Communiqués


Teacher Turnover Is High — Except When Compared With Other Professions

October 19, 2017

Teacher Turnover Is High — Except When Compared With Other Professions. “They came on in the same old way,” the Duke of Wellington said of the French attacks at Waterloo, “and we saw them off in the same old way.”

I was reminded of this line after reading yet another report by the Learning Policy Institute to frighten us into thinking the U.S. has high teacher turnover rates. Their foray into this territory last year was rebuffed by the elementary methods of a) looking at the numbers; and b) comparing them with those of all other professions. Lo and behold, public education employees quit their jobs at a lower rate than virtually any other profession in the United States.

Not to be deterred, this year LPI insists once more that teacher turnover rates are dangerously high, despite the best efforts of organizations like the National Council on Teacher Quality to refute those claims. LPI says “policymakers should pursue strategies that can improve teacher retention in all schools.” What strategies? Higher pay, smaller class sizes, and greater investments in education.

This is an unusual dispute, in that both sides agree on what the rate is. Data from both the federal labor and education departments put the attrition rate — that is, the percentage of employees who leave teaching — at about 8 percent. LPI would prefer it to be around 3-4 percent, the rate it finds in Finland and Singapore.

Rather than go far afield, it seems sufficient to say that comparing the labor economics of the United States with those of two countries whose combined populations are less than that of Ohio is problematic.

But if you want to compare attrition rates, suppose we look at employers who most certainly pay well, have excellent benefit packages, and have enlightened attitudes about working conditions and employee well-being: the two national teacher unions.

I examined the list of employees for both the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers in Department of Labor filings for the most recent two years. Of 539 NEA employees, 52 were gone the next year (9.65%). Of 386 AFT employees, 46 were gone (11.9%).

Those are great rates of retention, but the public school teacher retention rate is better still.

That is not to say that teachers everywhere are, or ought to be, happy with their jobs. Just as we have seen with the teacher shortage issue, teacher retention is not a national problem with the generic solutions LPI provides. In some places higher pay would make a difference; in others, smaller class sizes. There are some places that could benefit from more turnover to make jobs available for a new generation of teachers and/or teachers of color.

Nevertheless, when the 2018-19 school year begins, I expect Learning Policy Institute shortage and turnover studies will come on in the same old way. God willing, I will still be here to see them off in the same old way.

Recent Intercepts. EIA’s daily blog, Intercepts, covered these topics October 13-18:

* The Straight-Face Awards. The New Jersey Education Association’s campaign against the state’s leading Democratic legislator is leading to some really funny takes.

* Hugs and Missing Tweets. AFT embraces NJEA’s nemesis.

* Nevada Infighting Escalates. Masters of their domain names.

* I Don’t Where Kevin de León Will Get the Cash, But I Know Whom He’ll Ask. D-NEA.

Quote of the Week. “For the next year, she combed through public records and yearbooks, reached out to victims, cold-called district officials, and even showed up at their homes to stitch together a timeline that tracked how, over three decades, a school district had repeatedly opted to protect a powerful male teacher accused of abuse, at the expense of children.” – from a Columbia Journalism Review profile of Portland Oregonian reporter Bethany Barnes and her series of articles documenting 30 years of sexual harassment allegations against a local teacher. (October 18 CJR)

NYSUT Secretary-Treasurer Teaches Full Time, Manages Union Finances on Nights and Weekends

October 12, 2017

NYSUT Secretary-Treasurer Teaches Full Time, Manages Union Finances on Nights and Weekends. Teaching is a demanding job. We know this because teachers tell us so, reporting that they spend upwards of 50 hours each week on classroom duties and after-school tasks.

Being an executive officer of a teachers union is also a demanding job. Unions report that their officers work 35 to 40 hours each week.

Doing both jobs at the same time is problematic at best, so school districts typically grant state and national union officers release time while they serve their elected terms. These leaves of absence are routinely extended, sometimes for decades. Districts hire substitutes to replace union officers, and the union generally reimburses the district for that cost. Sometimes the district pays both the union officer and the substitute, without any reimbursement.

