unionized. If we want to maintain our influence, our ability to do ANYTHING, we must make sure that education remains a unionized industry.” (emphasis in original)
The task force warned: “If we lose our grip on the labor supply to the education industry, we will bargain from a position of weakness.”
Having issued this call to arms, the task force set out a strategy. It needed to overcome the fact that the average charter school employed only 16 teachers: smaller workplaces are harder to organize and not cost-effective for the union to represent. By contrast, it could use the growth of charter networks against them.
The report’s authors noted that “with the corporate entry into the charter school movement, there may be an opportunity, in the long run, to create single company statewide units and to merge small locals into statewide locals with a single contract.” In other words, all the KIPP schools in New York State would be one bargaining unit, with one contract, negotiated with KIPP’s central management.
This is the key that unlocks union organizing decisions about charters since that time. While they are happy to organize small charters here and there for public relations value, neither NEA nor AFT can really afford to unionize a dozen teachers at a time. But organizing a network of 50 schools with 1,000 teachers would be worth the expenditure of time and resources.
The task force recommended organizing the larger for-profit charters first in the hope that this would also create pressure on smaller charters to follow suit, or pressure them to raise salaries which, in the union’s eyes, would make them less attractive from a budgetary standpoint relative to traditional public schools.
Charter networks head off this strategy by maintaining they are not the “employers” for collective bargaining purposes at individual schools. Union successes have come where this argument is weaker, such as online charters in California (California Virtual Academies) and Pennsylvania (Agora Cyber Charter School) where there are no individual campuses. Other wins have come at places like Green Dot, whose founder is union-friendly.
The United Federation of Teachers has been unsuccessful organizing KIPP charter teachers as a single group, but over the years has managed to unionize a few individual schools, which seem to go through cycles of certifying and decertifying. The status of one KIPP charter school union is currently under investigation by the National Labor Relations Board.
United Teachers Los Angeles is helping to organize teachers at 26 Alliance charter schools into a single bargaining unit.
Recent upticks in union activity around charters are directly related to the growth of charters themselves. The bigger the charter, the bigger the threat it is to the union’s “grip on the labor supply to the education industry.” But it also becomes a bigger target for a union organizing drive.
The PSEA policy was binding only on the Pennsylvania union, of course, but its 17-year-old directives and rationales tell us much more about current teacher union strategies and motivations than any recent NEA policy.
Recent Intercepts. EIA’s daily blog, Intercepts, covered these topics August 11-15:
* On Segregation, Sacrifice and Scolding Both Sides. Opportunism.
* Stats For Your Back Pocket. Some new teacher staffing statistics that might surprise you.
Quote of the Week. “I did not get a fresh start.” – Mark Kramlich, middle school teacher in Billings, Montana, after he was fired by the school board for poor performance. Kramlich was the subject of a series of incidents dating back to 2008, but the district failed to terminate him earlier, citing “attempts to improve Kramlich’s teaching that took several years.” The union did not represent Kramlich at his termination hearing because he chose to hire his own counsel. (August 9 Billings Gazette)
August 10, 2017
AFT Adds 40,000 Members… Sort Of. Amid stagnating union membership rolls across the country, the American Federation of Teachers added 40,000 education employees into its ranks last week.
AFT reached an affiliation agreement with the Asociación de Maestros de Puerto Rico, the exclusive bargaining agent for the island’s public school teachers. It represents a unit larger than the Chicago Teachers Union.
But the affiliation is a unique one, characteristic of the difficult and often combative relationship between American unions and Puerto Rico’s teachers.
For one thing, AFT and AMPR describe the new relationship as a “trial affiliation” of up to three years. This is an unprecedented arrangement in my experience. Second, AMPR will be charged national dues of only $1 per member per month. AFT affiliates on the U.S. mainland, by way of comparison, will pay $19.28 per member per month beginning in September. AMPR members’ dues will remain stable because their union pledged to pay AFT’s fee from its own coffers. For its part, AFT pledged to provide AMPR’s members with the same services it provides all other members.
AMPR became the bargaining agent for teachers in Puerto Rico in April 2016 after an election in which its rival, the Federación de Maestros de Puerto Rico — FMPR — was banned from participation. The two unions have been battling since public-sector collective bargaining was enacted in Puerto Rico in 1999, even as America’s unions have treated the island like their own little Game of Thrones.
