Education Intelligence Agency

Public education research, analysis and investigations

Communiqués

Written By: Mike Antonucci


Why Teacher Unions Really Want to Organize Charters, But Can’t (Yet)

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)

AFT Adds 40,000 Members… Sort Of

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)

Which Bothers Randi Weingarten More — Segregation or School Choice?

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)

Six Business Moves the NEA Doesn’t Want You to Know About

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.”

NEA spent about a half-million dollars each year on the non-profit and hosts web pages and a Twitter account dedicated to its activities.

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)

How the California Teachers Association Is Spending Its Summer

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)

The Sad Triviality of the National Education Association’s Annual Conference

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)

After 19 Memorable Years, My Farewell to the Annual National Education Association Convention

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)

NEA Membership Grew, Or Did It?

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.

Click here for a Adobe Acrobat (PDF) version.

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)

Janus Ruling Could Force Unions To Compete for Members

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.

Boycotts? Endorsements? Not So Fast – NEA Top Brass Reins in Activist Members

June 8, 2017

Boycotts? Endorsements? Not So Fast – NEA Top Brass Reins in Activist Members. Political opponents of the 3 million-member National Education Association probably feel the union couldn’t be more partisan, difficult or dismissive of education reforms it opposes. But in some cases, the union’s leadership structure acts as a moderating influence on the more radical proposals presented by its activist members.

Each year at NEA’s Representative Assembly, some 7,000 delegates introduce approximately 125 new business items (NBIs) for debate and vote. Many of these come from California, and a disproportionate number from union affiliates in the Bay Area. These agenda items tend to call on NEA to take more extreme measures against charter schools, corporations and opposing advocacy organizations.

Many of them are defeated by a majority floor vote of the delegates, but others pass or are referred to the union’s executive committee. When these items are placed in the hands of the union’s officers for implementation or final disposal, the extent of the actions taken sometimes doesn’t match up with the item’s intent.

Some NBIs are straightforward and are dealt with in the same way. One approved NBI from the 2016 Representative Assembly directed NEA to donate $10,000 to the Save Our Schools March. NEA did just that.

Other implementations aren’t so clear. One 2015 item directed NEA to “actively engage in conversation and outreach on the NEA endorsement process with all 2016 Presidential campaigns prior to the consideration of a primary recommendation.” While NEA did perform outreach to all candidates, we know from the hacked e-mails published by Wikileaks that the NEA leadership was already committed to endorsing Hillary Clinton soon after she announced her candidacy.

Referrals by the delegates give the union’s highest-ranking elected officers free rein to deal with agenda items. Items calling for boycotts are automatically referred, and delegates in 2016 introduced one.

“The NEA will call for a national boycott of all Walton-owned businesses, including Wal-Mart, Sam’s Club and Arvest Bank, until they cease to seek profit by investing in the creation of competitive charter schools and the takeover of traditional public schools through the Walton Family Foundation.”

As it has done in the past, the NEA Executive Committee shot down the idea, with the rationale, “Given the scale and scope of the Walton family enterprises, we do not believe that a boycott organized by NEA of those enterprises would serve to counter effectively or stem the activities of the Walton Foundation around charter school promotion and education privatization.”

It actually would be a lot easier to boycott Wal-Mart than it would some other NEA opponents. To protest the activities of the Gates Foundation, could you organize an effective boycott of Microsoft? How many members could you get to stop using Windows?

In the name of local control, NEA also decided to reject an NBI that called on the union to “encourage its affiliates’ political action committees not to endorse any candidate for local or state office who accepts charter school PAC money.” NEA determined that local endorsements might be made “because the candidate’s position on issues unrelated to charters align with those of the Association.”

Another NBI directed the union to seek out “pro-public education Republican candidates” and encourage them to participate in the union’s endorsement process. NEA stated that this was already being done through a “strategic relationship” with the Republican Main Street Partnership and the Tuesday Group, both of which are caucuses of moderate Congressional Republicans.

I don’t know of any instance in which NEA interpreted an NBI in such a way that the union ended up taking more extreme action than was called for. This suggests that contrary to popular belief, the union hierarchy acts more reasonably in some cases than its most committed activists.

Recent Intercepts. EIA’s daily blog, Intercepts, covered these topics June 2-7:

*  California Teachers Association Employees Say CTA “Buries Union Values.”. Rest in labor peace.

*  Is Janus the End of the Battle or the Start of a Guerrilla War? Asymmetrical tactics ahead.

*  Congratulation Complications. Massachusetts Teachers Association further isolated by its National Teacher of the Year snub.

The Countdown Begins: Janus Files For Supreme Court Cert. About a year to go.

Quote of the Week. “It’s not about destroying charter schools. Charter schools are here; they’re not going anywhere. So the key is, how do you make them a bitter pill to their management companies? It’s the management companies we have the issues with, not the charter teachers, not the students, not the parents.” – Karen Lewis, president of the Chicago Teachers Union. (May 26 Chicago Tribune)

Word Substitution Quote of the Week. “It’s not about destroying charter schools teacher unions. Charter schools Teacher unions are here; they’re not going anywhere. So the key is, how do you make them a bitter pill to their management companies members? It’s the management companies teacher union we have the issues with, not the charter teachers, not the students, not the parents.”

Teacher Unions Prepare for Thousands of Lost Members As New Case Moves Toward the Supreme Court

June 1, 2017

Teacher Unions Prepare for Thousands of Lost Members As New Case Moves Toward the Supreme Court. In 2016, public sector unions were granted a reprieve when U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia died unexpectedly. The court had already heard oral arguments in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, which challenged the 40-year-old Abood decision compelling workers who choose not to join a unionized workforce to pay an “agency fee” to cover the costs of collective bargaining.

The court deadlocked 4-4 — an impasse court-watchers believed Scalia would have broken with a vote to end mandated fees, forcing public-sector unions to subsist only on dues voluntarily obtained from members.

The split decision put an end to Friedrichs but gave rise to several similar complaints. With Neil Gorsuch now occupying Scalia’s seat, the court likely has the appetite for another agency fee case. That case may be Janus v. AFSCME: the U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, in dismissing the case earlier this year, said, “Of course, only the Supreme Court has the power, if it so chooses, to overrule Abood…Neither the district court nor this court can overrule Abood, and it is Abood that stands in the way of (the plaintiff’s) claim.”

Last year, unions hoped public pressure would force the Republican-led Senate under President Obama to take up his nomination of Merrick Garland for the ninth seat. They also devoted their energy and resources to electing Hillary Clinton, whose court choice could have stalled any further agency fee cases for years.

Now the unions, particularly teachers unions, must face the probability of operating and financing in an entirely new way. Their first order of business is to prepare not only for lost fees, but the loss of members.

The law currently allows a teacher to choose between paying 100 percent of union dues or about 70 percent — the difference between what the union determines it spends on activities not related to collective bargaining (for example, political campaigns). The less-expensive, fee-payer option means a loss of membership privileges like liability insurance coverage and the ability to vote on contract ratification. Rather than forego these privileges, some teachers pay the extra 30 percent to remain members.

Where mandatory fees don’t exist — in right-to-work states — teachers choose between paying 100 percent of union dues or paying nothing. Teachers who might be reluctant union members in states with mandatory fees may leave the union entirely because the financial incentive is much higher.

Though a Janus ruling — assuming the high court hears it — will probably not come down until June of next year, teacher unions have begun feeling out the first tentative steps toward life after agency fees.

National Education Association: The national union has modified its proposed budget for 2017-18 to include an estimated loss of 20,000 full-time equivalent members. This seems accurate because even larger losses won’t be felt until the 2018-19 school year.

California Teachers Association: The union’s executive director recently warned activists to be prepared for membership losses as high as 30 to 40 percent. Despite his alert, CTA does not seem to have made any adjustments to its own 2017-18 budget.

United Federation of Teachers: AFT’s New York City local estimates a 20 percent reduction in membership and feels it can safely cut $16 million, which is about 10 percent of the annual dues it collects.

Massachusetts Teachers Association: The union hired an accounting firm to determine a prudent level of reserves should agency fees disappear. But because of increases in staff pension and post-retirement health care liabilities MTA had net assets of negative $3.5 million at the end of 2016.

Washington Education Association: WEA is currently in contract negotiations with its employees, and proposed that their pensions be based on their career average earnings, rather than their three highest-earning years. The union has $55.5 million in pension and post-retirement health care liabilities. In fact, many NEA state affiliates are finding that pension cost control is as sticky an issue for them as it is for state and local governments across the country.

Hawaii State Teachers Association: The union’s board of directors began reducing expenditures by proposing the annual state convention become biennial. HSTA will also fund fewer delegates to attend the annual NEA Representative Assembly.