Martin Messner was elected secretary-treasurer of New York State United Teachers in April 2014. The board of the 900-student Schoharie Central School District, about 43 miles west of Albany, granted Messner a three-year unpaid leave of absence from his job teaching health and physical education at the junior high and high school.

Messner was re-elected to his post in April 2017, but the board extended his leave of absence only until June. When school started in September, Messner reported for work. District Superintendent David M. Blanchard confirmed to Union Report on Oct. 3 that Messner has “returned to a full-time teaching position.” It’s not clear why the school board rejected a longer leave for Messner this time around.

The NYSUT constitution states that its executive officers “shall be eligible, at the discretion of the Board of Directors, to serve NYSUT on a full-time basis.” This is what Messner did during his first term, but there is no indication that NYSUT’s board was informed of Messner’s return to the classroom, much less officially authorized it.

Messner’s teaching salary is $57,527 this year, according to a public record database maintained by the Empire Center. He also draws about $240,000 in base salary from his union position, according to NYSUT’s Internal Revenue Service filings.

Arthur Goldstein, a United Federation of Teachers chapter leader who blogs at NYC Educator, wrote that his contacts say Messner is doing his NYSUT work on “nights and weekends” and is drawing a NYSUT salary now reduced by the same amount as his teaching salary, or $182,473 a year instead of $240,000.

“And by the way, if my job were treasurer, I’d also be a little uneasy sending out the message that my nights and weekends, after working full time as a teacher, were worth 180K a year,” Goldstein writes in his Oct. 1 post entitled “Nice Work if You Can Get It.”

Messner could not be reached for comment.

NYSUT spokesman Carl Korn told Union Report, “Martin Messner is teaching in Schoharie County, and while he continues to serve as NYSUT secretary-treasurer, it is with a reduced salary.”

NYSUT’s finances are troubled, with roughly $144 million in debt and $413 million in unfunded pension liabilities for its own employees (not teachers whose retirement is covered by the state). In March, one labor advocate referred to the 600,000-member union’s staff pension system as a “Ponzi scheme.”

Messner’s bio boasts of the many positions he oversees for NYSUT: He heads up the Local Action Project and the Leadership Institute; he serves as chair of the Member Benefits Trust, Employees’ Retirement Plan; the NYSUT Plan for Former Employees of NEA New York; the Financial Review Committee; the VOTE-COPE Committee; and the Disaster Relief and Scholarship Fund.

Can he be doing all this while leading kids in jumping jacks?

Perhaps NYSUT is making sufficient accommodations so that Messner can ably perform both jobs full time. But if that’s the case, why are any union officers granted release time? If the secretary-treasurer of the largest teacher union state affiliate in the nation can teach full time, why aren’t union officers in California or Florida or anywhere else returned to the classroom?

It is more reasonable to believe that the man in charge of NYSUT’s money is shortchanging his members, his students, or both.

Recent Intercepts. EIA’s daily blog, Intercepts, covered these topics October 6-11:

* Colorado Mystery. A staff union decertification election?

* Moving Pictures. AFT gets into show biz.

* Weird But Accurate Headline: Labor Union Imposes Trusteeship Over Department of Labor Union. Plus, local labor union officers file unfair labor practice against Department of Labor for abetting national labor union.

Quote of the Week. “[UFT’s ruling Unity Caucus] will come out and call anyone pushing a fragmentation drive real nasty names long before it ever got to the stage where there is a new union. I would expect they would say anyone signing or spreading a petition to make a separate bargaining unit was Hitler, Mussolini, the devil and maybe Stalin all rolled into one.” – James Eterno, United Federation of Teachers chapter leader, curbing any enthusiasm for the idea of splitting off a high school teachers union from UFT. (October 5 ICEUFT Blog)

Top NEA Leader Promises a Progressive ‘Uprising,’ But Is He Part of the Establishment Problem?

October 5, 2017

Top NEA Leader Promises a Progressive ‘Uprising,’ But Is He Part of the Establishment Problem? John Stocks is the executive director of the National Education Association. He is arguably more powerful than the union’s president, who is constrained by term limits.