Back in 1999, AMPR was affiliated with the National Education Association and FMPR with AFT. FMPR won the first union representation election — the right to negotiate the island’s teachers contract — giving AFT the upper hand and all but eliminating NEA’s presence in Puerto Rico.
In 2003, a radical caucus won election to FMPR leadership and began disaffiliating from AFT. In what has since become standard operating procedure, AFT first sought to have the FMPR president removed from office, then, in 2005, attempted to establish a trusteeship over the union. This was met with massive defiance and protests that reached all the way to an AFT conference in Washington, D.C.
After losing several court battles and failing to form a competing organization, AFT effectively surrendered, disaffiliating FMPR — as if FMPR had not already disaffiliated itself.
FMPR’s victory was short-lived, however. After it authorized an illegal strike, the government of Puerto Rico decertified the union in 2008 and called a new representation election. With FMPR legally sidelined, AMPR rose from its ashes, assisted by a new affiliation with the Service Employees International Union.
Teachers were given the choice of AMPR or no union, and 55 percent of them voted for no union. That ended SEIU’s involvement, and left the island’s teachers without any union representation.
Labor militancy continued, however with both FMPR and AMPR participating in strikes and protests in 2014, but it wasn’t until last year that the government allowed a new representation election to be held. With FMPR banned from participating, AMPR easily won.
AFT gets a morale boost from taking AMPR under its wing, but not much else. Puerto Rico doesn’t permit the collection of agency fees. All union dues are voluntary. Even if every teacher were to join, the annual take for AFT would be less than $500,000, not enough to cover the cost of three union staffers.
Perhaps AFT members will think it is worthwhile to subsidize union operations in Puerto Rico, but AFT isn’t likely to ask them.
Recent Intercepts. EIA’s daily blog, Intercepts, covered these topics August 4-9:
* “Maybe I’m Too Generous of Spirit.” Sure, that would explain everything.
* Morning Constitutional. Does a union have the constitutional right to pitch membership to teachers on school premises?
* Massachusetts Teachers Association Preparing For Post-Agency Fee World. Time for the hard sell.
Quote of the Week. “It’s not a matter of ‘D’ or ‘R’, it’s a matter of what your philosophies are toward education. That’s why we endorsed him to begin with and that’s why after the discussion with him we’re still standing behind the governor.” – Dale Lee, president of the West Virginia Education Association, after Gov. Jim Justice switched parties from Democrat to Republican. (August 7 Metro News)
August 3, 2017
Which Bothers Randi Weingarten More — Segregation or School Choice? American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten lit a fuse that led to an explosion of controversy over school choice and race.
In a fervent speech to union activists attending the AFT Teach conference in Washington D.C., Weingarten condemned the Trump Administration’s agenda to expand the use of vouchers that can be used for children to attend private schools.
“Vouchers increase racial and economic segregation,” Weingarten said, then tied vouchers to the wider aim of eliminating public education.
“Make no mistake,” she continued. “This use of privatization, coupled with disinvestment are only slightly more polite cousins of segregation. We are in the same fight, against the same forces that are keeping the same children from getting the public education they need and deserve.”
Choice advocates were outraged and quick to respond.
“The hypocrisy that’s coming out of the mouth of Randi Weingarten reeks,” said Kevin Chavous of the American Federation for Children. “In her comments she has spat on the face of every African American and Hispanic child who’s trapped in a school that doesn’t serve them well.”
Weingarten dismissed the outcry as “completely ideological, with personal invectives thrown at me.”
In the last two weeks both support and criticism of Weingarten have centered on whether or not school vouchers actually increase segregation. A different question is whether or not Weingarten’s broadsides against vouchers, privatization, and disinvestment have anything to do with fighting segregation.
Elsewhere in the speech Weingarten recounted her joint visit to the public schools in Van Wert, Ohio, with U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. Weingarten chose that particular district because “these are the schools I wanted Betsy DeVos to see — public schools in the heart of the heart of America.”
“The people of Van Wert are proud of their public schools,” she said. “They’ve invested in pre-K and project-based learning. They have a nationally recognized robotics team and a community school program that helps at-risk kids graduate. Ninety-six percent of students in the district graduate from high school.”
Those are things to be proud of. But in a speech condemning segregation, Weingarten failed to mention another facet of Van Wert public schools: Out of 1,991 students, just 18 are African Americans. Not 18 percent — 18 students.
Just 30 miles down the road from Van Wert are the Lima City Schools. Their student population is 40 percent African American, and they are not doing nearly so well. On the six measures of student achievement the state of Ohio uses to grade its public schools, the Lima City schools received five Fs and a D.
