Why the NEA’s ‘Congressional Report Card’ Says Less About Congress Than It Does About the State of Democratic Party Politics
February 15, 2018
Why the NEA’s ‘Congressional Report Card’ Says Less About Congress Than It Does About the State of Democratic Party Politics. Last month the National Education Association released its annual Legislative Report Card, assigning a letter grade to each member of Congress. “This year’s Legislative Report Card is the most polarized Congress of any we have evaluated in the past 13 years using our current rating system,” said Marc Egan, NEA Director of Government Relations. “This breaks the bipartisan trend we have seen in previous years, and it reflects the misguided policy priorities of the Republican leadership in Congress, who have, time and again, put partisan politics and ideology ahead of students and families.”
NEA traditionally evaluated lawmakers strictly on their voting records. A vote in support of the union’s position received a better grade. But in 2005 NEA officials decided they could boost the union’s influence among Republicans by grading them on a curve. They also added five new criteria to supplement vote-based grades, which they explain as follows:
- Co-sponsorship of bills critical to advancing NEA’s identified legislative priorities;
- behind- the-scenes work to advance or impede NEA priority issues;
- committee votes in support of or against NEA priorities;
- accessibility of the Member and staff in Washington, DC to NEA staff and leaders; and
- accessibility and education advocacy in the Member’s home state or district.
While this did allow NEA to give Republicans higher grades, it also made the evaluations more subjective and less transparent. Co-sponsorships and committee votes are easily tracked, but accessibility and “behind-the-scenes work” are, well, behind the scenes.
In July 2016, NEA celebrated the passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act by bestowing its Friend of Education award on the bill’s co-authors, Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.). NEA’s 2017 report card gave Sen. Alexander an “A,” even though he had voted with the union on only one of eight key votes.
In the last session of Congress, Sen. Alexander voted with NEA on one of nine key votes, but this time the union gave him an “F,” perhaps for his role in ushering the nomination of Betsy DeVos as U.S. Secretary of Education through the Senate.
Also in July 2016, NEA trumpeted Hillary Clinton’s selection of Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) as running mate by noting he “earned an A on the National Education Association legislative report card.” The union failed to mention that every Senate Democrat had received an “A,” or that Sen. Kaine had supported the union’s position only 25% of the time.
The latest NEA report card again granted an “A” to every Senate Democrat, as well as independent Senators Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Angus King of Maine, who caucus with the Democrats. Fifty Senate Republicans received an “F.”
The two exceptions were Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Sen. Susan Collins of Maine. Murkowski received an “A” and Collins a “B.”
These two senators famously voted against the DeVos nomination, which explains their popularity with NEA. But they voted with NEA on only four of nine key votes.
The grade distribution in the House was similar. All 193 House Democrats received an “A” while 195 House Republicans received an “F.”
Eleven House Republicans received an “A” — ten of whom would fit in a circle with about a 200-mile radius. They include Frank Lobiondo, Chris Smith, and Leonard Lance from New Jersey; Peter King, Dan Donovan, and John Katko from New York; and Ryan Costello, Pat Meehan, Brian Fitzpatrick, and Charlie Dent from Pennsylvania.
Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, from Florida, also received an “A.”
A look at the legislators’ voting records reveals only one, Rep. LoBiondo, voted with NEA on all seven key votes. Each of the Pennsylvania Congressmen voted against the union at least twice.
Despite NEA’s claims, its report card reflects little about Congress and a lot about how the union is welded to the Democratic Party. What is the point of “A” and “F” when all that matters are “D” and “R”?
Recent Intercepts. EIA’s daily blog, Intercepts, covered these topics February 9-14:
* Colluding and Colliding. Vegas teachers’ union accused of colluding with powerful evil force.
* Despite All the Talk, Charter School Unions Still Mostly a Function of State Law. The easy way to organize.
* Union President Loses Her S**t Over Truthful Campaign Flier. Switch to decaf.
* The Department of Education Is Wrong. Teachers were not pulled out of school to man union’s publicity stunt.
Quote of the Week. “Despite its potential for being a powerful show of union strength, most teachers do not enjoy the gathering at the Neal S. Blaisdell Arena. Walking into the Blaisdell from the free parking provided by McKinley High School, you pass a lot of people walking out, having already signed in.” — Ethan Porter, school site representative for the Hawaii State Teachers Association, describing Institute Day, a union-sponsored professional development day. HSTA’s history of the day notes the union thought the sign-in was unnecessary because “teachers were not babies and were professional enough to go to the Institute without threats.” (February 14 Honolulu Civil Beat)
‘Where Hope Goes to Die’: What It’s Like to Work For a Teachers Union — as Detailed By 13 Disgruntled Employees
February 8, 2018
‘Where Hope Goes to Die’: What It’s Like to Work For a Teachers Union — as Detailed By 13 Disgruntled Employees. Working for a teachers union can be rewarding in many ways. The perks are exceptional, and those who believe in the union’s causes find themselves paid well for doing good.
But the National Education Association and American Federation of Teachers have struggled with their role as employer. They are self-proclaimed defenders of working people, yet when faced with labor problems common to most employers, often resort to tactics reminiscent of the most hidebound corporations.
Glassdoor.com is a web site that allows employees and former employees to anonymously describe and rate the companies and organizations for which they have worked. An examination of the comments from current and former teacher union employees shows that most greatly appreciate the salary and benefits, but recognize that there is a price.
These comments were posted during the last three years on Glassdoor. We don’t the know the specific circumstances that led to these postings, but the themes are similar and reflect what I have heard from union staffers.
Former AFT employee:
“Offer their employees a living wage and amazing benefits. Seem to genuinely care about their staff well-being, albeit only when convenient for them.
“No accountability, no work-life balance, no real opportunity to grow in a position. There is a dwindling office culture and outlooks are bleak. People snipe one another (sic) if it means they get ahead even slightly. Not dealing with the fast-approaching reality that unions will be crushed by the far-right political contingency and upcoming legal battles.”
Advice: “Audit spending, especially in the president’s office.”
Former AFT organizer:
“The culture of the AFT is so broken that the National Reps and even their directors (your supervisors) joke around about never landing in a city without locating the first liquor store.”
Advice: “There needs to be a complete overhaul of leadership. Many of the middle and upper middle management are cruel alcoholics who couldn’t organize their way out of a bucket.”
Current AFT organizer:
“Favoritism is rampant. Office politics are sometimes terrible.
“If you have to work with a local or state affiliate in addition to your project, good luck — sometimes the resulting bureaucracy is a nightmare. You will see campaigns run into the ground and members thrown under the bus.
“Some AFT National Representatives are awful to work for. They mistreat their staff and fire them for petty reasons, or are just generally incompetent.”
Former AFT employee:
“The best work is in the field, helping members and workers gain power on the job and in the community.
“The headquarters has an often toxic culture of petty jealousies and long-simmering grievances.”
Former NEA employee:
“An excellent opportunity here to do some exciting work for a meaningful mission. I worked with some really good people there, as well. Exceptional benefits and pay that is hard to find in the progressive/non profit space.
“Management was severely lacking. There is a ridiculous pecking order there, as other reviewers have mentioned. Some managers liked to pull rank to get what they wanted, even if their expectations were unreasonable or unrealistically high. Other managers were not good at interpersonal relationships and generally knowing how to talk to people respectfully, especially their subordinates.