Stocks was in northern Idaho last month to deliver a speech to the Idaho Conservation League. This isn’t as strange as it seems: Stocks served a term in the Idaho legislature in the late 1980s and still has many contacts throughout the state.

In his speech, Stocks predicted “a tremendous resurgence of people who are going to take back their country.”

“I assure you, in a relatively short period of time, there will be an uprising,” he said. “(It) will in fact fuel a more progressive future. That’s what’s going to happen. When it happens, we need to have the infrastructure in place to take advantage of it.”

Stocks announced this at the Hayden Lakes Country Club amid “a sumptuous catered dinner” and no-host bar. Club membership is $20,000 with monthly dues of $457. The job application to work there states: “If employed, I understand that I have been hired at the will of the employer and my employment may be terminated at any time, with or without reason and with or without notice.”

Stocks was not totally unaware of his environment. “I suspect many in this room have tremendous privilege,” he said. “I know I do, as a white male heterosexual, tremendous privilege, coming from a family that was upper-middle class.” He called on the audience to use their privilege to stand for justice.

It may take a while for the progressive revolution to reach Hayden Lakes, but Stocks has long been committed to achieving it elsewhere. In a 2011 profile no longer available online, his former business partner was quoted as saying: “I wouldn’t be surprised if he walks in there with a 20-year plan in his pocket. And it won’t be limited to the NEA. He’ll be leveraging the NEA to remake America in his progressive vision.”

Stocks may see himself at the forefront of a progressive movement, but he is also a Democratic Party insider. He was instrumental in manipulating the NEA endorsement of Hillary Clinton in the 2016 primaries to shut down supporters of Bernie Sanders. He forwarded a confidential NEA memo to the Clinton campaign after the NEA board voted to endorse her.

Stocks also serves as board chair of the Democracy Alliance, “the largest network of donors dedicated to building the progressive movement in the United States.” After Donald Trump’s victory in 2016, one Democratic strategist said of the group: “You can make a very good case it’s nothing more than a social club for a handful of wealthy white donors and labor union officials to drink wine and read memos, as the Democratic Party burns down around them.”

I don’t know if there will be a progressive uprising. But uprisings of any sort usually do not bode well for those with privilege, money and power, a group to which Stocks assuredly belongs.

Recent Intercepts. EIA’s daily blog, Intercepts, covered these topics October 2-4:

AFT’s Disclosure Report Stirs Things Up. What to do with other people’s money.

* Nevada State Education Association Sets Up Unity Web Site. Unity? Not so much.

Quote of the Week. “No one wants this job. It’s a tough committee. The work can be very discouraging.” – Ben Allen, (D-Santa Monica) chair of the California Senate Education Committee. (September 24 Ventura County Star)

Teacher Hold ‘Em in Nevada, as Fractious Union and Its Largest Local Trade Lawsuits

September 29, 2017

Teacher Hold ‘Em in Nevada, as Fractious Union and Its Largest Local Trade Lawsuits. The Clark County Education Association, representing 10,000 teachers who work for the Las Vegas schools, filed a lawsuit earlier this month against its parent affiliate, the Nevada State Education Association, alleging a breach of fiduciary duty and breach of contract.

Soon after, NSEA and the National Education Association filed a countersuit also charging of breach of contract, as well as unjust enrichment and fraud.

The dueling lawsuits are just the latest in a long series of conflicts between NSEA and its locals, particularly Clark County, whose membership comprises almost half of NSEA’s total. I questioned the outlook for the Nevada union’s survival last March, and now a crisis appears imminent.

The Clark County lawsuit details the timeline of its deteriorating relationship with NSEA and lays out what the local union wants.

Early in 2017, Clark County asked NSEA for “a return on investment analytic assessment” to compare what the local’s members receive from NSEA in return for their state dues. Clark County also wanted a neutral third party to review the last three NSEA budgets. One of the reasons it gave was particularly interesting:

Members of CCEA contribute through dues money to the NSEA’s Advocacy Fund and have a right pursuant to the NSEA bylaws and policies to know how money is being spent in that fund and further to object to any payments made by NSEA to political causes or interests to which those members object.