That’s not to say Weingarten has no familiarity with segregated schools. She was introduced for this speech by Claudia Marte, a former student of Weingarten’s when she taught at Clara Barton High School in New York in the early 1990s. Enrollment figures for those years aren’t available online, but a decade later, in 2003, the student body was 85 percent black and 3 percent white.
“How can you be indifferent when you hear from someone like Claudia?” Weingarten said.
For the most part, the public school system dictates the school each student will attend based on geographic boundaries. Some school districts even employ “border patrols” to ensure only legal residents attend certain desirable schools. Segregated neighborhoods usually lead to segregated schools, so where one chooses or can afford to live will often determine whether one’s child will attend a school with a diverse student body, or one where a single race is the large majority.
Weingarten owns a home in East Hampton, New York, near the easternmost edge of Long Island. The median house value there is more than $1 million. The community is 86 percent white and 0.7 percent African American.
If Weingarten had school-age children, there is an elementary, middle and high school they could hypothetically attend. The combined enrollment of the three schools is 1,807 students. Only 68 students are African Americans (3.7 percent).
Weingarten also owns a co-op in New York City’s Inwood neighborhood on the northern tip of Manhattan. The area was profiled in an article last year headlined, “Inwood Is Actually Two Neighborhoods Divided by Race, Class and Broadway.” The author notes that while “both sides of the neighborhood are predominantly Latino, close to 90 percent of the area’s white population lives in West Inwood.” The locals refer to West Inwood as “Little Connecticut.”
“Residents east of Broadway have said for years that they face serious impediments when it comes to accessing information, police attention and other resources — which they blame on race, language and class differences with their western counterparts,” the article states.
Weingarten’s co-op is in West Inwood.
The combined enrollment of the three schools closest to the home she owns totals 1,085 students, of whom 73, or 6.7 percent, are African Americans.
For comparison purposes, African Americans comprise 27 percent of New York City Public Schools enrollment. Only 15 percent of city students are white.
Weingarten certainly opposes segregation, but her fire and determination are reserved for the segregation she sees in non-union schools — not in traditional public schools or her daily life. If we are to fight segregation and institutional racism, we cannot allow people to use union cards as a shield.
Recent Intercepts. EIA’s daily blog, Intercepts, covered these topics July 27-August 2:
* Staff Union Unrest Reaches East Coast. Failure to bargain in good faith.
* Pickets Greet Weingarten in Florida. “Whose side are you on?” union employees ask.
* Two Wins for the Independents. Unions getting along fine without national affiliation.
* Karma. Getting shutout because of a change in access policy.
Quote of the Week. “[M]arches only work when they demonstrate the power of an organized mass movement, proving that a mass base has unified around a particular demand. Put differently, organizing work must precede any successful march, and that work takes years, not months. Today’s left, however, often goes in reverse, organizing a march in the hopes that it will spark a mass movement.” – Michael Kinnucan, member of the Democratic Socialists of America. (July 25 Jacobin)
July 26, 2017
Six Business Moves the NEA Doesn’t Want You to Know About. The National Education Association is America’s largest labor union and a potent political force. It is also a $367 million a year corporate entity with a bewildering number of affiliates, subsidiaries, interlocking directorates, and business partnerships.
The details of NEA’s interactions are unknown to the public and a mystery even to its most dedicated activists. While members of the union’s “highest decision-making body,” the 7,000-delegate Representative Assembly, devoted themselves at an annual conference to choosing articles to be published on the NEA web site, the union’s executive officers conducted weightier transactions that failed to elicit a single question or comment from delegates. Here are six of them:
1) NEA Properties Inc. In May 2009 the Indiana State Teachers Association Insurance Trust went bust due to bad investments, poor oversight, and financial mismanagement. The Indiana union itself was in danger of collapse, prompting NEA to place it under trusteeship. NEA then created a real estate firm — NEA Properties Inc. — for the sole purpose of purchasing the ISTA headquarters building and leasing it back to the state union. The Indiana affiliate has been a tenant of NEA Properties ever since.
In conjunction with this move — never addressed nor approved by the Representative Assembly — NEA made an unsecured loan to ISTA, which was refinanced in 2014 to $15 million at 2.5% interest, payable by 2028.
Since 2009, ISTA has lost 26 percent of its membership, making full repayment a doubtful proposition. NEA describes $6.1 million of the loan as uncollectible.