Other affiliates in agency fee states will doubtless make similar adjustments in advance of any Supreme Court ruling. It isn’t clear if any affiliates in right-to-work states have realized their own vulnerability. Membership losses in agency fee states mean less money overall reaching national headquarters. That means less money is available for the subsidies on which current right-to-work affiliates heavily rely.

In short, teacher unions are doing something, but there is little evidence that they are prepared for the revolutionary change in their usual operations that an adverse Janus decision will bring. And time is running out.

Recent Intercepts. EIA’s daily blog, Intercepts, covered these topics May 26-31:

*  Large Indiana Local Leaves NEA. How much charter organizing will it take to replace a 955-employee bargaining unit?

*  Credit Where It’s Due. Unlike its Massachusetts affiliate, NEA will honor the National Teacher of the Year.

You Had One Job. Utah Education Association delegates admit to not knowing how the union spends its money.

Quote of the Week #1. “They don’t fight for charter schools, so why would I want them to represent me?” – Craig Winchell, a charter school teacher in Los Angeles, speaking about the teachers’ union. (May 24 The 74)

Quote of the Week #2. “This is what New York union bosses do – parachute into states they know nothing about in an effort to score cheap political points. For all of the union lip service about local decision making, they never miss an opportunity to fly in from the East Coast and create a spectacle in front of the TV cameras.” – Lida Alikhani, spokesperson for the New Mexico Education Department, on a recent visit to New Mexico by American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten. (May 25 Albuquerque Journal)

State Union Rankings Shows Strength of Labor Depends on Size of Government

May 25, 2017

State Union Rankings Shows Strength of Labor Depends on Size of Government. That union membership numbers are declining — both in raw numbers and as a percentage of the American workforce — is no longer news. What should be getting more attention is that unionism is now mostly a movement by and for government employees.

The public sector workforce is only about one-sixth the size of its private sector counterpart, but public sector workers are much more likely to be unionized: public and private unions have about the same number of members. With private sector unions only about half the size they were in 1979, the strength of labor has become dependent on the size of governments.

All unions profess to stand in solidarity with each other, but public and private sector unions have some signal differences. Private sector unions have to consider the financial health of the companies their members work for in a way that public sector unions do not. Governments don’t go out of business, or move to another state, or move overseas. And private sector unions don’t select their members’ employers. Through political support and campaign contributions, public sector unions can choose the people who decide how many government employees will be hired.

The composition of the workforce, and of unions that make up part of the workforce, help make sense of a state’s labor policies. With that in mind, I constructed a simple table that provides three figures for each state: 1) public sector workers expressed as a percentage of the total workforce; 2) public sector union members expressed as a percentage of total union membership; and 3) a “strength score” assigned by combining the two figures, giving them equal weight, and referencing them to a national average score of 100. (Click here for Adobe Acrobat PDF version.)

The first column tell us how much of the available workforce in a state is devoted to government operations. A high number (as in Alaska, Wyoming, Washington, D.C., and Maryland) indicates that relatively more resources are devoted to public sector staffing. This could be due to policies that have led to expanded government services, or a relatively weak market for private sector employment. A low number (as in Pennsylvania, Illinois, and Michigan) suggests the opposite — less of a priority placed on government services, greater employment needs in the private sector, or a combination of the two.

The second number defines the relative strength of public sector unions compared with private sector unions. While this is close to 50-50 nationwide, the percentages differ widely from state to state.

A low number here (Kentucky, Nevada, Missouri, Indiana) suggests a state where either recruiting for public sector unions is difficult, or where private sector unions thrive. A high number (New Hampshire, Maine, New Mexico) suggests states where the opposite is true.

Combining these two figures together gives us a sense of the strength of public sector unions in each state. To give them equal weight, I multiplied the national averages so they’d each equal fifty, then multiplied each number in the columns by the same amount. Adding those together made the national benchmark 100 and all the other figures increased proportionally. The highest numbers went to states where government employees comprise the largest percentage of the workforce and the largest percentage of union members.

By this measure, public sector unions in five very dissimilar locations — Alaska, New Mexico, Maryland, Washington, D.C., and Wyoming — have very similar characteristics when it comes to the strength they have relative to the rest of the workforce and private sector unions.

Conversely, public sector unions in Nevada, Indiana, Missouri, and Michigan have less relative strength when compared with other labor interests in their respective states.

Nationally, teacher unions make up about half the membership of all public sector unions. Once I have the 2016 numbers in hand, I may amend this table to indicate the relative strength of each NEA affiliate within a state.

I should emphasize that the scores are not meant to compare states to each other. Nevada is still a strong union state, but these numbers show it is mostly due to its private sector unions. New Mexico is still a weak union state, but its public sector unions are the lone voice for labor.

These numbers give us a sense of which states have unions that are more dependent on the private economy for their strength, and which are more dependent on government policies. The effects of one can improve or hinder the fortunes of the other, making the interplay of labor relations a delicate task for legislators, public administrators and private employers.

Recent Intercepts. EIA’s daily blog, Intercepts, covered these topics May 19-23:

*  NEA Board Unanimously Adopts New Charter School Policy. “We don’t want to completely say that there are no good charter schools.” Buuuuuut…

*  Massachusetts Teachers Association Snubs Teacher of the Year. Being a social justice warrior isn’t enough.

*  You Guys Are So Easy. Doubling down.

*  NEA Plans No Major Changes to Resolutions. Enough on their plate.

Quote of the Week. “Unlike corporations, which must compete in the marketplace to retain their investors, Taft-Hartley unions enjoy government-conferred monopolies over their workers. The fact that union busters repeat this point ad nauseum does not make it any less true. Once a union establishes itself as the exclusive representative in a bargaining unit, it extinguishes the freedom of workers in that unit to shift their allegiance to another union except through an arduous process of ‘decertification’ that presents the employer with a golden opportunity to dispense with unions altogether. Union democracy can provide workers with considerable control in some settings (especially single-facility local unions, sites of some of the most vigorous popular democracy anywhere in the United States), but the law gives national union leaders enormous latitude to suppress or avoid democracy.” – James Gray Pope, Ed Bruno and Peter Kellman in the May 22 Boston Review.

From ‘Incarceration Pay’ to ‘Rule of 75,’ Surprising Contract Benefits For Teachers Union Staffers

May 18, 2017

From ‘Incarceration Pay’ to ‘Rule of 75,’ Surprising Contract Benefits For Teachers Union Staffers. Collective bargaining agreements between school districts and teacher unions tell us a lot about the daily operations of the public school system. (Last week, I recapped some of the bizarre things to be found in teachers contracts.) In the same way, collective bargaining agreements between teachers unions and their own employees tell us a lot about the unions’ priorities and the compromises they make when acting as management.

Copies of staff contracts are notoriously difficult to find, for union members as well as outsiders. Over the years, I have posted some of those I have obtained on the Declassified page of my web site. Their details provide the answer to the eternal union member lament: Why are my dues so high?

Benefits. Teachers unions pay generous salaries, but it is the benefit package that incites envy. All union affiliates have a defined benefit pension plan, under which a retiree receives a guaranteed amount for life. Until recently, most union staffers contributed nothing toward their own pension, but that is beginning to change as more unions face financial pressures from unfunded liabilities.

Retirement eligibility differs from state to state, but many unions utilize the Rule of 75. That is, an employee can retire at age 55 with 20 years of service. As age increases, the required experience decreases, so one can retire at age 60 with 15 years’ experience, and so on. Pension payments are usually based on the employee’s highest earning year.

A 55-year-old can retire with a pension but is still 10 years away from Medicare eligibility, so the National Education Association pays for postretirement health insurance for headquarters employees at at a rate of 5 percent for every year of employment, up to a full 100 percent for 20 years or more. When they hit 65, generally speaking, they go on Medicare and the union provides a stipend for supplementary coverage.

Teachers union employees also traditionally have their full premiums paid for disability insurance, group term life, dental, vision, occupational liability, malpractice, accidental death and dismemberment, and salary protection. I also found one affiliate that pays for its employees’ automobile insurance, although it is counted as taxable income.

Paid days off. Unlike teachers, teachers union employees don’t get a traditional summer vacation. But they do get quite a few days off.

Depending upon the affiliate, new hires get two to three weeks of vacation, increasing to five to six weeks after about six years of employment. There are between 13 and 16 paid holidays — one affiliate offers a “floating holiday.”

Some affiliates, including NEA headquarters, go to a four-day work week following the union’s national representative assembly over the July 4 weekend, and continuing until Labor Day.

Union employees get between 12 and 18 days of sick leave per year and three or four personal days. If necessary, they can also use three additional days of childbirth leave, three days of adoption leave, and five days of bereavement leave. One affiliate also offers two additional days for religious observance.

At NEA headquarters in Washington, D.C., employees may also be granted time off if federal offices are closed for national days of mourning or Inauguration Day.