“Every single one of the managers need mandatory management training (and the ability to talk to people like they are adults and not children that they control).”
Current California Teachers Association employee:
“Poor leadership with micromanagement style, stressful and negative environment, several disgruntled employees who are mentally checked out counting down to retirement.”
Current Colorado Education Association employee:
“Decent benefits and free parking downtown. Terrible management. They don’t want to hear anything that goes against what they are doing.”
Former Maryland State Education Association employee:
“Good pay & benefits, in nice location (historic Annapolis, adjacent to waterfront and restaurants); decent mission and purpose.
“Internal climate undermines employee morale (first day on the job, I was told ‘be careful about speaking with those on the fifth floor’ — where elected leaders have their offices); job security drives many people to just do minimum and play it safe, spending hours online or gossiping.”
Current Maryland State Education Association employee:
“Solid employment, with most members paying mandatory dues, so no layoffs. Good salary and benefits. Management is not very smart, so only need ego appeased to keep happy.
“Have worked at state affiliated offices for over ten years and witnessed steady decline in morale, influence and concern for members. State (executive director) is so bad, lobbying staff try to keep him from interacting with legislators. Local (executive director) is so bad, staff leave for other local offices. If hardworking, burned-out members working in schools really knew about wasted time spent gossiping or browsing web — check out game playing history on server — or professional conference in Vegas, they would not be happy.”
Former Maryland State Education Association employee:
“Adversarial relationship of management towards staff is intentional. Control is the main objective.”
Former Massachusetts Teachers Association coordinator:
“Where hope goes to die. Incredibly generous pay and benefits with the complete absence of accountability. If you’re only in it for yourself, this is the place for you.
“A bricolage of otherwise unemployable misfits consumed with reacting to the mercurial behavior of self-aggrandized elected leaders who are not fit to shape the behaviors of house pets, let alone students.”
Former Michigan Education Association bargaining specialist:
“Excellent pay and benefits. More vacation time than just about any place else you can think of. Fabulous, intelligent, well-trained colleagues who are very supportive. Many training opportunities to improve skills. Ability to team with colleagues to work on projects. Flexibility in hours and ability to work from home at times. Perfect for independent, self-starters. Strong national organization with accompanying training and learning opportunities.
“Inevitably, management always forgets where it came from. The organization is strong on promoting from within, but somehow there is a magic filter than keeps management employees from applying what they preach to their own personnel. Very vindictive personnel executives. Seems to be a thrill in making staff jump through unnecessary hoops, especially with regard to training. Terrible work/life balance as the hours are excessive and staff are stretched to the limit. Very stressful work, but also challenging and rewarding at times.”
Advice: “Conduct exit interviews so you don’t have to read this stuff on the internet.”
Current North Carolina Association of Educators employee:
“Management treats employees with total disrespect. The only thing management is good for is taking credit for the work others do. And copy and paste emails. All while making 6 figures!”
It’s likely that working conditions at teacher unions are not as bad as they are depicted here, nor as good as the unions would like you to think. One would hope, however, that these reviews would cause unions to clean up their own messes before giving others house-cleaning tips.
Recent Intercepts. EIA’s daily blog, Intercepts, covered these topics February 2-7:
* What Are California’s Public Sector Unions Up To? My new column for LA School Report.
* Not Everyone’s Thrilled With Chicago Teachers Union Merger. Every labor activist’s model of modern unionism has its problems.
Quote of the Week. “At a broad national level, statistics tell us there is no teacher shortage. In fact, the number of U.S. teachers has grown by 13 percent in four years, far outpacing the 2 percent rise in student enrollment during the same period.” — Debra Viadero, reporter. (January 23 Education Week)
February 1, 2018
As Union Membership Drops Among Teachers, Will Weaker States Survive Janus? Union membership rates increased modestly across the entire U.S. economy in 2017, despite lagging numbers in the area where union market share is largest — the local government sector. A deeper dive into figures provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics reveals that teacher unions had a particularly bad year, losing two full percentage points in their share of America’s teaching force.
Unionization rates by job category are available on unionstats.com, a database compiled by economists Barry Hirsch and David Macpherson. Although the numbers merge public and private-sector teachers, they still provide a valuable overall look at the success of union recruitment efforts relative to the number of potential members.
Last year 44.9 percent of U.S. elementary and middle school teachers were union members, down from 46.9 percent in 2016. Secondary school teachers belonged to a union at a 50.2 percent rate, down from 52.3 percent, and special education teachers were union members at a 51 percent rate, down from 53.9 percent.
These rates also provide a much-needed perspective to the debate over agency fees and the Janus v. AFSCME case, which will be heard by the Supreme Court in late February. Even under current law it is less than a 50-50 proposition that a teacher belongs to a union. Perhaps we ought to pay more attention to what non-members think and say about education, since they are the majority.
Hirsch and Macpherson also break down public sector unionization by state. I culled membership rates from their tables, and noted the change from 2016 to 2017.
The government workforce is more than 50 percent unionized in only 10 states. All are agency-fee states. Of course, many job categories —most management positions, for example — cannot be unionized, which makes 100 percent unionization unachievable. Unions themselves offer the best benchmark for how high rates can reach: 73.8 percent of their employees were unionized in 2017.
If agency fees were to be abolished, membership rates in the 22 agency-fee states would fall dramatically over time. The open question is how large of a trickle-down effect will occur in the other 28 states. Will they carry on as usual or will they suffer from reduced financial and organizing support from their parent unions? The future health of the national public-sector labor movement may depend on whether it can avoid being divided into camps of haves and have-nots.
Recent Intercepts. EIA’s daily blog, Intercepts, covered these topics January 25-31:
* Teacher Union Plans to Take Dues Even If You Stop Being a Teacher. Member for life, and maybe after.
* Who’s Most Worried About Janus? NEA Employees. Staff union says NEA’s membership reports “can be easily manipulated.”
* NEA’s Presidential Endorsement Process May Get an Overhaul. No more inside jobs.
* Explained: The Unexplained Disappearance of 69,000 AFT Members. Fee-payers aren’t members, unless you want them to make your membership numbers look bigger.
* Montana Union Merger Approved. Four of every five Montana government employees will belong to one union.
Quote of the Week. “It’s not obvious that a union would be better off negotiating only on behalf of its members. Because they would be setting up the possibility that the non-members could get paid more than the union members, which would obviously prompt some members to resign their membership.” — Catherine Fisk, University of California Berkeley law professor. (January 18 ThinkProgress)
January 24, 2017
Union Membership Posts Modest Increase Despite Decline Among Local Government Workers. The Bureau of Labor Statistics released its annual report on union membership last Friday, and for a change there was hopeful news for organized labor. Although BLS reported the overall unionization rate unchanged at 10.7 percent of the U.S. workforce, the raw numbers show the rate increased from 10.69 percent to almost 10.75 percent.
The unionized share of the workforce also increased in both the private and public sectors, a heartening trend given that the labor movement has been sustained for decades by its more than one-third share of government employees — while private sector membership fell to 6.5 percent.