2) National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. NEA has long been a supporter, financial and otherwise, of NBPTS, an independent organization that issues national certification for teachers who seek it. Teacher candidates send videos and portfolios of their work to NBPTS, which examines the material and either issues or denies the certification.
The program is costly and time-consuming, but a number of organizations and states offer financial aid to complete the training. Some states also grant higher salaries to nationally certified teachers.
None of this is terribly controversial, but NEA is now propping up NBPTS operations. Last year the union made a $1 million, no-interest loan to NBPTS, payable in five years. A look at NBPTS finances reveals ongoing budget deficits.
NBPTS spent more than it took in each year from 2012 to 2015 (its 2016 numbers are not yet available). The accumulated shortfall was almost $24 million, reducing its net assets by more than 73 percent.
In 2013, NBPTS shut down its San Antonio office, taking a loss of $4.9 million, and transferred all of its functions to Pearson NCS, a company that is often criticized by NEA and the American Federation of Teachers.
The late CEO of NBPTS, Ronald Thorpe, was making more than $325,000 at the time.
3) NEA Members Insurance Trust. NEA’s internal financial reports note, “The Department of Labor is conducting a review of certain issues surrounding the NEA Members Insurance Plan of which NEA is the sponsor and administrator. The outcome of this review is unknown at this time.”
No further details are provided.
4) NEA Member Benefits Corporation. This NEA subsidiary manages the union’s various member discount offerings, along with insurance and financial products. For additional income NEA MBC has $3,565,041 invested in hedge funds — making $2 million in purchases during 2015-16.
At the same time, NEA was running articles informing members “how hedge fund billionaires profit at the expense of our students.”
5) NEA Healthy Futures. This NEA subsidiary was founded as the NEA Health Information Network in 1987. NEA Healthy Futures “manages and implements programs that provide health and wellness solutions, advocacy tools, and funding and resource opportunities for NEA members and the education community at large. NEA Healthy Futures secures funds from public and private sources to implement these programs.”
That’s all well and good, except that NEA dissolved NEA Healthy Futures last year without a word and transferred its remaining assets to the NEA Foundation, a separate non-profit subsidiary. Why this was done is anyone’s guess, but it’s curious that NEA didn’t announce it publicly or otherwise.
6) NEA 360. NEA created a limited liability corporation in 2015 to manage NEA 360, its new database and tech platform, designed not only so the union could keep track of basic member information but to allow it to interact with individual members for organizing purposes.
It’s an ambitious undertaking but has run into a number of obstacles. Its rollout has been delayed several times. Last November, NEA cancelled its contract with the vendor responsible for “developing the transactional component of the NEA 360 platform” and “suspended work on the original project design.” The union is now “leveraging extant systems,” which sounds like jargon for “using someone else’s existing software.”
NEA has earmarked $10 million in its 2017-18 budget for NEA 360.
With all the focus on the union’s political activities, it is important to remember that NEA engages in a host of business and financial activities that members also subsidize. These are undertaken mostly without their knowledge, let alone consent.
Recent Intercepts. EIA’s daily blog, Intercepts, covered these topics July 20-25:
* CTA Fires Back at Staff Union. “We know losing fair share fees will have an immediate $7.7 million impact on the CTA budget.”
* Local Control. Handpicked.
Quote of the Week. “[T]he CCSD and the teachers, who fund the trust, needed to be told why Vellardita and (the trust were) unnecessarily burning through millions of their dollars and paying double the national average for significantly less benefits.” – from a counterclaim made by four former employees of the Clark County Education Association’s Teachers Health Trust. The four executives are being sued by the trust for exposing confidential information. They counterclaim they were fired for exposing “waste, conflicts of interest and unethical dealings” by CCEA executive director John Vellardita. (July 21 Las Vegas Review-Journal)
July 19, 2017
How the California Teachers Association Is Spending Its Summer. Summer is down time for education, but the California Teachers Association remains active on the policy front. Ever since its May 1 Day of Action — the message of which varied greatly depending on local issues — the union has tried to take advantage of huge legislative majorities and burgeoning school revenues to push its agenda.
On May 17 CTA held its chapter presidents lobby day at the state Capitol, directing local affiliate officers to focus on bills related to immigration and charter schools — but mostly to squash Assembly Bill 1220, which proposed raising eligibility for teacher tenure from two to three years of experience.