Seniority and layoffs. It cannot be overstated how important seniority rules are to unions. Most contracts spell out transfer, assignment, and layoff procedures in exquisite detail to ensure they are not detrimental to the most experienced employees.

However, you can find seniority provisions in teachers union employee contracts that you would never find in a school district contract.

One contract states, “In the event a reduction in force becomes necessary, the Association will assist laid-off employees in securing employment of a similar nature.”

When it comes to layoffs, seniority sometimes gives way to other considerations. One contract does not allow the union to lay off women or minority group members if it would reduce their percentage of the total bargaining unit below a certain point.

The NEA headquarters contract bans NEA management from laying off the staff union president, vice president, secretary, treasurer, grievance committee chairperson, and chief shop steward regardless of their relative seniority.

Very particular provisions. As with teacher contracts, union employee contracts sometimes contain unique provisions.

  • Some union staffers can receive incarceration pay “for reasons stemming from actions taken by him/her in the scope of his/her Association employment.” The NEA contract specifies that this will be at the regular hourly rate for all time spent in jail.
  • All contracts have nondiscrimination clauses with the usual categories of race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, etc., but one staff contract included nondiscrimination on the basis of weight.
  • “There shall be no clandestine monitoring of any incoming or outgoing telephone calls, e-mail, computer use, faxes, voicemail or mail of members of this unit.”
  • “The Employer will not pay for alcohol consumed by an employee on a work day from 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m.”
  • An employee at NEA headquarters must take direction from his or her immediate supervisor but “is not obligated to take supervisorial direction from any other person.”
  • NEA is contractually obligated to provide “an appropriately equipped and staffed health services unit” with “a registered or licensed practical nurse.” Also a bicycle rack and an ice machine.
  • “Employees shall not download excessive amounts of music and videos to the network or computer system that are for personal use.”
  • “Employees shall not be required as a normal practice to work on a computer monitor continuously for more than two hours without a break.”

As you can see, just because a union sits on both sides of the negotiating table doesn’t mean the contract is any less exacting. For the people who bargain, the more specificity, the better. It comes at a price of flexibility, for both school districts and unions.

Recent Intercepts. EIA’s daily blog, Intercepts, covered these topics May 12-17:

*  New AP Poll Shows Why Education Policy Is Confused. Schools are run for “stakeholders,” but the vast majority of voters aren’t “stakeholders.”

*  LA School Board Race Is Just the First Step. Much, much more in store.

*  Do Election Results Make Statewide Union Action Less Likely, or More? Eternal conflict keeps the members from evaluating union strategy.

*  Bits & Pieces. Updates on stories from across the nation.

Quote of the Week. “(Saul Alinsky’s) legacy has encouraged the union movement to embrace the bureaucratic pressures all unions face rather than resist them. Those pressures have helped lead to the legalistic grievance procedures, closed-door bargaining, and staff-led ‘corporate campaigns’ that characterize the labor movement today, severely depressing rank-and-file engagement, enthusiasm, and mobilization.” – Aaron Petcoff in the May 10 Jacobin.

The Things You Didn’t Know Were in Teacher Contracts

May 11, 2017

The Things You Didn’t Know Were in Teacher Contracts. Teacher contracts are best known for defining salary, benefits, and working conditions in public schools.

But that’s only a small part of what they do. They also spell out — sometimes in excruciating detail — the way day-to-day operations of a school district will be conducted, particularly in large cities.

The collective bargaining agreements for classroom teachers in New York City, Los Angeles, and Chicago add up to 825 pages. This substantial compendium of do’s and don’ts constrains school and classroom flexibility. It’s also ironic: the preamble to the United Federation of Teachers contract in New York states, “Layers of bureaucratic impediments must be peeled away so that flexibility, creativity, entrepreneurship, trust and risk-taking become the new reality of our schools.”

Other than those tasked with its interpretation, the only people digging through a several-hundred-page collective bargaining agreement are those desperate for guidance in solving a personal workplace problem. Still, there are provisions in these three large contracts that provide some insight — and even amusement.

* Committees and meetings. It’s typical for joint district-union committees to have equal numbers of members appointed by each side. This holds true for all types of committees. The New York City contract requires equal union representation on the Science Experiment Review Panel, for instance, which considers “disputes raised by staff members concerning the safety and efficacy of scientific experiments and procedures in schools.” The Chicago contract designates equal union representation on the Air Conditioning and Temperature Control Committee, established to “investigate, study, and determine a timetable for air conditioning or other temperature controls for classrooms in use during July or August.”

Teachers serving faithfully on committees like these on top of the usual staff meetings could plausibly have time for little else. The Los Angeles contract addresses this potential problem with a provision that limits the total number of meetings to 30 per school year and not more than four in any month. Nor are they to exceed one hour in length.

* Union security. Collective bargaining agreements deal with the relationship between employer and employee, but the union itself is a third party. Many provisions have little or nothing to do with teachers or the district.

Each contract defines how many union representatives will be released from normal duties to perform union work. Union officers are routinely granted leaves of absence. Typically the union picks up their salaries, but they continue to advance on the salary schedule for the years they work for the union. In New York City, up to 50 UFT members can be released to work full-time for the union. In Chicago it’s 45, and in Los Angeles it’s seven. But the Los Angeles contract also allows the union to designate an unlimited number of members to do union work for up to 25 days per year each. United Teachers Los Angeles pays for a substitute.

UTLA also requires the district to provide space for a “recruiting table adjacent to the central Personnel Office at a location which is readily accessible to employment applicants and new hires.”

Most contracts have a provision giving teachers the right to have a union rep present during any disciplinary hearing or conference with a superior. The UTLA contract adds a unique proviso: the employee can be accompanied by “any other person so long as that person is not a representative of another employee organization.” If your associate or sister is a Teamster, they wait outside.

To protect themselves, unions also have contract provisions regarding charter schools. The sequence in Chicago’s contract saying “there will be a net zero increase in the number of Board authorized charter schools” has received a lot of attention, but the New York and Los Angeles contracts also specify the union’s role in charter conversions.

The New York contract notes that while the state’s charter school conversion law places that decision in the hands of parents, the board and the union “shall undertake a joint review of the impact of conferring charter status on the school” if a majority of the staff opposes conversion.

The Los Angeles contract is more onerous. First, it calls upon the district to urge charter petitioners to present the charter to school employees even before signatures are solicited, and to identify the individuals involved in “developing and initiating the plan.”

Another paragraph directs the districts to urge charter applicants to discuss the matter with the union, “so that they can become fully aware of their options for seeking exemptions or waivers, or obtaining dependent charter status, without undertaking the burdens and responsibilities of Conversion Charter School status.” The contract also requires the district to give UTLA at least 30 days after a conversion petition has been received “to submit comments and/or recommendations.”

* Layoff tie-breakers. The word “seniority” appears 113 times in the New York City contract, but at no point does the contract describe a procedure if two or more teachers share the same amount of seniority. Such a case is not unusual in larger districts, where hundreds of new teachers might all begin their employment on the same day.

Typically this is dealt with by lot, or some other random procedure. The Chicago contract is rare in that it allows for teachers rated unsatisfactory on performance evaluations to be laid off first, regardless of seniority. Substitutes or temporary teachers go next, then probationary teachers, then low-scoring tenured teachers — each before all other tenured teachers. Ties are less likely under such a system but the Chicago contract offers no tie-breaking system.

The Los Angeles contract has a unique seniority tie-breaker that sounds like it came from a craps manual:

The seniority number for each employee includes a six digit number representing the year, month and day (660912 = September 12, 1966) on which the employee began probationary employment… Each number is followed by a five digit random number. Such random number consists of the last four digits of the employee’s Social Security number reversed followed by the sum of the two preceding numbers. When such sum is two digits, the second digit is used. The combination of the date number and random number provides the seniority number. When comparing two employees with the same employment date, the employee with the smaller employment number is deemed to be the senior.

For some reason the district and union find this to be preferable to laying off the less capable teacher.

* Work-to-rule in reverse. Work-to-rule is a tactic employed almost exclusively by unions during labor disputes. The union instructs its members to perform only the work required by the contract and nothing more. The idea is to illustrate how much members do beyond what’s contracted for and to pressure the district to relent.

However, an examination of these three contracts indicate the method could be a double-edged sword. The New York City contract specifically states that “No teacher shall engage in Union activities during the time he/she is assigned to teaching or other duties” unless he or she is actually involved in contract negotiations. A labor dispute is the time this provision is most likely to be violated.

A provision in the Los Angeles contract would also make work-to-rule there difficult to do. It states employees are responsible not only for classroom duties, but also “all related professional duties,” and goes on to list 16 examples.