“In the face of a challenging year, the power of working people is on the rise,” said AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka.
Alas, the encouraging numbers did not extend to local government employees, who are by far the most highly unionized segment of the economy. This category includes police officers, firefighters, and public school teachers. The overall unionization rate for these workers fell from 40.3 percent to 40.1 percent.
The initial BLS release does not further disaggregate by job title, though I expect those numbers will be available soon. American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten seemed to indicate that her union bucked the trend, fueled by the addition of “40,000 educators in Puerto Rico.”
Weingarten’s numbers assume every eligible education employee in Puerto Rico will become a union member — a claim she can make only because AFT has a rather odd arrangement with the local union, the Asociación de Maestros de Puerto Rico. According to the agreement, AMPR pays AFT $1 per member per month — about one-twentieth of the normal rate — and none of it is taken from teacher paychecks. The local union pays out of its own pocket.
Puerto Rico aside, AFT’s membership accounting has some anomalies, including an unexplained disappearance of 69,000 members in 2016.
Projecting future trends from the BLS numbers would be a mistake. If, as expected, the U.S. Supreme Court puts an end to agency fees this spring in the Janus v. AFSCME case, the effect on public sector union membership would be immediate. But I think many are overstating how drastic the changes will be, in the short term, for the labor movement.
For one thing, Janus does not affect private sector unions, and that is where most of the current union membership growth resides. Second, while unions will have to get employees to sign up in order to receive any money from them, they can’t be counted on to inform those employees that they have the right not to sign up. It may take years before many government workers are even aware they don’t have to pay.
Finally, unions have made it clear they have no intention of giving up exclusive bargaining privileges. As long as they maintain their status as the sole negotiator of employee salaries, benefits, and working conditions, they will continue to hold a certain level of power in policymaking. And just because a teacher or support employee isn’t a union member, that doesn’t mean he or she can’t be motivated to make common cause with unions on campaigns and legislation.
Those on both the left and the right predicting an utter collapse of unions once Janus is decided are in for a nasty shock. Union membership rates have been falling steadily for 40 years, and who’s to say they are less powerful now?
Recent Intercepts. EIA’s daily blog, Intercepts, covered these topics January 18-23:
* Clark County Union Dispute Goes to Trial. Motions to dismiss dismissed.
* Tagline Corroboration. Rich redefined.
* What We Need Is An Even BIGGER Hammer. After much deliberation, unions come up with a campaign strategy for 2018.
* Let’s All Sing Like the Birdies Sing. When you’re paying the union that much in dues, you might as well have them write your tweets for you.
Quote of the Week. “Look, I don’t want to say the teachers unions are doomed at the Supreme Court in the Janus case before it’s even been argued. And it’s a complicated case and the justices could come down in a variety of ways in. And the Supreme Court sometimes surprises. But…the AFT filed their amicus brief in the case last week, and, well, they cite Valerie Strauss’ reporting in support of their argument. So, yeah, they are probably doomed.” — Andrew Rotherham. (January 22 Eduwonk)
January 11, 2017
The ‘One Percent’ Leaders of America’s Top Teachers Unions, All Making More Than $300,000 a Year.
“It’s not fair that we have to live paycheck to paycheck.” – Randi Weingarten, American Federation of Teachers president, annual salary $472,197
Income inequality is a contentious policy issue and labor unions are at the forefront of the debate, professing themselves champions of the working class against the predations of the one-percenters.
But doing good also helps the top officers of those unions to do very well — so much so that they themselves have entered into the realm of the ultra-wealthy.
The financial analysts at DQYDJ.com specialize in examining personal income and net worth. Using data from the U.S. Census Bureau, they determined that for an individual to reside in the top 1% of pre-tax income he or she needed to have earned $300,800 in 2016.
I reviewed 2016 salary information in U.S. Department of Labor financial disclosure reports for both the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers, taking care to include only gross wages and taxable allowances in my computations.
NEA President Lily Eskelsen García ($317,826) and Executive Director John Stocks ($355,721) easily cleared the threshold, as did AFT President Randi Weingarten ($472,197), Secretary-Treasurer Loretta Johnson ($359,584), and Executive Vice President Mary Cathryn Ricker ($325,314).
I was also able to comprehensively examine the wages of NEA’s workforce as a whole, because the union noted which of its employees were temps, and not full-time workers.
Along with Eskelsen García and Stocks, another 18 NEA employees belong to the top two percent of U.S. wage earners. An additional 104 fall into the top 5%.
All told, NEA’s payroll for 2016 was just over $68.6 million for 555 employees – an average of $123,613 per worker. That average worker fits into the top 8% percent of U.S. wage earners. By comparison, the average 2016 teacher salary of $58,353 placed that individual in the top 30%.
While NEA’s cash compensation is generous, its pension and benefit package is even more so.
Of course there are people whose annual incomes dwarf those of teacher union officers, and some of them advocate education policies contrary to those of NEA and AFT. But the unions have fallen prey to the all-too-common definition of the rich as “anyone who makes more money than I do.”
Recent Intercepts. EIA’s daily blog, Intercepts, covered these topics January 2-10:
* Bennies. Increasingly, that’s where your education dollar is going.
* New Front Opened in Clark County Battle. Separatists vs. loyalists at the ballot box.
* State Ballot Measure Campaigns NEA Funded in 2016-17. Massachusetts and Georgia got the most.
* Hell Freezes Over. “It is not accurate to say Pennsylvania currently has a teacher shortage.”
* It’s a Brand New Year, But the Same Old Story. How can there be hundreds of newspaper stories about teacher shortages without one comparing the number of teachers to previous years?
* After Christmas Truce, Nevada Union Dispute Resumes. Pets no longer insured.
* Hardball Is a Game Two Can Play. Supervise-to-rule.
Quote of the Week. “When might it make sense to cede exclusive representation? Can we win something like the Florida model—bargaining exclusivity without the obligation to represent non-members in grievances—in some states?” — Steve Downs, former officer of the Transport Workers Union Local 100. (January 4 Labor Notes)
December 20, 2017
Teachers union officers and activists had a lot to say in 2017, and others had a lot to say about them. Here are the 10 most memorable teacher union quotes of 2017, in countdown order:
10. “And if they vote, they will lose — they will get slaughtered. It’s not democracy to let them vote. What would be democratic is to let them build their union.” — Kate Bronfenbrenner, director of labor education research at Cornell University’s School of Industrial Labor Relations, commenting on the American Federation of Teachers’s decision to cancel a representation vote at Paul Public Charter School in Washington, D.C. (April 3, The American Prospect)
9. “As long as the teachers union hates him, I’ll support him for governor.”— Richard Riordan, former mayor of Los Angeles, speaking of former L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who once worked for the teachers union but has since gotten on its bad side. (Feb. 17, Los Angeles Times)
8. “[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. (Oct. 5, ICEUFT Blog)
7. “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. (Aug. 18, Tampa Bay Times)
6. “I assure you, in a relatively short period of time, there will be an uprising that 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.” — John Stocks, executive director of the National Education Association, during a Sept. 21 speech at the Hayden Lakes Country Club in Idaho.