Clark County maintains that its dues transmittal contract with NSEA expired on August 31. Without such a contract, the local union is still collecting state dues from members and putting the money into an escrow account until the dispute is resolved.

NSEA, which had been willing to let the problem linger, was moved to immediate action by the suspension of about half of its total dues money reaching its coffers. Along with attorneys hired at NEA national headquarters, NSEA filed a countersuit last Friday. In true Nevada style, it upped the ante.

The parent union claims the dues transmittal agreement is still in effect, and that by collecting and withholding state and national dues, Clark County is being unjustly enriched and is violating NSEA’s and NEA’s property rights. The parent unions further accuse the local of committing fraud by continuing to advertise state and national union benefits such as liability insurance, to which its members are not entitled if their state and national dues are not paid.

Deploying the big guns doesn’t seem to have had the desired effect on Clark County. The local’s president and vice president posted this video in response:

The Clark County’s officers repeatedly insist they have no intention of disaffiliating from NSEA and NEA. However, with no money going up the chain to the parent unions, and no parent union services coming down the chain to the local, they are already in a de facto state of disaffiliation.

While such public disputes between local teacher union affiliates and parent unions are rare, this one is not unique. Madison Teachers, Inc. and the Wisconsin Education Association Council had an affiliation agreement dispute that went on for years, including litigation and withheld dues. The dispute was ultimately resolved, and just this year the Madison local moved its headquarters into the WEAC building.

The difference in Nevada is that Clark County is one of NEA’s largest local affiliates, and has clout within the state that is unmatched by any other NEA local in the nation. One could reasonably argue that NSEA and NEA need Vegas much more than Vegas needs them.

All in or fold? It’s high-stakes poker with a multi-million dollar pot.

Recent Intercepts. EIA’s daily blog, Intercepts, covered these topics September 25-28:

Supreme Court to Hear Agency Fee Case. When the facts are on your side, pound the facts. When the law is on your side, pound the law. When neither is on your side, pound the table.

* The Return of the New Jersey Kerfuffle. The New Jersey Education Association’s $1.2 million executive director compensation barely makes the top five of its spending outrages.

The X-Punged Files. A peek into the way the teacher discipline sausage is really made.

* First Set of Iowa Locals Vote Overwhelmingly to Recertify Union. 13 down, about 1300 to go.

Quote of the Week. “I didn’t want to fight with them. I still don’t. I believe in teachers. I believe in collective bargaining. There was resistance to virtually everything we did. I wanted to partner, but they just fought us tooth and nail.” – former Los Angeles mayor (and United Teachers Los Angeles employee) Antonio Villaraigosa, discussing his fractious relationship with the teachers’ union. (September 25 Los Angeles Times)

Union Officers’ Guilty Pleasure

September 22, 2017

Union Officers’ Guilty Pleasure. It’s no secret that I am critical of teacher unions. One would expect that my views would draw the unanimous ire of National Education Association and American Federation of Teachers officers and employees, and I get my share. One state affiliate president referred to me as “a card-carrying member of the dark evil forces.” An AFT activist once accused me of running guns to the Contras in the 1980s. (I was a U.S. Air Force C-130 navigator in Japan at the time so, for him, it was a logical conclusion.)

But from a former NEA president on down, there have been many teacher union staffers and elected officials who have braved the potential embarrassment to let me know that they enjoy and/or appreciate my work. Here are some of them, anonymized because to keep them from experiencing any ill effects from their colleagues.