* Very particular provisions. Contracts don’t grow to hundreds of pages by accident. Incidents occur over the years that one side or the other decides needs addressing in print. So we get provisions like these:

  • Teachers in New York don’t lose sick bank days for absence due to measles, mumps or chicken pox, but might for German measles.
  • Teachers in New York can’t be disciplined for the format of their bulletin boards or the arrangement of classroom furniture.
  • If notified of an impending arrest of a school employee, administrators in Los Angeles must ask the police to do it “at a time and place least visible to the students and staff.”
  • Teachers in Los Angeles are allowed to suspend students for possession of snuff or betel.
  • Teachers in Chicago cannot be required to empty trash or return furniture to its proper place.

In most districts, details of collective bargaining are kept secret from ordinary citizens. Once a tentative agreement is reached and made public, it is usually too late to affect its contents. All the more reason to be familiar with your local contract: there’s almost always a reason for why things are done a certain way. If you can find it.

Recent Intercepts. EIA’s daily blog, Intercepts, covered these topics April 29-May 10:

*  Exclusive Advance Look at NEA’s 2017 Rankings and Estimates. Important teacher shortage data in the numbers.

*  The Tenth Man. Shutting ourselves off from contrarians is bad for everyone.

*  We Already Have Border Walls. And they’re nowhere near Mexico.

*  Secede or Fail? School district secessions have become a hot topic, but consolidations are much more prevalent.

*  Florida Education Association Reaches Tentative Agreement With Staff. Goosed a little?

*  Resignation. Michigan Education Association’s interesting take on government regulation.

*  Nevada Union Mess Not Limited to Schools. SEIU Nevada placed in trusteeship.

*  Union Election Dispute in Palm Beach County; What Else Is New? Recount ballots already in executive director’s hands?

Quote of the Week. “When I talk to people, they want this to happen. Everyone wants this to happen except for the NEA.” – Geo Honigford, president of the Vermont School Boards Association, speaking of a bill that would have created a single statewide contract for public school teachers’ health insurance. The measure was defeated when the speaker of the house cast a vote to create a 74-74 tie. (May 5 Valley News)

In Anonymous Poll, Employees of Florida’s Teachers Union Decry Working Conditions

April 28, 2017

In Anonymous Poll, Employees of Florida’s Teachers Union Decry Working Conditions. If you are employed at a union — an organization whose purpose is to improve working conditions for its members — you would expect your own working conditions to be beyond reproach. Any problems that exist should be quickly and efficiently handled by your staff union through collective bargaining with the union work for.

But that’s not always the case. When labor is management, it assumes the role of the boss, warts and all. This means taking responsibility for the financial health of the union as well as for the employees’ well-being in the workplace. Some union officers are up to the task. Others are not.

The Florida Education Association employs about 100 professionals who work both at union headquarters in Tallahassee and in the field with local affiliates across the state. They are represented by a staff union that recently entered into negotiations with FEA for a new collective bargaining agreement. In preparation for the talks, the staff union surveyed its members to determine what issues were most important to address. About 83 percent of the staff responded.

The results, anonymized to protect the identities of the respondents, indicate significant problems not only with working conditions, but with the direction of the organization.

Here are just some of the complaints leveled at FEA managers:

1) Lack of vision and focus. Staffers felt there was “confusion in direction of our mission” and little sense that FEA officers had a plan.

“Dealing with HQ BS – egos, departmental silos, lack of leadership and communications, management chaos and lack of direction, vision – no clear strategy for path ahead, etc. Going downhill fast!” wrote one employee about the current environment.

2) Worthless meetings and poor training. Staffers felt there were many “unnecessary or directionless meetings and trainings” — too often lectures or PowerPoint presentations.

3) Poor communication and coordination. “Management needs to practice what they preach and give staff a real voice in how to carry out the work, strategizing on approach, allowing inter-departmental teams to collaborate,” wrote one staffer.

4) No respect. Many staffers complained their hard work was taken for granted. Some worried about retaliation if they raised questions. “None of what we do is appreciated,” wrote one. “The climate in HQ is abysmal and morale seems to be at a low.”

5) Heavy workload. There was consensus that FEA was understaffed and employees were expected to be on call 24/7. One employee was especially vivid about the situation.

“We’re constantly on call, on the road, sleeping in hotels 100+ nights a year, and being told that’s just how it is,” he or she wrote. “These expectations are incompatible with having a family (or a life), and I feel like FEA either doesn’t get that, or does get that and is just fine with it. Burnout is not an acceptable lifestyle.”

An official said the union had not seen the results.

“We have never seen the survey,” said FEA Chief of Staff Marty Schaap. “It was referred to in bargaining sessions. As we are in negotiations we will have no further comment. FEA has always valued our employees.”

Complaints by workers are part of every workplace, but that’s the point. They are not supposed to be so pervasive in a workplace run by a union, and certainly not over what appears to be a long period.

We can draw different lessons from this. The one I choose is that labor peace is achieved through the efforts of sincere, well-meaning people. There are bad managers and disgruntled employees regardless of whether one side or the other, or both, hold union cards.

Recent Intercepts. EIA’s daily blog, Intercepts, covered these topics April 21-27:

*  NEA Memo on May 1 Day of Action. “The NEA Communications team is working with AROS to finalize their messaging.”

*  Michigan Education Association Getting Serious About Finances? New officers want those overdue payments from locals.

*  New Hawaii Teachers Contract: 4 Years, 13.6% Pay Hike. Time for some liquid aloha.

*  Everyone Climbs One Rung at the New Jersey Education Association. Line of succession.

Quote of the Week. “It is not surprising in a place with a strong teachers union that you have relatively little differentiation. It undermines the purpose of the union, which is to bargain on behalf of all members.” – Dan Goldhaber, director of the Center for Education Data and Research at the University of Washington, explaining why school districts can’t offer more money to teacher candidates in shortage areas. (April 26 Seattle Times)

A May Day March to ‘Reclaim Schools’ — Previewing Teacher Unions’ Day of ‘Action’

April 20, 2017

A May Day March to ‘Reclaim Schools’ — Previewing Teacher Unions’ Day of ‘Action’. The National Education Association, its affiliates, and other allies are devoting many hours and resources this year to May Day, the traditional May 1 celebration of labor and working people.

NEA, the American Federation of Teachers, the Service Employees International Union and smaller groups are planning a “national day of action” through their coalition organization, the Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools. Their demands include “an end to mass deportation and threats to immigrant communities;” schools as “safe spaces free from the threat of ICE raids, racism, and bullying;” and that “billions not be spent on a wall, but on strengthening public schools to educate all our children regardless of immigration status.”

The focus on immigrants dovetails with rallies organized by immigration reform groups in cities throughout the country, with huge turnouts expected in Los Angeles, New York City, and Washington, D.C.

For state and local union shops, the focus varies depending on current grievances. There are also differences about how best to use the May Day stage.

Some unions are planning a general strike, but most are wary of the idea for legal reasons. The legal director of the California Teachers Association warned union leaders that participation in a strike for political purposes outside the employer’s control would not be protected under the state’s labor laws. School districts could ask for, and likely receive, a court injunction against the work stoppage.

“CTA would be faced with the unpalatable option of either backing down from what would at that point presumably be an already well-publicized position, or facing contempt of court penalties, including both monetary fines and possibly jail time,” he wrote.

CTA is planning its own May 1 activities focusing on immigrant rights but will add to the mix “billions of public dollars to private vouchers and corporate charter schools.” The state union is asking activists to hand out to parents and community members copies of CTA’s Advocacy Agenda, described as “a research‐based document by the California Teachers Association that outlines proven education strategies that improve and enhance student learning.” Interestingly, none of the ten items listed mentions unionized teachers or collective bargaining.

CTA also advised its local affiliates that “events can focus on whatever is important at your school site.”

Locals are emphasizing familiar themes. The United Teachers of Richmond plan to “support our students by talking to them about the importance of labor through history.”

In nearby states, such as Oregon, the teacher union’s day of action includes a demand for “fully funding public education” and to “protect our schools from privatization.”

Whether all this activity translates to accomplishment — beyond keeping the rank-and-file engaged, perhaps — is an open question. NEA in particular is very fond of days of action. A quick search returns such events from 2011, 2013, 2014, 2016 and earlier this year.

Perhaps days of action are subject to Newton’s Third Law of Motion in that each is subject to an equal and opposite day of reaction, establishing thereby a natural symmetry. It might explain why they don’t get us anywhere.

Recent Intercepts. EIA’s daily blog, Intercepts, covered these topics April 13-19:

*  Why Did UFT Borrow $62 Million From Citigroup? Big banks do have their uses.

*  NEA Expects Membership Growth This Year. Maybe even without adjusting last year’s numbers.

*  Sometimes I’m Wrong. New NYSUT president got exactly the margin of victory he wanted.