5. “Be prepared to lose 30-40% of your membership base. I don’t believe it will go that high in CTA, but we need to be prepared.” — Joe Nuñez, executive director of the California Teachers Association, predicting the consequences if agency fees are eliminated, in a Jan. 29 speech to the union’s State Council.
4. “We know why parents sometimes embrace these voucher schemes. They move their kids to these programs because they want smaller class size, safer environments and less and more sensible testing. That’s exactly what we want for public schools.” — Joanne McCall, president of the Florida Education Association, after the state Supreme Court rejected the union’s appeal against Florida’s tuition tax credit program. (Jan. 18, Miami Herald)
3. “As Secretary of Education, would you carry your intent to destroy Detroit Public Schools to all public schools?” One of the American Federation of Teachers’s #Questions4Betsy during Betsy DeVos’s Jan. 17 confirmation hearing.
2. “As England was preparing for invasion during WWII, Winston Churchill said, ‘We shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.’ And it is in that vein that we will prepare for the fights to come. …We will fight this battle and, if we persist, our enemies won’t land on our shores. Rather, like England, it will be us who storms across the channel to fight on their turf.” — Martin Messner, secretary-treasurer of New York State United Teachers, comparing the union’s fight to keep agency fees to the Battle of Britain in an April 7 speech to the NYSUT Representative Assembly. Messner resigned his position in November.
1. “The people of Van Wert are proud of their public schools. 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. This community understands that Title I is not simply a budget line but a lifeline. Why I am telling you about this town? Because these are the schools I wanted Betsy DeVos to see — public schools in the heart of the heart of America…. Make no mistake. 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.” — Randi Weingarten, American Federation of Teachers president, speaking at the July 20 AFT TEACH conference in Washington DC. Of 2,037 students in the Van Wert public schools, just 21 are African-American.
December 13, 2017
The National Education Association Assails Corporations While Making Money From Them. “For decades, corporate CEOs and the wealthy have fought to enrich themselves at the expense of the rights and pocketbooks of working people, and that harms families in communities across the country.” — Lily Eskelsen García, president of the National Education Association
This year the National Education Association took in more than $370 million in dues and agency fees, upon which it paid no taxes. Analysts, including myself, devote time and energy to ascertain where NEA spends its money. But the union routinely collects more than it spends. What does it do with the rest?
The NEA currently holds $108.5 million in investments. Its public disclosure reports require it to itemize only those investments that exceed 5 percent of the total in two categories: marketable securities and “other investments.” NEA has almost $73 million in “other investments,” no single one of which exceeds $3.65 million, so NEA is not required to itemize those transactions. Where that money goes is anyone’s guess.
However, we do know where almost all of NEA’s $35.7 million in marketable securities are invested. The marketable securities consist of various types of mutual funds — some that invest in bonds, some in stocks, and some that are indexed to exchanges. Here they are (rounded off):
Eaton Vance Atlanta Capital Small- to Mid-Cap Fund — $1.8 million
Federated Strategic Value Dividend Fund — $2.8 million
iShares Russell 1000 Growth Exchange-Traded Fund — $3.3 million
Loomis Sayles Bond Fund — $5 million
SPDR Standard & Poor’s Dividend Exchange-Traded Fund — $2.8 million
Vanguard Total Bond Market Index Fund — $5 million
Vanguard Growth Index Fund — $3.3 million
Vanguard Institutional Index Fund — $2.2 million
Western Asset Core Plus Bond Fund — $5 million
The bond funds spread their investments among all sectors of the bond market: U.S. Treasury bonds, mortgage-backed securities, and other government and corporate bonds.
The dividend and stock funds invest in many major U.S. corporations: AT&T, Verizon, Target, Chevron, Exxon Mobil, IBM, Apple, Google, Facebook, Amazon, Comcast, Coca-Cola, Philip Morris, Microsoft, Boeing, JP Morgan Chase, Berkshire Hathaway, and Aramark. In fact, NEA invests in 9 of the 10 richest corporations in the United States.
The fund management firms themselves are enormously wealthy enterprises. BlackRock, which manages the iShares fund, handles almost $6 trillion in assets. Vanguard manages $4.2 trillion; State Street Global Advisors, almost $3 trillion.
Is Eskelsen García right? Have the people who handle all this money and run large corporations “fought to enrich themselves at the expense of the rights and pocketbooks of working people?” They certainly lobby the government and seek to elect friendly politicians. But they are ecumenical about it.
I haven’t added up all the contributions in this OpenSecrets list of the top individual political contributors in the 2016 cycle, but the eyeball test suggests that for every big-ticket Republican donor there is a big-ticket Democratic donor. I suppose it’s possible that NEA executive director John Stocks hates having billionaire hedge fund managers Thomas Steyer and Jonathan Soros in the Democracy Alliance — the network of wealthy progressive political donors — but I doubt it.
Railing against the rich is a popular pastime among teachers unions. Union activists use corporate products like computers, cell phones, and social media to remind us every day how awful corporations are. It works because union members are working class. But it also serves to disguise the fact that labor unions and their officers and staff have more in common with those corporations and their employees than the unions would like to let on.
Union Report will have more on that in a future column.
Recent Intercepts. EIA’s daily blog, Intercepts, covered these topics December 8-12:
* A Question Rarely Asked. How many teachers do we need?
* Indiana State Teachers Association on Track to Fiscal Solvency… by 2027. Still on the hook to NEA for $10.5 million.
Quote of the Week. “Medical providers are now so familiar with problems with non-payment by the Teachers Health Trust that they are simply refusing service to patients. That’s an urgent crisis.” — Matthew Callister, attorney in class-action lawsuit against the Teachers Health Trust in Clark County, Nevada. (December 12 Las Vegas Review-Journal)
December 7, 2017
An Edutopian View of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. Edutopia posted an article on December 1 about the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards headlined “National Board Aims to Certify 1 Million.” If it told the whole story, it might be headlined “National Board Aims to Pay Back $1 Million.”
NBPTS offers a voluntary national certification program for teachers that seeks to establish a higher standard than state licensure. The fees for certification total about $2,000, but some states and organizations provide financial assistance. The U.S. Department of Education has issued $10.4 million in grants to the organization through various established funds. Some school districts give nationally certified teachers additional pay.
The program has been generally well-received over the years. The Edutopia article explains that the board has certified 112,000 teachers in its 30-year existence. It does not mention that the original goal of NBPTS was 100,000 certified teachers by 2003 – a goal it did not reach until last year. Its new goal is 1 million nationally certified teachers by 2025.
This is an ambitious target, particularly since NBPTS has had trouble handling its money recently. The organization’s net assets since 2010 show a steady and troubling decline:
2010: $32.8 million
2011: $28.9 million
2012: $22.5 million
2013: $16.8 million
2014: $11.9 million
2015: $5 million
2016: $1.8 million
A $1 million, no-interest loan from the National Education Association in 2016 hasn’t stemmed the decline.
Edutopia doesn’t address the financial health of NBPTS, but does note that “the board has introduced an online tool called Atlas, which contains videos of certified teachers at work to help guide the application process from afar.”
Let’s hope Atlas is valuable, since NBPTS used it as collateral to secure the NEA loan.
The loan’s term is five years, with $50,000 repayments to NEA for the first three years, followed by balloon payments of $250,000 and $600,000 in 2020 and 2021, respectively.