  • State affiliate president: “You want to know anything that’s going on in NEA, you talk to Antonucci. No one’s ever told me he got something wrong.”
  • State affiliate executive director: “I’m a huge fan. I read your stuff all the time. We’re sure you have bugs at NEA headquarters.”
  • AFT national staffer: “We don’t agree a lot of the time, but I appreciate your skills as a reporter, and I think a lot of AFT members feel the same way. You’re getting stuff and publishing it before we get it.”
  • State affiliate board member:“I can’t wait to read your next item that I’ll love and piss me off. Good organizations pay close attention to news that is both uncomplimentary and accurate.”
  • NEA headquarters staffer: “Your name was mentioned in a staff meeting today in order to chill blood and strike fear into hearts.”
  • State affiliate vice-president: “Please know that I shall continue to depend on you as the best and most reliable source of information about what’s going on in NEA and AFT – but don’t quote me on that!”
  • State affiliate board member: “Our state president was annoyed that Antonucci gets all the information from our Board meeting almost verbatim.”
  • State affiliate staffer: “I’m very impressed with your stuff. As someone who is intimately involved in a lot of the things you write about, I’m even more impressed that you’re right as often as you are.”
  • State affiliate staffer: “As an employee of an NEA state affiliate, I get more credible information from you than from my employer. I am thinking about circulating your stuff either immediately prior to or immediately after staff meetings just to liven things up!”
  • Local affiliate vice-president: “I’ve always been impressed with your ability to report on events taking place in rooms where you’re not allowed.”
  • State affiliate staffer: “I have worked for the [teachers’ union] for almost ten years. Your reporting on the day to day issues I run into are unmatched by any other source.”
  • State affiliate staffer: “They (sic) must have contacts all over the country. The speed with which they find out what is going on is amazing and frightening.”
  • NEA headquarters staffer: “I don’t want to be tarred and feathered by my colleagues, but I want to tell you that you continually and consistently get it right.”

So if you are a union official or employee that hates what you read in Union Report or on my blog, you are in the majority. But if you enjoy it and maybe even occasionally find yourself nodding your head in agreement, know that you are not alone.

Recent Intercepts. EIA’s daily blog, Intercepts, covered these topics September 15-20:

* Las Vegas Local Denies Plan to Disaffiliate, Still at Odds With State Union. The volcano bubbles…

Flash! Clark County Education Association Files Suit Against State Affiliate. …then erupts…

* Nevada NEA Affiliate Fires Back at Las Vegas Local. …followed by the fallout.

Those Darn Employees. Union board of directors faces staff picket line.

Washington Education Association and Staff Reach Tentative Agreement. Expected.

Polling Is Ammunition, Not Information. Vouchers are very popular or very unpopular. Take your pick.

Quote of the Week. “Nobody – no matter who you are, whether you’re a Democrat or a Republican – is beyond the potential wrath of organized labor.” – Tom Scott, California state executive director of the National Federation of Independent Business. (September 18 Sacramento Bee)

When NEA Speaks to the National Press Club, the Faces Change But the Song Remains the Same

September 14, 2017

When NEA Speaks to the National Press Club, the Faces Change But the Song Remains the Same. Last Friday, National Education Association President Lily Eskelsen García delivered a speech to the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.

She denounced the policies of the Trump administration while calling for common ground because “most people are good people — they want something good for kids and their families and their communities. We can argue over what’s a good idea or a bad idea, but time and time again, I’ve seen people come together when you can show them a plan that makes sense.”

Eskelsen García’s plan is “to make every public school as good as our best public schools.” This can be done, she said, through equal access, equal opportunity, and equal respect, but not through “test prep and cutthroat competition with private charters.”

She went on to describe wonderful NEA-supported programs in Texas, New Mexico, Minnesota, and New Jersey.

While the White House might have objected to the tenor of Eskelsen García’s remarks, there was little to stir up the masses outside the Beltway. NEA presidents make periodic visits to the National Press Club, and they usually offer up a similar vision of utopia if only their agenda were followed.

I am cursed with a long memory, and so I recall the original NEA president National Press Club speech. Bob Chase delivered it 20 years ago, and he used the occasion to introduce the concept of “new unionism.”

New unionism was prompted by a dire internal report NEA commissioned from a public relations firm that concluded the union had no credibility in the education reform debate. The firm suggested NEA’s image-improvement campaign “should be launched in a speech by President Chase in which he acknowledges the crisis, says some things for their shock value to open up the audience’s minds (e.g., there are bad teachers and our job is to make them good or show the way to another career), and then details the association’s substantive programs to improve public schools — those already in existence and those that will be expanded or launched in the months ahead.”