*  Michigan Education Association in Contract Dispute with Local Employees. Unfair labor practice.

*  Charter School War Extends All the Way to Guam. Union falsely claims charter can reject students who aren’t “smart enough.”

Quote of the Week. “I tried to change the funding system. I couldn’t get that done. I tried to change how teachers were paid. Couldn’t get that done. Tried to change how we dealt with the lowest-performing schools. Couldn’t get that done. Each time you try to turn around a school, or you open or close a charter school, or disagree with the union, you punch another hole in the bucket and you start to drain out. You lose some political capital. Eventually, you’re out of water.” – Mark Murphy, former secretary of education for the state of Delaware. (April 11 New York Magazine)

The California Teachers Association Has a Whole Lot of Money to Burn

April 12, 2017

The California Teachers Association Has a Whole Lot of Money to Burn. The California Teachers Association is not only on the opposite coast from the New York State United Teachers, it is on the opposite side of the financial ledger.

While NYSUT battles budget deficits and cumbersome staff pension debt, CTA has loads of cash, consistent budget surpluses, net assets of more than $300 million, and a pliant state legislature that helps it get most of what it wants.

The picture isn’t entirely rosy. Gov. Jerry Brown, while friendly to the union, is more of a maverick than CTA prefers, and the union’s staff pension fund needs additional money. But there are plenty of dollars to go around.

With still more on the way, according to CTA’s proposed budget for the 2017-18 fiscal year. The union’s dues level increases by “the statewide percentage change in average classroom teacher salary, exclusive of step and column increases, within California public schools totaled over a three (3) year period, divided by three (3).” So, for example, if the average teacher salary increased by a cumulative 9 percent over the previous three years, dues would increase 3 percent.

That means California teachers will pay CTA $677 for the next school year, a $21 increase. The union also expects to have an additional 2,300 members, bringing CTA to a total of $195.3 million in revenue.

What to do with all this money? A good chunk of it is disbursed into various political funds, including a new proposed assessment.

Each member contributes $36 to CTA’s Initiative Fund, which is used to support or oppose statewide ballot measures. That amounts to about $9.6 million, but unused dollars roll over, and the Initiative Fund currently has $13.8 million in it.

Another $20 of each member’s dues goes to the union’s Advocacy Fund, whose nebulous purpose is to “promote policies to improve and fight back attacks on public education.” Culling from dues raises $5.33 million, with $12 million currently in the fund.

An additional $19 goes to CTA’s Association for Better Citizenship political action committee. This is money donated directly to political candidates and parties, although a good portion also funds the PAC’s administration and day-to-day operations. Unlike federal law, California allows the union to deduct PAC money from a teacher’s paycheck along with dues. This deduction raises $3.1 million. CTA’s PAC currently has about $545,000 available.

Another $16 goes to the union’s Media Fund. While not strictly a political arm, the Media Fund pays for positive image ads that generally precede a political campaign. This ad ran just prior to CTA’s campaign to pass Proposition 55, which extended the highest income tax brackets to pay for additional public education funding.

Finally, CTA had added one more political fund. Each member will now contribute $5 to the union’s Independent Expenditures Committee, which funds indirect spending on political candidates that may not be coordinated with the candidate or a political party.

CTA created the new assessment because it did not have a separate revenue stream for independent expenditures and was funding them through the transfer of PAC money. Now it will have about $1.33 million a year for that purpose.

Of course, CTA makes many other political expenditures — lobbying, for example —that are paid for through its general fund.

The sheer size of its budget, along with the hospitable political environment, make it likely that even if existential disaster hits the rest of America’s teacher unions, the California Teachers Association will be the last domino to fall.

Recent Intercepts. EIA’s daily blog, Intercepts, covered these topics April 7-11:

*  Pallotta Elected NYSUT President; By How Much? Who Knows? NYSUT secretary-treasurer compares to keep agency fees to Battle of Britain.

*  Nevada State Education Association Has Bold New Proposal to Increase Membership. That’s a helluva deal.

*  NYSUT Convention Begins. Welcome to Altair IV, gentlemen.

Quote of the Week. “The most important factor in the success or failure of the American labor movement is something that the labor left hates to hear. It’s not about organizing. It’s not about militancy. It’s not about worker activism. It’s not about radical union leadership. Through the whole history of American labor, the key deciding factor has been the position government takes in a strike or to labor’s demands.” – Erik Loomis, assistant professor of history at the University of Rhode Island. (April 8 Lawyers, Guns & Money)

Financial Status of NEA and All State Affiliates

April 6, 2017

Financial Status of NEA and All State Affiliates. The National Education Association has an affiliate in every state, an extra one in Utah, and one for employees of Department of Defense Dependents Schools. As tax-exempt organizations, each is required to file a return with the Internal Revenue Service detailing its income and expenditures.

In order to better understand the fiscal health of the union, I collected those forms for 2015 for each affiliate (except the South Carolina Education Association), plus NEA national headquarters, and compiled key financial information in a table. I then coupled the figures with each affiliate’s 2015 membership rolls, obtained from an internal NEA report. You can click here for a high-resolution PDF file for easier viewing, or visit my NEA Affiliate Finances page.

Almost all the revenues of teachers unions come from member dues. Each state sets its own dues amount, but they also receive grant money derived from the national dues every must member pay. Each affiliate receives a set amount based on membership, called UniServ grants, and some receive supplemental or discretionary grants based on the priorities of the national union. I include the percentage of total income that each affiliate receives from NEA in order to ascertain how dependent it is on money from outside of its state.

A loss of members will naturally lead to a loss in revenue, but that can be mitigated or eliminated entirely if dues for remaining members are increased — which helps explain how, overall, NEA and its affiliates lost more than 8,900 members in 2015 but ended up with $16.7 million more in revenue than they collected the previous year.

The combined revenue of NEA and its affiliates fell just short of $1.6 billion in 2015. That does not include the revenues of some 13,000 local affiliates, ranging from a multi-million-dollar concern like United Teachers Los Angeles down to the tiniest affiliates that charge no local dues at all. Unions pay no federal or state taxes on this income, which increases their spending power considerably.

There is a lot to chew on for each affiliate, but here are some highlights:

  • Almost 39 percent of all affiliate revenue was received by three states: California, New Jersey and New York.
  • The states most dependent on NEA grant money were South Carolina (based on 2014 returns), Mississippi, South Dakota, and the Utah School Employees Association, all of whom received more than one-quarter of revenues from NEA.
  • Twenty-five of the 52 affiliates took in less revenue in 2015 than in 2014.
  • Eighteen affiliates spent more than they collected.
  • Eleven affiliates had net assets in negative numbers.

Teacher unions are big business, but not all locals are able to make ends meet. Increased teacher hiring amid a rebounding economy will mitigate problems for some of them. Other problems will linger. The fates of the smaller, dependent state affiliates will be the first indicator of the future health of the entire NEA structure.

Recent Intercepts. EIA’s daily blog, Intercepts, covered these topics March 30-April 5:

*  Paul Public Charter School Union Attempt Peters Out. A surprise only to reporters who didn’t seek out teachers who might be opposed.

*  What Unions Really Fear. It’s not the loss of agency fees. It’s what comes after.

*  Florida Education Association Seeks to Replace Seceded Local. Right-to-work laws aren’t so bad if you want to form a competing union.

*  Merged Montana Union May Merge Again. A majority of all union members in the state would belong to one union.

Quote of the Week. “The initial petition is not a measure of ‘yes’ votes—it’s a benchmark as to whether you should go forward to the next step… It’s about winning. And if they vote, they will lose—they will get slaughtered. It’s not democracy to let them vote. What would be democratic is to let them build their union.” – Kate Bronfenbrenner, the director of labor education research at Cornell University’s School of Industrial Labor Relations, commenting on the decision of the American Federation of Teachers to cancel a representation vote at Paul Public Charter School in Washington, DC. (April 3 The American Prospect)

Can Nevada’s Teachers Union Survive?

March 30, 2017

Can Nevada’s Teachers Union Survive? The National Education Association has an affiliate in each of the 50 states. One is in danger of falling apart.

With approximately 24,300 members, the Nevada State Education Association is in the middle of NEA’s pack in size but stands out because of its composition: about half of its members belong to a single local, the Clark County Education Association, which represents the city of Las Vegas and environs. Another 4,000 members belong to Education Support Employees Association, which represents Clark County support employees, such as bus drivers and custodians.

Both locals have been at odds with the union’s state leadership, and factionalism within the union and across other unions could lead to a break-up. The biggest and most inevitable of recent fractures is the longest in the making: an inter-union tug-of-war that will likely result in the loss of the support employees to Teamsters Local 14.

The Teamsters first won the right to represent the support employees in a 2006 election, but state law requires unions seeking representation status to win a majority of all members of that bargaining unit, not just of votes cast. In practice, this meant the Teamsters needed 5,259 workers; an inordinately high bar given that only 4,736 votes were cast.