Maverick Assembly Democrat Shirley Weber of San Diego withdrew the bill soon after a CTA-supported competing bill was introduced by her colleague, Assembly Democrat Tony Thurmond of Richmond. Thurmond’s bill would have pushed tenure to three years but also granted even probationary teachers the right to contest dismissals. After Weber withdrew her bill, Richmond withdrew his. It is certainly just coincidental that Thurmond is running to become the state superintendent of public instruction, a race he cannot win without union support.
Having ensured that it will continue to be costly and time-consuming to dismiss teachers, CTA began efforts to make it easier to become a teacher. The union is currently exploring options for prospective teachers to qualify for a credential without taking a test. CTA is particularly interested in eliminating the Reading Instruction Competence Assessment, which 33,000 elementary school teacher candidates have failed over the last four years.
These teachers might struggle a bit more in their first year or two, but CTA has an answer: salary increases for veteran teachers. The union’s rationale is that veteran teachers will need to train and mentor the newcomers and should be additionally compensated.
As new teachers enter the profession, CTA will take advantage of the budget trailer bill it crafted requiring school districts to grant the union access to new employee orientations so it can pitch the benefits of union membership.
Those new employees probably won’t hear the other side of the story, however, because CTA also supports Senate Bill 285, which states that school districts “shall not deter or discourage public employees from becoming or remaining members of an employee organization.”
Because the costs of obtaining a teaching credential can be a burden to new educators, two California Senate Democrats introduced a bill that would provide a 50 percent income tax credit for teacher candidates to offset many of those costs.
CTA might be expected to support a reduced financial burden on teachers, but it opposed the bill, saying it would “not only undermine funding for public education but would irrevocably harm the fabric of our school communities.”
It will be difficult for Californians to measure how funding is undermined because CTA also opposed Assembly Bill 1321, which would have required school district report cards, mandated by the federal Every Student Succeeds Act, to include data on per-pupil spending and personnel expenditures.
CTA’s master plan seems to be flowing smoothly but there are a few shoals. The union is experiencing some labor problems of its own involving pension payments for CTA employees.
CTA’s Los Angeles affiliate is peppering the Alliance charter school network with labor complaints, only to have most of them dismissed by the state Public Employee Relations Board.
And with public pension liabilities a big concern for most states, CTA and other educator groups are concerned about the decision by the California State Teachers Retirement System to build a second, $181 million office tower in West Sacramento.
These are minor setbacks as long as the California economy stays out of trouble and CTA can still rely on the incentive of agency fees to keep its membership numbers up, but how long will that remain the case?
Recent Intercepts. EIA’s daily blog, Intercepts, covered these topics July 13-18:
* CTA Employees Say Union Is “Heading Down a Path of No Return.” Labor strife.
* Many Are Left Out of Teacher Union Decision-Making. Participation is deep but not very wide.
* Losing Streak. Union insurance trust executive accused of financial wrongdoing and extreme intoxication.
* News Flash: Exclusivity Is a Benefit to Unions. Federal appeals courts puts the kibosh on union’s free-rider and Fifth Amendment takings arguments.
Quote of the Week. “If you’re in a cash business, you’re going to have some level of theft.” – Mike Burke, chief financial officer of the Palm Beach County school district in Florida, after more than $100,000 of student activity money disappeared from three schools, leading to the arrests of three different school treasurers. (July 18 Sun Sentinel)
July 12, 2017
The Sad Triviality of the National Education Association’s Annual Conference. The National Education Association held its annual Representative Assembly in Boston last week. NEA boasts that the RA is the union’s “highest decision-making body” and “the world’s largest democratic deliberative body.” Most of the four-day convention was consumed by debate and votes on New Business Items (NBIs).
According to the union’s standing rules, NBIs are action items that “shall be specific in nature and terminal in application.” This distinguishes them from NEA’s resolutions, which are statements of belief rather than tasks to be accomplished.
There are a number of ways to get an NBI on the floor for debate, but the most common is simply to gather the signatures of 50 delegates. With 7,000 delegates at the RA, it is a low bar to clear.
NBIs cover a wide range of topics, some not even tangentially related to education or labor. This year the delegates submitted 159 NBIs, which may have been the most ever. But rather than examine the issues they addressed, let’s look at how the delegates disposed of them, and what specific actions they directed NEA’s officers and staff to perform.