Chase did just that. He admitted NEA had been “a traditional, somewhat narrowly focused union” that was “utterly inadequate to the needs of the future.”

He said, “America’s public schools do not exist for teachers and other employees. They do not exist to provide us with jobs and salaries.”

Chase went on to follow his PR firm’s advice and say, “there are indeed some bad teachers in America’s schools. And it is our job as a union to improve those teachers or, that failing, to get them out of the classroom.”

Just as Eskelsen García would do 20 years later, Chase called for greater collaboration among stakeholders, but his plan to improve schools contained items quite different from those on Eskelsen García’s list, including higher academic standards, stricter discipline, an end to social promotions, and less bureaucracy. He then described wonderful NEA-supported programs in Indiana, Illinois, and Ohio.

One other 1997 union effort Chase mentioned stands out noticeably today: “Imagine the president of a local NEA union taking the lead in founding a public charter school, a new school that she and her colleagues manage by themselves, without a principal. I just described the work of Jan Noble, president of our affiliate in Colorado Springs.”

NEA’s 1996 Charter School Initiative deserves a retrospective of its own, but as failures go, it didn’t come close to the debacle Chase also touted in his Press Club speech: Disney’s Celebration Teaching Academy in Orlando, Florida.

“It will be for educators what a teaching hospital is for doctors: a place where teachers from around the nation can come to sharpen their skills and be exposed to best practices,” Chase said. “NEA professionals on site will help to shape the curriculum and to direct the academy’s Master Teacher Institute.”

He told the audience that “the Celebration Teaching Academy is exactly what the new NEA is all about: a commitment to lifting up teachers as professionals and to revitalizing public education.” Chase put NEA’s money where its mouth was, contributing $500,000 to the academy.

The academy never got off the ground. It was “stillborn, a victim of educational infighting,” according to a husband-wife pair of journalists, Douglas Frantz and Catherine Collins, who moved with their kids to Orlando specifically to take part in the Disney community and schooling experiment. The experience was so disastrous they wrote a book about it.

In her speech, Eskelsen García emphasized the importance of taking action. Chase was no different. “I deal in practical, concrete, tangible changes. I deal in results,” he said.

“The new NEA is about action,” he told the Press Club audience. “And, on that score, I challenge the American public: Watch what we do, not what we say.”

In the 20 years since, we have watched what NEA does. The evidence suggests there’s no point in listening as it tells us what it’s going to do — again.

Recent Intercepts. EIA’s daily blog, Intercepts, covered these topics September 8-13:

* When the Hand Grenade Gets Lobbed Back. Let’s play “Who’s a Segregationist?”

NEA Director Goes Nuclear in Dispute with New Jersey Education Association. Election kerfuffle could lead to new disclosure requirements for 33 state affiliates.

Trouble in Paradise? Hawaii State Teachers Association employees file ULP complaints against the union.

Quote of the Week. “It’s like buying two new iPads a month and throwing them in the trash.” – Sharon Thornton, a hairdresser from Delaware, describing what it’s like to pay Obamacare premiums without a government subsidy. (September 4 Associated Press)

According to the story, “Some are expecting premiums for 2018 to rival a mortgage payment.” My premiums already exceed my mortgage payment. By quite a bit. They rank as my second biggest expense – just behind taxes.

When Unions Don’t Protect Teachers’ Jobs

September 7, 2017

When Unions Don’t Protect Teachers’ Jobs. The most common criticism of teacher unions is that they protect bad employees. It can often take years and hundreds of thousands of dollars to fire a tenured public school teacher. Sometimes districts don’t even bother trying — even if the teacher is in jail.

But protecting teachers isn’t as straightforward as many believe. The district, the union, and often the union’s insurers all have economic interests that help determine how a teacher termination case will proceed. The teacher may have less influence over the outcome than any of these other players.

Teachers start in a probationary period of two years or more; during that time they can typically be dismissed for any reason or none at all. After completing probation, the teacher receives tenure — or, as the unions prefer to say, due process protection.

Semantics aside, dismissing or reprimanding a tenured teacher must follow prescribed procedures set out in collective bargaining agreements, school district policies, and state law.