Further help from the federal government or even the national teachers’ unions seems, at best, uncertain. Without a secure revenue stream, the organization’s lofty goals are unreachable, and its future is in doubt.
Recent Intercepts. EIA’s daily blog, Intercepts, covered these topics December 1-6:
* Winner of NEA PAC Giveaway Got Locked Away. How quickly one’s luck can turn.
* Don’t Pass Laws You Can’t Enforce. Ridiculous.
* Knock, Knock. Janice?
Quote of the Week. “CCEA would like to reassure you that you will continue to have professional liability insurance and be provided legal services, as well as not lose insurance plans you may have purchased through NEA’s discount program. Though many of you will never utilize this benefit, it is nonetheless there for you.” – Vikki Courtney and Theo Small, president and vice president of the Clark County Education Association, responding to the state and national unions’ cutting off CCEA member benefits because of nonpayment of dues. The unions are litigating their disputes. (December 1 CCEA letter to members)
November 30, 2017
Five Half-Truths Teacher Unions Tell. Teacher union officers and staff are professionals. They know how easy it is to get caught in a lie, particularly in the internet age. So they rarely lie.
They are also advocates, which means they know how to frame statements so that they are factually defensible but omit opposing arguments that are equally defensible. Critics sometimes deride such union statements as “myths,” but they are actually half-truths presented as whole truths.
Here are five half-truths teacher unions tell that appear impervious to any amount of counterpoint.
1. NEA and AFT affiliates in right-to-work states are not labor unions.
This statement is true insofar as the Internal Revenue Service defines a labor organization as “an association of workers who have combined to protect or promote their interests by bargaining collectively with their employers to secure better working conditions, wages, and similar benefits.” If you cannot bargain collectively you cannot be a union, the reasoning goes.
National Education Association affiliates in states like Georgia, Oklahoma and Tennessee refer to themselves as professional associations. They avoid the word “union” because unions are generally unpopular in those states.
In many right-to-work states, NEA and American Federation of Teachers’ affiliates have gained tax-exempt status by successfully applying as 501(c)(6) organizations, which primarily include business leagues, chambers of commerce, and “associations of persons having some common business interest.”
Claiming that affiliates aren’t unions is a half-truth because NEA and AFT both have unified dues structures. That is, you cannot join the Oklahoma Education Association without also joining NEA, which is without question a labor union, according to the IRS, the U.S. Department of Labor, and itself.
Every working teacher and education employee who belongs to an NEA or AFT affiliate belongs to a labor union. Their dues money goes to a labor union. They elect their union representatives, who elect the leadership. A labor union provides them with money and staff for services. Their state affiliate may call itself a business league or a professional association, but that’s a distinction without a difference.
2. Without agency fees, people who don’t join the union are freeloaders.
With the Janus case pending before the U.S. Supreme Court, teacher union representatives constantly remind us that without agency fees teachers who do not join the union will benefit from a contract without paying for it.
This is true, and there are a number of states where it is already the case. It’s a consequence of exclusive representation: Federal law states that if unions want to be the only representative of workers in a bargaining unit, it must represent everyone, regardless of whether they become union members. This can come with a financial cost to the union.
But the government doesn’t force unions to be exclusive representatives. In fact, many industrialized nations have multiple unions representing workers in the same unit. America’s public employee unions treat the idea with disdain, calling it “unworkable,” and that it would “undermine morale.”
The teacher unions also assume that a union contract is a benefit for everyone, and that certainly is not the case. Science and math teachers, low-seniority teachers, high-performing teachers, and teachers who might simply want a different insurance provider are just some of the employees who may be sacrificing individual benefits under a union contract. Unions collect dues from these folks even though the contract may be a detriment to their personal interests. So it is just as accurate to say the union is freeloading on their money.
3. The amount teacher union officers are paid.
Whether union officers are overpaid, underpaid or paid just the right amount is a judgment call, but it is hard to make that call when you can’t easily determine what they are paid.
It is not enough to grab a source document and run with the number listed. For example, NEA’s filing with the IRS states that union president Lily Eskelsen-García made $361,003 in 2016. The union’s filing with the U.S. Department of Labor says $332,944, and NEA’s budget document says $289,286.
The difference is what each source includes, or excludes, from the computation. The IRS naturally wants to know the taxable income, while NEA lists only the salary line for the president’s position. Eskelsen-García also receives an additional 20 percent of that amount as a cash allowance because NEA doesn’t have a pension plan for elected officers, and another 20 percent as a living allowance to maintain a residence in Washington, D.C., during the maximum six years an NEA president serves.
However, union officers also often defer income for tax purposes, so that their pay while in office may appear smaller. They then receive that deferred income after they leave office, sometimes years later.
4. Al Shanker “envisioned” charter schools.
The late Al Shanker, president of both the United Federation of Teachers in New York City, and the American Federation of Teachers, can rightly be called a visionary. His championing of the charter school concept that sprung from the brow of University of Massachusetts professor Ray Budde in 1974 brought the idea out of academic obscurity into the mainstream of education policy. There is also truth in the assertion that the charter concept quickly broke away from Shanker’s vision of what it should be.
But let’s not go nuts. Shanker championed a lot of things during his 33 years in union office, including A Nation At Risk. He did not put the power of his union behind his vision for charter schools, and every charter school law in every state with charters was enacted over the objections and opposition of that state’s teacher union.
Shanker’s flirtation with charters is mostly used today by AFT to paint charter schools as some sort of Frankenstein’s monster, a terrible deviation from the innovation of their creator.
5. Union dues are not used for politics.
This is the most persistent half-truth of all. Just as with officer salaries, the misinformation stems from definitions and categorization.
If you narrowly define “politics” as financial contributions to candidates for public office, then it is true, union dues are not used for politics. It is illegal to take dues money and give it to a candidate or political party.
Teacher unions often have FAQs on their web sites or literature for new members like the ones for the Lane County Education Association in Oregon:
Q: Do member dues go toward supporting political candidates?
A: No, your dues pay staff salaries and provide funds for the various services (the Oregon Education Association) offers to members.
You will note that the question is very specific, allowing for a definitive answer, while the language about how dues are spent is vague.
The problem is that most people broadly define politics to include lobbying, independent expenditures, issue advertising, ballot initiative campaigns, rallies, protests, and endorsements. All of those things are paid for with dues money, which every union member, regardless of his or her political views, contributes. Virtually every other type of political spending other than direct contributions to candidates and parties is made with dues money.
If you are a Republican union member, you have paid, do pay, and will pay to help elect Democrats to office. If you are a New Jersey Education Association member who supports state Senate President Steve Sweeney, you paid a lot in an unsuccessful attempt to remove him. If you are a National Education Association member who supported Bernie Sanders, well, you were paying for Hillary Clinton before you even realized it.
As you can see, explaining these issues takes time and space. In politics, you usually lose an argument if your opponent makes straight, simple claims and you are the one doing the explaining. That’s why teacher unions like to reach for half-truths from their communications toolbox.
Recent Intercepts. EIA’s daily blog, Intercepts, covered these topics November 27-29:
* NEA & Nevada Affiliate Cut Off Las Vegas Teachers Access to Union Benefits. They’ll have to get their pet insurance elsewhere.