After years of legal and regulatory battles, the state labor relations board finally ruled that only a simple majority of votes cast was necessary, and in a December 2015 election the Teamsters received 4,349 votes to ESEA’s 970.

Even with the loyalty of less than 10 percent of its unit, ESEA would not relinquish its exclusive bargaining privileges, and legally challenged the results in Nevada Supreme Court, where a decision is pending. For the moment, ESEA continues to represent the support workers.

ESEA has not solely relied on courts to maintain its position. Its leaders also sought to secede from NSEA and NEA in May 2013 in an effort to reduce dues but backed off after then-NEA president Dennis Van Roekel threatened legal action if disaffiliation were approved.

With ESEA’s fate uncertain, the state union is more dependent than ever on the teachers in Clark County. But that relationship has also soured.

The latest quarrel was occasioned by the fight to raise the state’s minimum wage. Clark County ran an ad suggesting that the issue was less urgent than increasing education funding. The state union labeled that position “crass political triangulation.”

John Vellardita, executive director of the Clark County local, wasn’t pleased by the criticism and said about his own state union: “They’ll be out of business in two years. You can quote me on that.”

This unprecedented shot at the union’s future by a member of its family is a warning worth noting. If it were so inclined, Clark County has the power to ruin the NSEA. If it were to disaffiliate, coupled with an ESEA loss to the Teamsters, it would actually have more members than the rest of the state.

Nevada’s teachers may have a hard time knowing whom to root for. Vellardita is not widely liked, although his controversial past didn’t dissuade then-Clark County union president Ruben Murillo from hiring him — in an added twist, Murillo is now the state president and at loggerheads with Vellardita. When Clark County’s health trust had to be bailed out, Vellardita was accused of questionable backroom dealings with a school board president.

State leaders have not done much better, spending almost $2 million to place a business tax initiative on the 2014 ballot that even the state AFL-CIO opposed and the national union ultimately abandoned. The measure ended up receiving only 21 percent of the vote. The Nevada legislature also passed a universal school voucher law over the union’s opposition in 2015.

Faced with a hostile climate, NSEA and its affiliates ought to be motivated to bury their differences and form a united front. But the fear of uniting behind a losing strategy may inspire them to seek their own paths.

Recent Intercepts. EIA’s daily blog, Intercepts, covered these topics March 24-29:

*  NYSUT Can’t Keep Its Stories Straight. In three months NYSUT went from “fiscally strong and getting stronger” to a situation that “could jeopardize the entire organization.”

*  Randi Weingarten’s Alma Mater Votes Against Joining Her Union (Probably). Personal touch falls short.

*  Syracuse Teachers Association President Impeached. Lesson learned: If you catch a fellow union officer surfing porn sites, keep it to yourself.

*  Union Pension Battle Looks a Little Different on the Other Coast. More money just leads to high-income problems.

Quote of the Week. “Teachers have voted to merge two unions to form a new super union for education workers.” – Not here! In the United Kingdom, the National Union of Teachers and the Association of Teachers and Lecturers have merged and will form the National Education Union, representing about 450,000 school workers. (March 22 Daily Mail)

Are NYSUT’s Finances a ‘Ponzi Scheme’?

March 23, 2017

Are NYSUT’s Finances a ‘Ponzi Scheme’? New York State United Teachers will hold its annual representative assembly in New York City on April 7-8. The main order of business will be the election of new officers. For the first time, it’s possible that election will hinge on the union’s apparently precarious finances.

Though union officials won’t say so publicly, it is getting increasingly difficult to deny that NYSUT is afloat on a sea of red ink with an iceberg ahead.

Its primary worry concerns liabilities for pensions and retiree health care for its employees (not for teachers, whose benefits are covered by the state). NYSUT needs a half-billion dollars to cover those costs and is currently short by more than $400 million.

The union has not commented recently on its debt, but in the past its spokesman brushed off the net assets calculation as the “most speculative, least instructive number” in its financial reporting — because of variations in interest rates and employee retirement patterns, among other factors that influence it.

Better investment returns and higher interest rates would boost NYSUT’s numbers, but another economic downturn and/or future inflation would presumably have the opposite effect. Downplaying net assets of negative $413 million may be necessary to keep up public confidence, but it is instructive to compare NYSUT’s characterization of its negative net assets with the way a union with favorable net assets characterizes them.

We need look no further than one of NYSUT’s parent unions. Last year, the National Education Association’s net assets were nearly $300 million. “One important indicator of an organization’s financial strength is its net assets,” NEA’s secretary-treasurer reported. “Net assets should be a positive balance, sufficient to support future growth, and stabilize an organization in troubled times.”

NYSUT fails on all three counts.

Its long-term debt might be manageable if it were handling current assets responsibly, but the union has been running deficits annually for nearly a decade, resulting in an accumulated debt of $144 million. To be clear, that’s not a projection — it’s what spending more than you bring in since 2007-2008 looks like.

Privately at least, NYSUT officers recognize the danger. Last year, Rick Karlin of the Albany Times Union reported on an internal NYSUT memo that warned the union’s pension reserves could be depleted in five years.

With elections approaching, activists are taking notice. NYSUT’s officers dismiss critics outside the union, but it’s difficult to marginalize Harris Lirtzman, whose credentials as both a labor advocate and in the financial world are unique and seemingly impeccable.

Lirtzman became a New York City teacher late in life, after a long career at Merrill Lynch and the New York City Comptroller’s Office, rising to the position of deputy comptroller for administration. As a teacher, Lirtzman was profiled in the New York Times for blowing the whistle on violations of the state’s special education regulations, charges for which he was ultimately vindicated.

Lirtzman has taken a special interest in NYSUT’s finances. In a letter to New York City education blogger Norm Scott, he described its situation bluntly, charging that it used member dues to pay overdue debts.

“NYSUT is a Ponzi scheme,” he said. “So long as the cash keeps moving from dues-paying members to NYSUT to the AFT to the UFT and back around it can keep its doors open.”

But he suggested that if the flow of dues slows for any reason, the structure collapses. “No one ever suspected that the cash could stop,” he said. “But it will stop and soon.”

Lirtzman explained in layman’s terms the two ways to fund a retirement system. “You can either make arrangements to pay for those commitments by funding them over time and investing those funds to earn more money,” he wrote. “Or you can take cash that comes in today from member dues and use it to pay the benefits you owe your current and retired employees. The first way is prudent but can be expensive. The second way can work but only if everything plays out the way you hope.”

In this scenario, a Friedrichs-type court action that resulted in an end to agency fees (paid by non-member teachers who are covered by collective bargaining) or economic downturn that forced downsizing of school staffs could create a crisis.

Lirtzman thinks drastic action is necessary. “We can keep the worst of this from happening if we take the time, now, to understand how badly NYSUT is managed, how terribly our money is being misused and how much we will lose if we don’t act,” he wrote. “I hope that the political strategy (voting out incumbent NYSUT leaders) works in the long run. I’m afraid that we don’t have the long run to find out.”

As the New York Times suggested in that profile, “Perhaps it pays to heed Harris Lirtzman.”

Recent Intercepts. EIA’s daily blog, Intercepts, covered these topics March 16-22:

*  Mulgrew Denies Everything. Union president tells reps the union is never late on dues. His disclosure report says something different.

*  NEA “Sequesters” $10 Million For Use in State Battles. Able to drop it on you on a moment’s notice.

*  Union’s Internal Cost-Cutting Is Thorny. Unions are tough. Unions of union employees are really tough.

*  Teacher Shortage Truthers? California has such a shortage of teachers it sent pink slips to 2,000 of them.

*  New Delaware State Education Association President Was Struggling Blogger. Went into teaching because there was no money in journalism.

Quote of the Week. “That ridiculous op-ed by the incredibly overpaid Wendell Steinhauer was really a delight to read. That’s why I’m glad there’s some snow and still some cold weather, because it will be great in my fireplace to help burn that. We’re going to continue to ignore them.” – New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, responding to an editorial by New Jersey Education Association president Wendell Steinhauer that urged Christie to leave reforming the school funding formula to the next governor. (March 22 NJ.com)

Few Union Members Volunteered for Massachusetts Anti-Charter Campaign

March 15, 2017

Few Union Members Volunteered for Massachusetts Anti-Charter Campaign. Question 2 on Massachusetts’s ballot last November would have allowed the state to approve up to 12 additional charter schools or expansions each year. The opposition, almost entirely funded and organized by teacher unions, handily defeated the referendum 62 percent to 38 percent despite being significantly outspent.

The Massachusetts Teachers Association still touts its victory, but an internal document indicates the “No On 2” campaign had its share of problems, not least of which was the small number of members who volunteered.