By my count, the delegates approved 79 items and referred an additional 46 to committee without a recommendation up or down. I have itemized the actions the delegates directed NEA to take (some asked for more than one action):
- 35 NBIs called for NEA to share information with members through existing communications channels;
- 21 NBIs required substantive actions, such as mounting a media campaign, drafting model legislation, developing a toolkit, establishing a partnership, or expanding training;
- 15 NBIs directed NEA to publish an article or write a letter;
- 12 NBIs asked NEA to conduct a review of research or make a list;
- 9 NBIs concerned the process of conducting the convention itself or other rudimentary internal union operation matters; and
- 2 NBIs directed NEA to get U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos to respond to a letter.
Each year NEA publishes a report on how it implemented the previous year’s NBIs. It is not surprising to see that it mainly consists of links to articles or editorials the union posted on its various internet outlets.
The world’s largest democratic deliberative body is essentially the world’s largest editorial staff meeting.
A precious few NBIs dealt with NEA’s internal policymaking practices, such as the procedures for endorsing U.S. presidential candidates. These were all referred to committees — specifically the committees the NBIs were seeking to reform in some way.
No NBIs addressed the implications of the possible loss of agency fees. None asked for a review of NEA’s campaign strategy or expenditures in the 2016 elections. And because the NBI debates went on for so long, there was no floor debate on NEA’s $367 million budget.
NEA will not be sitting on its hands during the 2017–18 school year. But its most consequential actions will be taken by the 12 union officers on the NEA Executive Committee, and not at the behest of its “highest decision-making body.”
Recent Intercepts. EIA’s daily blog, Intercepts, covered these topics June 30-July 11:
* NEA’s New Charter School Policy Isn’t New. Not much has changed since 1992.
* It’s Popcorn Time in Vegas. “We want a divorce.”
* NEA Policy Statement on Charter Schools – Final Version. Threat of moratorium added from the floor.
* Could This Resolution Put NEA Out of Business? “Private interests.”
* Fingers in Ears, Shouting “La, La, La, I Can’t Hear You!” Delegates mostly punt on how to deal with opposing views.
* NEA Convention 2017: New Business Items on Charters, Political Endorsements & DeVos. Why won’t Secretary DeVos answer our loaded questions?
* NEA Friend of Education on the Best Education Available. LeVar Burton’s mom was a teacher. Where did she send him to school?
* Offered Without Comment. “The Role of the Press in a Democracy.”
* California Union Staff to Hold Informational Picket at NEA Convention. Pension funding top issue.
* What’s $2.8 Million Among Friends? What’s the point of a Q&A on the budget if no one asks questions?
* Almost Done In – West Virginia. The West Virginia Education Association is “broken,” says its president.
* The 2017 NEA Convention Is Over; Let’s Get Ready For 2018! Proposed change to U.S. Presidential endorsement procedures.
Quote of the Week. “This change would hamper labor’s ability to pool resources and share information to engage in independent expenditures from coalition committees.” – Dave Low, executive director of the California School Employees Association, commenting on a bill dubbed The Disclose Act that would require campaign ads to list the original source of the money that paid for them. (July 4 San Francisco Chronicle)
June 28, 2017
After 19 Memorable Years, My Farewell to the Annual National Education Association Convention. “Thank you for your interest in covering the 154th Annual Meeting and 95th Representative Assembly of the National Education Association in Boston. Your application does not meet our credentialing guidelines, and we will not be able to authorize a media credential for you to attend the RA.”
With those two sentences my annual gavel-to-gavel coverage of the NEA convention for 19 consecutive years comes to a close.
NEA didn’t explain why this year was any different from the previous 19, and it doesn’t really matter. The union is a private organization, and it is well within its right to issue a press pass or deny one to whomever it chooses.
For the record, NEA always treated me in a professional manner during the four-day event, and I always behaved likewise.
My first Representative Assembly was in 1998, a landmark year: delegates debated and voted on whether to merge at the national level with the American Federation of Teachers. I had done in-depth reporting on how this issue was playing in the states and quickly concluded that the merger resolution could not achieve the necessary two-thirds majority.
Most education reporters at the time viewed my position with bewilderment: the NEA Executive Committee had unanimously approved the merger, and the union’s board of directors had approved it with a two-thirds majority. Pro-merger delegates at the convention were angry because I’d said I “predict flatly that merger will not achieve the necessary two-thirds majority at the NEA Representative Assembly in New Orleans on July 5. In fact, there is an outside chance it will not achieve a simple majority.” I again predicted the failure of the merger on the pages of The Wall Street Journal the week before the vote.
The merger failed, with only 42 percent support.