* “Well, I Have a Job to Do!” School bullying.
* Montana Merger Vote Set For January 20. New union would represent about 90% of all government employees in the state.
Quote of the Week. “Many legal experts have criticized the rigid inflexibility of the union’s position, pointing out that it is contrary to contract clause principles, inconsistent with general contract and economic theory, and effectively depresses the salaries and benefits of new generations of public employees.” – attorneys for California Gov. Jerry Brown, in a brief filed in response to a union lawsuit against his 2012 pension reform law. (November 22 Sacramento Bee)
November 21, 2017
NYSUT’s Secretary-Treasurer Resigns. A top official in New York state’s teachers union who also taught full time in local schools resigned his management position, effective immediately, at the union’s board of directors meeting on Saturday.
Teachers who serve as union officers are typically granted a leave from their school positions because of the hours required to teach effectively.
Martin Messner had served as secretary-treasurer for New York State United Teachers since April 2014, but his leave of absence from the Schoharie Central School District was not renewed this year. Messner returned to teaching health and physical education full time in September while conducting his union duties on nights and weekends with a reduced salary from NYSUT, a move that generated buzz on teacher blogs.
“Yesterday the NYSUT (Board of Directors) and AFT offered me a different way to serve our members and I accepted. As of today I’m resigning as the NYSUT Secretary-Treasurer. I will be helping out with the transition to prevent any gaps while we restructure.”
There was no immediate word on what Messner’s new position is, or whether he will continue to work for NYSUT or for the American Federation of Teachers. His severance package, however, is generous: 3.5 months of salary, a two-year pension credit, and $25,000 for a 529 benefit plan or a tax-deferred annuity. He will also be paid $5,000 a month as a consultant by the AFT and NYSUT from March-August in 2018.
“I actually made the decision to return to the classroom (absent change in my leave situation) back in late August,” Messner told Union Report. “If my leave had been extended I wouldn’t have left (the NYSUT position). My intent in working crazy hours was to finish up some projects that I was working on and then leave while providing an adequate transition. At the Board meeting I was offered a new role that would address my concerns about transition and allow me to see my kids at night. It was appealing to me and I took it.”
Messner added that he was “very proud of what we accomplished and I leave NYSUT’s operational budget in a strong position. I’m hopeful that the next secretary-treasurer can build on what I did.”
The NYSUT board of directors has the authority to fill the secretary-treasurer vacancy until the union’s next representative assembly in April 2018. However, it appears Messner’s duties will be divided among the other executive officers, with first vice president J. Philippe Abraham handling much of the load.
Recent Intercepts. EIA’s daily blog, Intercepts, covered these topics November 17-20:
* Using Union Dues to Purchase Twitter Eggs? Sock puppets, trolls, name your epithet.
* Updates from Florida and Nevada. As expected, Clark County school district off the hook in union dispute.
Quote of the Week. “Bargaining and filing grievances have become opaque processes that are divorced from workers’ lives, and removed from any kind of collective struggle. Rather than workers feeling like they run their union together, the model of service unionism creates a transactional relationship between two separate entities, the worker and the union.” – Mindy Isser, an SEIU organizer in Philadelphia, who thinks “we need our unions to be more left-wing and we need rank-and-file members to be politicized.” (November 16 The Nation)
November 16, 2017
The New Jersey Education Association Doesn’t Care What You Think. By any objective measure the New Jersey Education Association had a very good Election Day. Its chosen candidate, Democrat Phil Murphy, was elected governor. Murphy spoke to attendees at the union’s convention last Friday and soon after named NJEA president Marie Blistan to his transition team.
Twenty-four of the 32 state Senate candidates NJEA endorsed won their races, but one losing race may have attracted more attention than all the other contests combined.
The union endorsed Fran Grenier, a pro-Trump Republican, over Democrat and state Senate President Steve Sweeney. Sweeney is one of the most powerful politicians in New Jersey and an officer of the ironworkers union. But he often locked horns with NJEA over pension reform.
The union spent an estimated $5.3 million trying to defeat Sweeney, an astonishing amount considering his district is home to fewer than 54,000 voters. Despite its best efforts, Sweeney cruised to a 17-point victory.
Some members and quite a few Democratic legislators are angry that the union spent so much money that could have been put to better use in more competitive districts. But NJEA officers are having none of it. In a statement released after the election, they claimed Grenier’s “insurgent campaign electrified New Jersey politics and energized NJEA members.”
Both Blistan and NJEA executive director Ed Richardson have taken to op-ed pages to justify their actions, using the same theme.
“Fortunately, I answer only to the members who elected me to lead our union,” wrote Blistan in the Newark Star-Ledger.
“We are an extremely democratic, member-led advocacy organization,” wrote Richardson in the Cherry Hill Courier Post, adding that members “deserve a union that answers only to them, not to any pundit or politician…. So we don’t owe an explanation to anyone who isn’t an NJEA member.”
They are both correct: union leaders do not answer to outsiders. Despite its enormous influence on state politics, NJEA is a private organization that can conduct its internal operations pretty much any way it wants. Whether NJEA is “extremely democratic,” “member-led,” or even answerable to the rank-and-file is a matter for debate, however.
To get a better read on how members actually felt about the campaign against Sweeney, Kelly Heyboer of NJ Advance Media went to the union’s convention. It’s not much of a leap to believe that teachers attending a union convention are more likely to be in touch with what the union is up to, rather than less. But here is what Heyboer found in a random, unscientific sampling of 100 NJEA attendees.
Twenty-eight thought it was a good idea for NJEA to spend the money to defeat Sweeney. Another 28 thought it was a waste of cash. But a sizable plurality of 44 members “didn’t hear anything about it or didn’t care how the NJEA spent its money.”
Carly Sitrin of NJ Spotlight also covered the convention. She didn’t take a poll, but her observations were similar. She reported that few NJEA members seemed aware of the battle with Sweeney and that most “expressed their disconnect or disinterest in dealing with politics.”
That might be a small sample size, but it is still significant. Blistan was elected president of NJEA in a statewide vote that drew — I am reliably informed — about a 10 percent turnout. When she says she is answerable only to the members who elected her, she’s referring to only a fraction of the membership.
NJEA is like most unions in that they are democratically run — but by, and for, those who are most active in the union. They don’t go out of their way to determine the views of members who are less engaged in union activities, and they certainly don’t seek out those who might oppose the union’s stances. The people who show up to conventions already support what the union is doing and its judgment in how it spends dues.
Both Blistan and Richardson noted that NJEA-endorsed candidates were screened by 125 members. Who are these 125 members? “NJEA’s officers, the NJEA Executive Committee, the county association presidents, the NJEA Government Relations Committee, the Congressional Contact Committee, the president of New Jersey Preservice Education Association, the NJREA [retirees association] legislative chairperson, and two NJREA regional legislative chairs.”
All these folks are members, but the most accurate way to describe them is as a small group of elected officers and representatives that made the decision leading to an outlay of more than $5 million on a quixotic campaign. It appears most members — even active ones — knew nothing or cared nothing about it.