An internal overview of MTA’s effort sent to each union employee and manager who worked on defeating the referendum contains some self-congratulation but is also candid about complaints staffers had, primarily about their workload.

“Throughout the debriefs, MTA employees consistently expressed being both grateful for what the campaign accomplished and frustrated by it,” reported staffers Dan Callahan and Charmaine Champagne, who wrote the  report. “The magnitude of the campaign brought with it a level of excitement that was unmatched by previous campaigns, according to many of our experienced staff members. At the same time, many staffers felt highly stressed throughout the campaign as they attempted to fulfill their regular work duties along with campaign directives.”

Unions commonly give some staffers leaves of absence to work on political campaigns, but the majority advance the union’s political work while still on the payroll. This means they have to process grievances, help negotiate contracts, address members’ legal problems, and perform communications activities along with the additional workload of a campaign. The report recommended that MTA should henceforth define which traditional tasks are “mission-critical” during election season.

The debrief also revealed just how much of the load MTA employees were carrying. For one, they were assigned mandatory phone-banking.

“Experienced staffers knew to expect this and kept their schedules open for October, but newer staff members may have been surprised by a sudden expectation to give up parts of their workdays or evenings to do campaign work,” the authors explained.

Callahan and Champagne noted another problem with phone-banking. “There was an appreciation for the quality of the scripts provided, but not all staff members had sufficient background knowledge in charter schools to be able to answer questions from people they were calling, or to know when and how to shift to a different argument that might work better,” they reported.

Staffers were also encouraged to go out and canvass. The union provided undisclosed incentives for this activity, but the authors stated these were applied inconsistently and inequitably.

MTA saluted member engagement during the campaign, but the debrief suggests participation was limited. “On the face of it, only about 1 percent of our members engaged in MTA-run volunteer activities,” the authors stated. “While this percentage was higher than in previous campaigns, it felt low to many.”

Despite this, Callahan and Champagne concluded that members must have been highly active in informal ways, and that the No On 2 campaign “was clearly successful in ways that we were not equipped to measure, and missing out on this data is a lost opportunity.”

MTA is convinced its victory will lead to bigger and better things, although the authors acknowledged “it’s likely we will lose agency fee within the next two years and we want to be prepared for that future.”

Organizing is key, they wrote, but staffers said “everyone is operating under a different understanding of what organizing means.” They offered several suggestions to improve the union’s organizing structure, including one that responds to a schism among members between two different philosophies of the union’s mission.

I’ve described adherents of these ideas as movement unionists and services unionists.

The former believe people join unions to be part of the organized labor movement, to lobby, rally, agitate, protest and strike for a working class agenda. That is why most movement unionists tend to be heavily involved in many leftist causes. The latter believe people join unions to improve their pay, benefits and working conditions. Though heavily involved in advocacy, much of it political in nature, the relationship of services unionists to their members is in many ways a commercial one. Fees are paid in exchange for services – contract negotiation, grievance processing, protection against arbitrary employment actions, liability insurance, and so forth.

One recommendation for MTA was “splitting the field into separate organizing and contract service positions.”

It’s not clear whether this is realistic, but it would formalize the internal split by assigning staff to each function separately.

If MTA is representative of other teachers’ unions, they appear to be readier to learn the lessons of victory than those of defeat. A self-assessment might not be the most objective measure of their performance, but it’s better than no assessment at all.

Recent Intercepts. EIA’s daily blog, Intercepts, covered these topics March 9-14:

*  NEA’s 2016 Presidential Election Performance Was Even Worse Than We Thought. Imagine if they hadn’t targeted these states.

*  Union Board Sends Ultimatum to Suspended President. Due process?

*  School Leadership Showdown: Principal Flutie vs. Principal Snyder. Buffy the Vampire Slayer showed how two diametrically opposed school leadership styles can bring you to the same end.

*  Unconventional. The NEA Representative Assembly is being streamlined.

Quote of the Week. “I think it’s more of a general desire by insiders to eliminate any and all candidates they can, to clear the field for the insiders’ preferred candidate.” – Justin Katz, candidate for president of the Palm Beach County Classroom Teachers Association (Florida), commenting on the removal of himself and three others from the ballot by the union’s board of directors for technical violations. They were all later restored. (March 12 Palm Beach Post)

Have the Unions Benefited From the DeVos Confirmation Fight?

March 8, 2017

Have the Unions Benefited From the DeVos Confirmation Fight? It has been a month since the U.S. Senate narrowly confirmed Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education, with Vice President Mike Pence casting the tiebreaking vote. Despite unprecedented resistance, the teacher unions were unable to prevent the confirmation.

But did they come out ahead anyway? “The public in public education has never been more visible or more vocal, and it is not going back in the shadows,” said American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten after the vote.

“Today’s outcome marks only the beginning of the resistance,” added National Education Association President Lily Eskelsen García. She was specific about her reason for optimism.

“We have won hundreds and hundreds of thousands of new activists,” she told Vox, assembling a “contact list to die for” from the more than 1 million emails and 40,000 phone calls to the Senate during the confirmation process.

Those are impressive figures, and the opposition to DeVos was greater than we have seen in many years for a Cabinet nominee. But two questions about the union’s anti-DeVos campaign remain: 1) Was the strategy effective? and 2) Will it result in more effective future campaigns?

On the most basic level, the answer to the first question is no. The primary purpose of the campaign was to stop DeVos; that failed. Was the sheer volume of activism a victory? Well, yes and no.

The teacher unions often prompt their members to contact members of Congress, but never as successfully as during this recent effort. That’s a big deal for NEA, which informed a group of union activists in a private meeting last year that it had no e-mail addresses for 45 percent of its members. You can’t influence members you can’t reach, so to this extent NEA is better off than they were before the confirmation battle.

On the other hand, context is important. A 2014 CQ Roll Call survey found that senators received almost 143 million emails in a 10-month period, and almost 17 million phone calls. Being blasted with communications from angry constituents and lobbyists is very much a way of life for our elected representatives.

And we also don’t know how many individuals were responsible for the million NEA emails. Was each sent by a different person? How many union members sent one a day for three weeks? How many sent one a day for three weeks to each of the 50 Senators? Were some even more prolific?

Both teacher union presidents are convinced that its anti-DeVos coalition will be on-hand for future advocacy efforts.

“I think what you’re going to see is a lot of grassroots action, just like with the Tea Party, over and over and over again,” said Weingarten. “The level of energy is palpable,” said Eskelsen García.

The amount of “active” in activism is crucial. The app NEA used to generate all those e-mails advertises its ability to “customize engagements and messages so that advocates can take action with just a single click.” It’s unclear, in other words, how many in the unions’ camp are merely slacktivists.

Activists who are more engaged may attend rallies and marches, but there are serious questions about whether these activities are especially  effective.

Will they help to contribute more money to the teacher unions’ political action committees? Perhaps, but the unions’ use of that money does not inspire confidence. NEA and AFT spent a combined $82.5 million on federal races during the past two election cycles, with a net result of seven lost Senate seats, eight lost House seats, and a lost presidential race.

If the new supporters galvanized by opposition to DeVos’s campaign do become highly active for union causes, they may go further and inquire into the unions as well. They might ask important questions about how these powerful organizations make policy decisions, handle funds, and choose candidates to support or oppose.

Who knows? They might before long even run for the union’s top offices. We’d see then how NEA and AFT feel about committed activism.

Recent Intercepts. EIA’s daily blog, Intercepts, covered these topics March 3-7:

*  Sen. Collins Gets No Love For Her DeVos Vote. Some people noticed she voted “yes” in committee.

*  Here It Comes Again. Apparently it’s big news when 16% of charter school teachers in a Chicago network sign a petition.

*  Dogpile on LA School Board Races. UTLA outspent, but not every dollar is being counted.

Quote of the Week. “We will have to end support for some programs that don’t go to our core priorities. This is about reimagining and realigning our core priorities to best serve our affiliates.” – AFL-CIO spokesman Josh Goldstein, after the labor confederation laid off “several dozen” employees. (February 23 Bloomberg)

New York’s Teachers Unions Are Tens of Millions in the Red: A Look at the Numbers

March 2, 2017

New York’s Teachers Unions Are Tens of Millions in the Red: A Look at the Numbers. Public schools in New York are among the best-funded in the nation, with the average spending per pupil exceeding $20,000 annually both in New York City and statewide. Not coincidentally, New York is also home to the largest state teacher union, New York State United Teachers, and the largest teacher union local, the United Federation of Teachers, in New York City.

Besides advocating for their members, the unions are also commercial enterprises operating in a market economy. They have buildings, employees, bills to pay, budgets to construct, and in-house “staff unions” they have to bargain with. It is instructive to compare the teachers unions’ positions for financing public schools with the way they collect and disburse funds internally.