That vote was a launching point for me, with NEA issuing a press pass in subsequent years recognizing me as a “legitimate news-gathering organization,” as they put it in an email back then.
The convention never again lived up to that level of drama and intrigue, though I felt it was necessary to continue on-site coverage because the public still had no access to the union’s resolutions, legislative program, new business items, or even accurate state-by-state membership numbers.
That has changed in recent years, and with the advent of social media it is a simple task to monitor the proceedings contemporaneously on Twitter. So although I won’t be there in person, I will still cover the convention and post my analysis.
There isn’t much I’ll miss about the NEA convention, but one is the stream of delegates who would approach me with information, attaboys, or denunciations. It’s unhealthy to only engage with people who already agree with you, so I like to think we provided each other with a benefit.
Perhaps my favorite encounter was with former NEA president Reg Weaver.
“People used to complain to me all the time about the stuff you wrote,” he told me. “And I’d ask them, ‘What did he write that isn’t true?’ And when they couldn’t come up with something, I’d say, ‘Then what you bitchin’ about?’ ”
Best wishes, Reg, and all the other NEA delegates who made those conventions much more interesting.
Recent Intercepts. EIA’s daily blog, Intercepts, covered these topics June 23-27:
* NEA Active Membership Actually Behind Where It Was 20 Years Ago. You can’t merge your way out of membership deficiencies.
* Vegas Local Launches Ad Campaign Against Its State Affiliate. Local runs ad asking “Why Are We Funding NSEA?”
* NEA’s Future in One Statistic. The real reason for agency fees.
Quote of the Week. “It’s not even on my radar.” – Ruben Murillo, president of the Nevada State Education Association, on the possibility the huge Clark County Education Association might secede from NSEA. (June 26 Las Vegas Review-Journal)
June 22, 2017
NEA Membership Grew, Or Did It? The National Education Association had 2,963,540 members in 2016, of whom 87.5 percent were working in the public school system. This was an increase of 0.5 percent from 2015 and the first increase in total membership since 2009.
This is good news for the union after such a long drought and will be celebrated at the annual NEA Representative Assembly in Boston early next month. A closer look at the state-by-state figures reveals NEA isn’t out of the woods, however, and may soon find itself divided between the haves and have-nots.
I have compiled the numbers in a handy table, which provides both the total and active membership for each state affiliate. Active members are employed teachers, professionals, and education support workers. Total membership includes retirees, students, substitutes, and all others. Along with the numbers are the one-year and five-year changes in those figures.
The raw numbers show that NEA had an increase of almost 16,000 members, but more than 4,000 of those were retirees, who pay the national union $30 a year. Certainly they are welcome additions, loyal to the organization after their working days have ended, but they are still folks who were formerly paying $187 a year as active members.
And there’s a small problem about the 11,862 new active members. A look at the state figures shows that by itself New York State United Teachers accounted for 15,584 new active members. That means all the NEA’s other affiliates produced a net loss of more than 3,700 members.
This is significant because NYSUT is by no means a normal NEA state affiliate. The 400,000-member New York state teachers group is primarily affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers. In 2006, NYSUT merged with — absorbed might be a better word — a struggling NEA New York, which had fewer than 41,000 members at the time. NYSUT members have reduced voting and representation rights at NEA, and do not pay a full complement of NEA national dues.
NEA does have a powerhouse affiliate of its own — the California Teachers Association. CTA boosted its active member numbers by almost 9,000. NEA’s other affiliates on the Pacific Coast also had good years. The Washington Education Association and the Oregon Education Association increased their active member numbers by almost 3,000 each.
It’s difficult to find happy news for NEA elsewhere in the nation. State affiliates in Arkansas, Georgia, Michigan, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, and Wisconsin all lost more than 5 percent of their active members in a single year. Affiliates in Kansas, Nevada, South Carolina, and the Utah School Employees Association also had a miserable year.
All told, 27 NEA state affiliates lost active members.
I reported last month that NEA is budgeting for a loss of 20,000 members in 2017-18. If the case of Janus v. AFSCME challenging agency fees goes to the U.S. Supreme Court and is decided against the unions, 2016 might end up being NEA’s last high-water mark.
Recent Intercepts. EIA’s daily blog, Intercepts, covered these topics June 16-21:
* Union Shuts Down the Type of Charter It Claims to Support. The fault line beneath common ground.
* It Was 20 Years Ago Today. The birth of EIA.
* NEA’s PR Machine. If you don’t like your press coverage, try to buy some.