It is very rare for a teacher with tenure to be fired simply because he or she is not very good in the classroom. Cases that result in termination usually involve misconduct of some sort, like inappropriate contact with a student, intoxication at school, or excessive absences, among other offenses.

After a series of warnings and documentation, the district may decide to terminate the teacher; in most cases the union will intervene by filing a grievance alleging violation of the contract, bias, or a similar charge.

One of the union’s primary purposes is to provide job protections for teachers. They are highly motivated to perform this function because it demonstrates the union’s value to other members. And because grievances generally do not require the services of an attorney and can be handled by a staffer (because they are procedural rather than legal) the task of filing a grievance is usually performed without undue delay.

If the district doesn’t respond by backing off from the discipline or dismissal action, it advances to arbitration or termination hearings, the teacher normally requires some form of legal representation. This can be provided by a union attorney or a private attorney contracted by the union.

What isn’t commonly understood by the public, or even by teachers, is that the union has wide discretion to pursue, or not pursue, the defense of its members. If the union and/or its attorney determines that they are unlikely to prevail, or the costs may be excessive, they may counsel the teacher to resign, transfer, or accept a lesser punishment.

If the union is paying for the individual teacher’s representation, it makes the final decision. Occasionally, a teacher faced with dismissal or discipline decides to forego union representation and hires his or her own attorney in order to maintain some control over decision-making.

So while school districts complain about the costs and time involved in teacher dismissal cases, unions also incur costs and time loss. Cases often proceed to resolution not necessarily based on their relative merits, but on cost-benefit calculations made by both sides.

Unions provide teachers with protections not only against employers, but against parents, students, and any other individual who might file suit. Sometimes these cases overlap with teacher discipline or dismissal cases; in that event the school district and the accused teacher are usually on the same side.

The National Education Association provides $1 million in liability insurance. It touts this member benefit when recruiting teachers, and denies it to those who only pay agency fees.

Lawsuits against teachers are rare, but typically involve parents claiming teachers have discriminated against, mistreated, or abused their child. Some states have laws that provide liability protections for school employees and/or limit the extent of damages paid. NEA’s insurance provider specifically states that its coverage kicks in only after all other insurance sources are exhausted.

The insurer also states that it will “investigate, defend, negotiate, and settle any claim even if such claim is groundless or fraudulent.” Once again, the entity paying the price decides how to pursue the teacher’s case, even if it means settling a charge against the teacher that is fraudulent.

Teachers might even face criminal charges for a work-related incident, such as abuse of a student. In such cases NEA coverage includes up to $35,000 reimbursement of attorney fees — but only if the teacher is ultimately exonerated or the charges are dismissed.

Teacher liability insurance is a battlefield in right-to-work states where NEA and the American Federation of Teachers have to compete for members with other, non-union teacher organizations. All parties use their policies as a selling point, but insiders admit that the value of what they’re offering is overhyped.

The former president of the Texas Federation of Teachers called high levels of liability coverage “an expenditure of money that does no good for anybody.” The Oklahoma Education Association general counsel admitted that its liability policy “has only paid a handful of claims, none over $50,000 since 1980.” An unaffiliated teacher union in Georgia called liability insurance from rival unions a “scam.”

Unions constantly battle the public perception that teachers are guaranteed jobs for life. But they also benefit from the fact that their members have much the same perception. For many of them, job protection is what keeps them paying union dues year after year. It is only the small number of teachers who have to draw on that protection who discover its limitations.

Recent Intercepts. EIA’s daily blog, Intercepts, covered these topics August 31-September 6:

* Billion Year Contract. Member for life?

Washington Education Association Employees Set Strike Date of Sept. 27. But it probably won’t come to that.

Why Wait Months for Union News? Get your Labor Day news on Memorial Day.

Two Things People Love Until It’s Time to Pay Them. Actions speak louder than polls.