NJEA’s officers feel comfortable saying they are answerable only to members because they know it’s not really true. No one will lose his or her job over the Sweeney debacle. There will be no reform, or even review, of the PAC endorsement process. Rank-and-file members will not get a greater say in union affairs because they don’t seem to want one.
Their lack of a bond to the union works nicely for those in charge, but it will be a double-edged sword if and when teachers no longer have to join, or pay. Maybe then NJEA officers will be answerable to members, but there will be a lot fewer of them.
Recent Intercepts. EIA’s daily blog, Intercepts, covered these topics November 9-15:
* Former “Teachers Union Gone Wild” Target Turns Up in the Middle of Addiction Treatment Scam of Union Members. “Brokers and consultants are also often paid to send union members to particular centers; and some treatment centers hire family members of union workers to ensure referrals.”
* Nevada State Education Association Says It Has No Obligation to Provide Financial Information to Affiliates. Or even respond to requests.
* Just Say It: Dues Money Is Used for Political Activities. A lot of members are misinformed about this, and the union wants it that way.
* Veterans Day: My Students Could Have Killed Me. My only teaching experience wasn’t quite like yours.
Quote of the Week. “[Problems that predate the election of Donald Trump include] a fractured mass media which allow people to create news silos that tell them only what they want to hear.” – Mark Gruenberg, reporting for the Press Associates Union News Service, a service of the International Labor Communications Association, on the remarks of Becky Pringle, the vice president of the National Education Association, who was speaking to attendees of a Common Cause conference, held in the auditorium at NEA headquarters. (November 8 Workday Minnesota)
November 9, 2017
Why Millennials Can’t Save Unions. The decline in union membership has been going on so long it is as certain as the sunrise. The percentage of American workers who belong to unions is about half of what it was 35 years ago. The only thing that has kept organized labor from fading into obscurity is the public sector, whose unionization rates have been relatively steady over the same period.
Observers see both crisis and opportunity in the new generation of workers. Some note that millennials tend to support group effort, are more politically liberal, and have a generally positive attitude about unions. Others point to age group figures that show unions have almost three times as many members over 35 as under.
Consideration of both points of view together yields a three-dimensional picture, but when we add a fourth dimension — time — we discover something unexpected about how union membership and age interact.
Using Bureau of Labor Statistics historical data, we find that the unionization rate of all employees under 35 is 7.4 percent. For those 35 to 64, it is 12.9 percent. But ten-year trends show that the unionization rate of the younger cohort has barely changed. It was 7.8 percent in 2006. It is the older group that has dropped significantly, down from 14.8 percent in 2006.
Raw numbers make the difference plainer. There were 16,000 fewer young union members in 2016 than in 2006, but there were 1.1 million fewer older union members.
So while many commentators and union leaders have emphasized the need for outreach to younger workers (myself included), unions have generally maintained their membership levels. The unions’ loss of so large a share of the older workforce, however, comes as a shock.
The available statistics cannot tell us if the trend holds for both public sector and private sector employees, or if teacher unions alone have had this experience. But should the U.S. Supreme Court ban agency fees, a tidal wave of millennials would have to join the labor movement to offset old losses and new. The problem for unions is larger than any combination of charter school teachers, graduate teaching assistants and digital media reporters can solve.
Recent Intercepts. EIA’s daily blog, Intercepts, covered these topics November 2-8:
* IRS Auditing NEA. Right now, that’s all I know.
* What’s Going On at the Chicago Teachers Union? Couldn’t muster a quorum to vote on “a necessary step for the future of public education.”
* Washington Education Association’s School Funding Campaign Is Being Funded by NEA. $400,000 grant includes money for opposition research.
* A Good Election Day for Teacher Unions, Marred Only by Wasted $5.3 Million. The full dues of 6,000 members failed to elect a pro-Trump Republican.
* Updates on Nevada/Clark County Union Dispute. This is going to take some time.
Quote of the Week. “The labor movement might have disappeared entirely were it not for the postwar rise of government employee unions.” – Timothy Noah, employment and immigration editor at Politico. (November 7 Politico Magazine)
This throwaway line is one of the most underappreciated facts of American politics and economics.
November 1, 2017
AFT Says Loss of Agency Fees May Reduce the “Progressive Agenda.” Last week Union Report reported on a directive sent by the National Education Association listing “8 essentials” that should shape local collective bargaining agreements if the U.S. Supreme Court overturns agency fee laws in the coming Janus case. Such laws allow unions to collect payments from non-members, ostensibly to cover the costs of contract negotiation.
Oral arguments in the case may occur as early as January. Plaintiffs will argue that agency fees levied by public-sector unions are unconstitutional because bargaining with the government is a form of political advocacy with which they may not agree.
The unions will argue that engagements with the government as an employer are fundamentally different from those with the government as sovereign, and that workplace “coherence” makes it necessary for non-members to subsidize the majority position. They will claim that fee-payers are not supporting unions’ political speech in any meaningful way.
Which makes the information being disseminated by the American Federation of Teachers to local activists all the more curious. Last week AFT sent Rob Weil, its director of field programs for educational issues, to speak to the Baltimore Teachers Union. In a presentation titled “Janus, Unions, and the Rest,” Weil explained the basics of the Janus case, listed some remedies in the event of an adverse decision, and warned of the implications to AFT and its partners and affiliates.
Among the remedies was one that unions believe will be the next point of contention in a post-Janus world: maintenance of dues agreements. Inserting these agreements in new contracts is one of NEA’s “8 essentials,” and they are also promoted more generally among public-sector unions. The idea is to create “a narrow and individual time frame when a member is permitted to quit the union, usually a year after signing.” Although courts frequently overturn efforts to limit when members can resign, AFT suggests maintenance of dues language can still extend the time they would have to pay.
Even with this planned circumvention, Weil warned that public-sector unions will see an immediate loss of income. In a series of PowerPoint bullets, he predicted an additional ideological effect on union affiliates and partners:
- “Some unions will be unable to stay afloat. This ruling will make it hard for them to exist.
- “The weakening of unions weakens the ability of unions and their social partners to fight for working people.
- “Unions will be forced to spend larger amounts of time and money on membership maintenance instead of other more progressive union activities.
- “The progressive moment [sic] as a whole, and many specific groups, will lose resources (both $$ and people) which will lessen their impact. Some social partners may, unfortunately, no longer exist.
- “The progressive agenda may have to be reduced in reaction to the new rules regarding dues collection.”
It is hard to square the unions’ argument that agency fees are not subsidizing political speech with the claim that their loss will lead to a reduction in the progressive agenda. Even staunch unionists might feel that AFT would benefit from spending more time and money on membership maintenance.
Although their overall numbers will be reduced, it is conceivable that unions will become more progressive organizations. Those who pay dues out of personal choice, rather than mandated obligation, are more likely to support their unions’ political goals as well. There will be less union, but it could be union concentrate.
Given that progressive elements within the unions are already dissatisfied with the status quo, significant changes to the ideological composition of membership because of Janus may lead to more internal problems for NEA and AFT than external problems for their education policy aims.
Recent Intercepts. EIA’s daily blog, Intercepts, covered these topics October 27-31:
* Iowa State Education Association Having No Problems Winning Recertification. Only four of 220 teacher union locals are disbanded.