* Better Late Than Never. The tardy appearance of the South Carolina Education Association’s financial data.
Quote of the Week. “We want a better-trained and well-informed workforce. It really wasn’t about the unions so much as it was just an orientation.” – California Assemblyman Jim Cooper, commenting on a new state law that grants unions mandatory access to new employee orientation sessions in schools, cities and in state government. (June 14 Sacramento Bee)
June 15, 2017
Janus Ruling Could Force Unions To Compete for Members. Last week, attorneys for the plaintiff in Janus v. AFSCMEfiled for review in the U.S. Supreme Court. If the court accepts the case and rules in favor of Janus, it would end the practice of public-sector unions charging agency fees to non-members for costs associated with collective bargaining and other operations.
The media and analysts have focused on the potential effect of an adverse ruling on union membership and finances. Given the choice, as has happened in some states, a significant number of public employees opt out of membership. But there is also the possibility that once freed from financially supporting their old union, public employees will join – and financially support – a different union or professional organization.
Because unions are exempt from antitrust laws, they can make agreements about who will organize which employees. Jurisdictional arrangements constrain unions from recruiting new members by “raiding” the ranks of other unions.
Following their failed national merger attempt in 1998, the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers made a series of deals to discourage raiding by their state affiliates, and pledged to withhold monetary and staff support to affiliates engaged in the practice. In some states, NEA and AFT affiliates reached similar individual agreements.
The upshot is that competition between NEA and AFT for members, once prevalent, is now very rare and, in agency fee states, almost nonexistent. The reason is clear: If a teacher is required to pay agency fees to the incumbent union in her state or district, it gets awfully expensive to also pay dues to a second union — one that has no authority to act on that teacher’s behalf.
In states without agency fees, teachers can join the incumbent union, a different union, a non-union professional organization, or nothing at all. This flexibility has created competition for members: In some states, NEA and AFT have pivoted effectively and maintain the largest membership base. In other states, they haven’t.
In the mid-1970s, NEA decided that contrary to previous practice, members could not pick and choose which levels of the organization they would join. If you joined the NEA local in Amarillo, in other words, you also had to join and pay dues to the Texas State Teachers Association and NEA national.
Members in some states revolted, seceding en masse from NEA or splintering off and forming new associations. Today, 40 years laters, independent teachers associations in at least four states — Georgia, Missouri, South Carolina, and Texas — have more members than the respective NEA and AFT state affiliates.
It’s possible that with the end of agency fees, new teachers associations will spring up where they weren’t feasible before — states like Maine, Oregon, or Pennsylvania. Some teachers who are unhappy with NEA may join AFT, and vice versa.
This new mobility might not always be detrimental to the unions. NEA has already leveraged right-to-work laws to retain members, for example.
When the 4,500-member Memphis-Shelby County Education Association disaffiliated from NEA and went independent in 2015, NEA immediately chartered a competing local, the United Education Association of Shelby County. When the Santa Rosa Professional Educators left the Florida Education Association, NEA and AFT, the three unions chartered a competing local, the Santa Rosa Education Association, which successfully filed for a new exclusive representation election. Neither of these actions would have been practical if Tennessee and Florida were agency fee states.
So while public-sector unions must prepare for the consequences of members leaving unions entirely, they must also prepare to operate in a world where members easily move from one union to another, or to a non-union association. How ready are they for an actual marketplace in labor representation?
Recent Intercepts. EIA’s daily blog, Intercepts, covered these topics June 9-14:
* NEA Sitting on $49 Million in Ballot Initiative Funds. They have to spend it on something…
* PAC Panic? …on the other hand, voluntary contributions are down.
* CTA Prepping Charter School Moratorium Resolutions for Local School Boards. Grassroots and local control?
Quote of the Week. “We have charters like Animo in LA or Helix High School in San Diego that are union organized and who are great members of CTA. They’re using the charter law the way it was intended.” – Eric Heins, president of the California Teachers Association. (June 3 speech to the CTA State Council)
Yep, these two schools have everything CTA celebrates in charters: a teacher firing that involved the ACLU amid claims of intimidation, teachers correcting wrong answers on standardized tests, separating from local district oversight in order to negotiate a collective bargaining agreement with lower raises, and four different teachers convicted of sex crimes involving students, after which the district threatened to revoke its charter. CTA lambastes other charters for similar problems, and rightfully so, but it seems simply paying union dues protects you from all sorts of things.