Quote of the Week. “I was still in high school in the ’70s when these elections took place.” – Lynette Claeys, a UniServ director for the Iowa State Education Association, describing when most teacher unions were certified as exclusive bargaining agents in the state. A new Iowa law requires union to hold a new certification election prior to contract expiration. (September 4 Quad City Times)

Have We Hired Too Many Teachers? Scholar Warns of Economic ‘Time Bomb’

August 30, 2017

Have We Hired Too Many Teachers? Scholar Warns of Economic ‘Time Bomb.’ Any day of the week you can find an article warning of the national teacher shortage. The latest is from Washington Post columnist Valerie Strauss, who blames a dearth of teachers on “low morale over low pay, unfair evaluation methods, assaults on due-process rights, high-stakes testing requirements, insufficient resources and other issues.”

There’s nothing new about these alarms; they date back to at least the early part of the 20th centuryAs I’ve noted, since that time we have almost quintupled the number of teachers and also cut the student-teacher ratio in half (student population data are here and here).

So it is refreshing to find a report on actual teacher staffing numbers from a respected academic who is willing to call them what they are: “a ticking time bomb.”

In an Education Week report on the National Center for Education Statistics latest school staffing survey — which showed the number of teachers was growing faster than student enrollment — University of Pennsylvania Professor Richard Ingersoll characterized the teacher workforce as “ballooning.”

“Financially it’s a ticking time bomb, we think,” Ingersoll said. “The main budget item in any school district is teachers’ salaries. This just can’t be sustainable.”

It’s easy to see what Ingersoll means. NCES produces its survey every four years. Almost all public school staffing took a hit during the 2012 survey, as districts laid off thousands during the recession. Hiring was bound to return to normal levels afterwards.

If we go back to 2008 we get a clear picture of the growth of America’s public school workforce. While, student enrollment in 2015-16 was virtually identical to what it was in 2007-08 — almost 49.3 million students — the number of employees in 2016 was substantially higher.

The population of teachers grew from 3.4 million to more than 3.8 million — an increase of 12.4 percent.

But teachers comprise only half of the public school labor force. Over the past eight years, the numbers of administrators, bureaucrats, specialists and infrastructure support employees have also ballooned. The ranks of vice principals and assistant principals grew by 8.3 percent. Instructional coordinators and curriculum specialists increased by 10.5 percent, and there was between 5 and 12 percent growth in the number of nurses, psychologists, speech therapists, and special education aides.

Again, this larger group of employees is responsible for the same number of students as were enrolled in 2008.

Not all professions have grown over this period. There are fewer secretaries, librarians, school counselors, and teacher aides (other than in special education). Some support employees may effectively be paying with their jobs for all the new teacher hires.

The immediate financial impact is troubling, but that’s just the start. Many of those additional teachers, vice principals, and curriculum specialists will qualify for a pension. Many states will find themselves shortchanging those who teach in order to fund those who no longer teach.

As much as we think of schools as buildings, desks, and books, more than 80 cents of every dollar spent on public education goes toward the cost of employee salaries and benefits. When a recession hits, the only effective way to cut costs is through reductions in the labor force. Yet when additional appropriations are made, most will be spent only two ways: on more compensation for education employees and/or more education employees.

Professor Ingersoll told Education Week it was tough getting a handle on the national education labor market. “We never were able to figure all of it out,” he said.

This is understandable. The labor market for teachers has never been based on student enrollment, only on the amount of money available to spend. Raising that money is easier if there is a teacher shortage of crisis proportions.

Debunking teacher shortage panic requires swimming against a tide of conventional wisdom — much like reporting on average teacher salaries. If there is a teacher shortage, it may be because we will keep hiring more and more teachers until we finally run out of available adults.

Recent Intercepts. EIA’s daily blog, Intercepts, covered these topics August 18-29:

*  CTA Employees Reach Tentative Agreement. Plenty of money to go around.

Quote of the Week. “Obviously, these charges are based on lies and they’re using it as a negotiating tool because we’re in bargaining. That is a tactic that unions can use. I personally find it without honor, dishonorable, to use that kind of tactic. But they are within their rights to do that.” – Mike Gandolfo, president of the Pinellas Classroom Teachers Association in Florida, describing unfair labor practice complaints filed by the union’s own employees against him. (August 18 Tampa Bay Times)

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)

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