For instance, unions spend heavily on employee salaries and benefits — to the point of risking their future solvency. If a new court challenge similar to the Friedrichs case results in the end of agency fees — required union payments by non-members to compensate for collectively bargained benefits — the New York unions may find themselves unable to meet their obligations to members and employees alike.

The unions’ public policy agenda is designed to mitigate those risks, but would have the effect of placing the public treasury in similar straits.

That’s because most union revenue comes from member dues. These tend to increase along with increases in average teacher salary, either according to an established formula or by the vote of a body representing the entire membership. NYSUT collected almost $133 million in dues during the 2015-16 school year, an increase of 5 percent over the year before, according to its annual disclosure reports with the Department of Labor.

UFT received $151 million in dues in 2015-2016, a one-year increase of 5 percent.

Dues are a dependent source of revenue, however. As long as New York’s public schools hire additional teachers each year, and average teacher salaries increase, the unions’ income increases. No other legislative action or market condition have more than a marginal effect on union finances.

Having collected substantial sums, how do NYSUT and UFT spend them?

Most of it goes to their officers and staff. NYSUT employed around 550 people (according to its most recently available tax filing) with a payroll of $60 million. That sum is trivial, however, compared with the union’s liability for post-retirement benefits. NYSUT estimates that it is on the hook for $504 million in health care for retired members and pension costs, according to its 2016 labor department report, an increase of 31 percent from the year before and 135 percent from 2010.

Six years later, the union’s liability for retiree benefits and pensions had risen by 135 percent.

UFT had 690 employees and a payroll of $42 million in 2015-2016; it ran up large post-retirement liabilities of $77 million — a one-year increase of more than 25 percent and a 30 percent increase since 2010.

The unions boast of their success in stifling efforts to reduce public employee pension costs, but NYSUT would have to devote its entire income for more than three years just to cover the cost of its own employees’ pensions and retiree benefits.

How will the unions remain solvent given their precarious current state? So far they’ve relied on deficit spending. Annual deficits have reduced NYSUT’s net assets to –$413 million, according to its most recently available federal tax filings. UFT managed a surplus in 2014-15 after a deficit the previous year, but its net assets were –$19 million.

Here’s another possible indicator of the union’s financial insecurity: UFT owes NYSUT almost $11 million for back dues, and $4 million of that is 90-180 days past due. This suggests — we would only know for sure if the unions were more transparent about their financial activity — UFT has at least a temporary cash flow problem.

“The UFT is confident it will meet its future obligations,” UFT spokesman Dick Riley said in an email.

If the UFT is having financial troubles, NYSUT, which declined to comment, can’t afford to bail it out. And if NYSUT is having financial troubles, its parent organization, the American Federation of Teachers couldn’t afford to bail it out either because about 40 percent of AFT’s income is the dues paid by those same NYSUT members. In other words, AFT doesn’t have enough members in the rest of the country to cover NYSUT’s losses.

In the public sphere, the New York unions will consistently demand higher taxes but when it comes to their own affairs they recognize the risks of repeatedly going to the well, i.e., proposing additional dues increases to membership. They prefer to run up debt rather than reduce expenditures or raise dues to a level that would cover their spending.

We should approach the unions’ prescriptions for public finances with skepticism until they cure their own budgetary ills.

Recent Intercepts. EIA’s daily blog, Intercepts, covered these topics February 23-28:

*  Time to End Endorsements? Trial and error.

*  Very Different Union Elections in NY, LA. Old school and new school.

*  Baltimore Teachers Union Condemns Sickout. “These actions negatively impact the classroom and put teachers and our students at risk.”

*  NEA Getting Down to Business? Cutting the fluff.

Quote of the Week. “Is it really fair that the teachers of today are stuck with a bargaining unit that was agreed upon in the ’70s, before they were even born?” – Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, who signed into law a bill that, among other things, would require government workers to vote regularly on whether they want to have a union in their workplace. (February 16 Radio Iowa)

The NEA’S 5 Financially Shakiest States

February 23, 2017

The NEA’S 5 Financially Shakiest States. The National Education Association and its state affiliates earn revenues of about $1.6 billion annually, almost all of which comes out of the paychecks of public school teachers and school support workers.

That’s a lot of money, but just four offices — NEA national headquarters and affiliates in California, New Jersey, and New York — account for 53 percent of the total. The financial health of other affiliates varies considerably depending on their state’s size, collective bargaining laws, the size of competing teacher organizations, and the affiliate’s competence in managing its finances.

Kentucky and Missouri passed right-to-work laws in January, while Iowa last week enacted severe restrictions on collective bargaining; these measures will diminish union membership in all three states. School reform advocates have also backed plaintiffs who hope to win a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that would invalidate agency fees, which non-members pay to unions for collective bargaining services. Such a judgment could shrink union affiliates in every state.

The California Teachers Association and New Jersey Education Association would likely weather such a storm, but affiliates that are already in right-to-work states would likely be devastated because they rely on subsidies from the national HQ that would dry up. Some affiliates are already in deep water.

Here are the five most financially troubled NEA state affiliates in alphabetical order. All of the monetary information comes from union tax filings for 2015; membership figures are from internal NEA documents.

Alabama Education Association. Once one of the most powerful interest groups in the state, the AEA has been greatly reduced through problems that are mostly of its own making.

AEA lost 16 percent of its membership in a single year, the worst of any NEA state affiliate. It ran a $1.1 million deficit and was placed under an NEA trusteeship in May 2015, shortly after it fired its executive director for failing “to meet his obligations toward the sound financial operation of AEA” (he reportedly invested union funds in high-risk stock market ventures).

Former AEA officers resisted the trusteeship (“there are no grounds for NEA to occupy AEA,” they argued), and by the time the dust settled, AEA was in a severe downward spiral. Its losses will gradually level off, but with a hostile legislature and governor, AEA will never return to its previous position of power and fiscal health.

Indiana State Teachers Association. Much like its counterpart in Alabama, the Indiana State Teachers Association’s former executive director made risky investments — in this case with funds from the union’s insurance trust, which ultimately collapsed in 2009. The national and state unions both took drastic measures that included another NEA trusteeship, a massive staff layoff, a $40 per member state dues increase, the sale of the ISTA headquarters building to NEA, and a promissory note from NEA to ISTA — $8.1 million of which the national union has already written off as bad debt.

All of this was supposed to make ISTA solvent — by 2027. However, the plan didn’t account for the recession or the passage of a right-to-work law in 2012. ISTA lost 4.1 percent of its active members in 2015 and its net assets are a negative $3.6 million. The union still owes $12.3 million to NEA.

Michigan Education Association. It isn’t surprising that Michigan Education Association membership was adversely affected when the state enacted a right-to-work law in 2013. But the union’s financial woes predate the law by many years.

MEA lost 6.7 percent of its active members in 2015, but the real problem is its failure to fund obligations to staff pensions and post-retirement health care. MEA’s net assets are an astonishing –$231.2 million. Mounting liabilities and decreasing membership are forcing the affiliate closer to disaster.

North Carolina Association of Educators. The North Carolina Association of Educators lost 9.6 percent of its active members in 2015 and is only about half the size it was in 2010. It is now below the threshold for payroll deduction of dues set by state law, although enforcement of that provision seems to be a problem for the state.

NCAE ran a $690,000 deficit in 2015 and its employees claim they have not received a raise in eight years.

Wisconsin Education Association Council. The Wisconsin Education Association Council was uniquely affected by hostile state law. Act 10 eliminated agency fees and restricted the scope of collective bargaining, which made the union even less appealing to those who might have been undecided about membership.

WEAC lost 12.5 percent of its active members in 2015, for a five-year loss of about 58 percent. Staff and budget were cut commensurately. The union collected $9.25 million in dues, down from $12.4 million in 2014.

These affiliates are far from the only ones with cloudy futures. The Georgia Association of Educators, Iowa State Education Association, and South Carolina Education Association also have troubles. The overall problem for NEA is how many “have nots” it can sustain without weakening the “haves.”

Recent Intercepts. EIA’s daily blog, Intercepts, covered these topics February 16-22:

*  Time For More Charter School Unionization Stories. Please, Lord, not again.

*  “There is a generational disconnect among union members.” So says a survey of active union members.

*  Burying the Lede, Then Knocking Down the Signpost to the Cemetery. How you can write about a split in union ranks without addressing public sector vs. private sector?

*  Is Your Classroom Overdecorated? There are plenty of controversies in public education, but nothing riles teachers more than classroom decor.

Quote of the Week. “As long as the teachers union hates him, I’ll support him for governor.” – Richard Riordan, former mayor of Los Angeles, speaking of another former mayor of Los Angeles, Antonio Villaraigosa, who once worked for the teachers union but has since gotten on its bad side. (February 17 Los Angeles Times)

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