* Florida Staff Union Is Keeping the NLRB Busy. Coercive actions and statements.
Quote of the Week. “Charter educators joining our ranks would add 1,000 members, increase our collective resources and remove the threat of multiple, competing education unions. A merger would also prepare us for future battles and limit charter proliferation….” – Karen Lewis, president of the Chicago Teachers Union, urging CTU representatives to vote in favor of absorbing the local affiliate for charter schools into CTU. (October 2017 Chicago Union Teacher)
October 26, 2017
NEA’s Post-Janus Plan for Teacher Contracts. We have spent a lot of time analyzing the possible implications of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in the Janus case that would end the union practice of charging agency fees (or “fair share” fees, as the union calls them) to public sector employees who do not become members. Past Union Reports have discussed the potential effects of such a decision on education policy, partisan politics, and union finances.
These are all extremely important, but what will the school districts and local teachers’ unions in your community do if agency fees are eliminated?
Before I answer that, I should point out that in most places there will be no immediate change. For all the union anguish about the effects of an adverse Janus ruling on working people, the case involves only public sector unions where agency fees are currently permitted. A little quick arithmetic with Bureau of Labor Statistics numbers tells me that is somewhere south of 5.8 percent of the U.S. workforce.
States like Texas and North Carolina do not permit public sector collective bargaining at all. Other states like Florida and Nevada permit public sector collective bargaining through an exclusive representative, but do not permit the levying of agency fees. The teachers’ unions in those states will continue to conduct business as they always have. They won’t feel any pinch until subsidies from the national unions begin to shrink due to an overall loss of revenue.
Teachers’ unions in states that charge agency fees, including California, New York, New Jersey, Illinois, and more than a dozen others, will have to make immediate adjustments to their collective bargaining agreements with local school districts. The National Education Association issued to its highest ranking activists a list of “8 essentials to a strong union contract without fair-share fees.”
All eight were designed to maintain the union’s cash flow and access to potential members in the absence of a law that requires them to pay dues or fees.
1) Access to new-hire orientations. The California Teachers Association has already managed to get this provision written into state law. A sales pitch to a captive audience without opposing views permitted should keep member recruitment up.
2) Access to unit member information. Whether a teacher joins or not, the union wants every home address, phone number, and e-mail, updated “preferably on a biweekly basis.”
3) Access to work sites and communication with members. “…and potential members.” The contract is also supposed to prohibit rival organizations any access at all.
4) Release time for leaders and activists. The purpose of release time was to allow teachers to serve as a union officer, or to take leave of their paid duties to work on union contract negotiating teams. The goal appears to be to expand this to include time for whatever task the union chooses to assign.
5) Payroll deduction of dues. Chasing after members to pay their dues is time-consuming and costly, as with a business trying to get customers to pay bills. Better to take the money before they ever see it.
6) Maintenance-of-dues payments. This one is the most insidious. We have already seen a version of it instituted in NEA’s and AFT’s Minnesota affiliate. This contract provision would require teachers to pay dues for at least a full year, even if they drop their membership a day after signing up. This is an attempt to circumvent repeated court rulings that teachers can resign their membership at any time. Under this type of regime, you could resign any time, but you would keep paying unless you revoked your payroll deduction authorization during a union-designated window of time.
7) Payroll deduction of PAC contributions. This is not necessarily connected to the issue of agency fees, but many union membership forms include a box you have to check if you don’t want donations to the state PAC taken from your paycheck.
8) Savings (severability) clause. Aware that some of these provisions may be subject to court challenge, NEA wants to ensure that if one provision is struck down, the others would remain in effect.
All of this is disappointing on two fronts. Those who think the loss of agency fees means the end of public sector union power are sadly mistaken. But it is also a letdown for those who thought the unions’ post-Janus focus would be on making membership relevant to a new generation of teachers. Instead, the unions elected to simply change the locks on the cell doors.
Recent Intercepts. EIA’s daily blog, Intercepts, covered these topics October 20-25:
* Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? New York City teachers will soon be getting some unexpected home visits.
* Good News for Newsom Is the End for Eastin. Sucking up to the union your entire career is no guarantee of anything.
Quote of the Week. “I didn’t get the teachers union’s support because their number one issue is stopping charters.” – Antonio Villaraigosa, candidate for governor of California and former United Teachers Los Angeles organizer. (October 24 San Jose Mercury News)
October 19, 2017
Teacher Turnover Is High — Except When Compared With Other Professions. “They came on in the same old way,” the Duke of Wellington said of the French attacks at Waterloo, “and we saw them off in the same old way.”
I was reminded of this line after reading yet another report by the Learning Policy Institute to frighten us into thinking the U.S. has high teacher turnover rates. Their foray into this territory last year was rebuffed by the elementary methods of a) looking at the numbers; and b) comparing them with those of all other professions. Lo and behold, public education employees quit their jobs at a lower rate than virtually any other profession in the United States.
Not to be deterred, this year LPI insists once more that teacher turnover rates are dangerously high, despite the best efforts of organizations like the National Council on Teacher Quality to refute those claims. LPI says “policymakers should pursue strategies that can improve teacher retention in all schools.” What strategies? Higher pay, smaller class sizes, and greater investments in education.
This is an unusual dispute, in that both sides agree on what the rate is. Data from both the federal labor and education departments put the attrition rate — that is, the percentage of employees who leave teaching — at about 8 percent. LPI would prefer it to be around 3-4 percent, the rate it finds in Finland and Singapore.
Rather than go far afield, it seems sufficient to say that comparing the labor economics of the United States with those of two countries whose combined populations are less than that of Ohio is problematic.
But if you want to compare attrition rates, suppose we look at employers who most certainly pay well, have excellent benefit packages, and have enlightened attitudes about working conditions and employee well-being: the two national teacher unions.
I examined the list of employees for both the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers in Department of Labor filings for the most recent two years. Of 539 NEA employees, 52 were gone the next year (9.65%). Of 386 AFT employees, 46 were gone (11.9%).
Those are great rates of retention, but the public school teacher retention rate is better still.
That is not to say that teachers everywhere are, or ought to be, happy with their jobs. Just as we have seen with the teacher shortage issue, teacher retention is not a national problem with the generic solutions LPI provides. In some places higher pay would make a difference; in others, smaller class sizes. There are some places that could benefit from more turnover to make jobs available for a new generation of teachers and/or teachers of color.
Nevertheless, when the 2018-19 school year begins, I expect Learning Policy Institute shortage and turnover studies will come on in the same old way. God willing, I will still be here to see them off in the same old way.
Recent Intercepts. EIA’s daily blog, Intercepts, covered these topics October 13-18:
* The Straight-Face Awards. The New Jersey Education Association’s campaign against the state’s leading Democratic legislator is leading to some really funny takes.
* Hugs and Missing Tweets. AFT embraces NJEA’s nemesis.
* Nevada Infighting Escalates. Masters of their domain names.
Quote of the Week. “For the next year, she combed through public records and yearbooks, reached out to victims, cold-called district officials, and even showed up at their homes to stitch together a timeline that tracked how, over three decades, a school district had repeatedly opted to protect a powerful male teacher accused of abuse, at the expense of children.” – from a Columbia Journalism Review profile of Portland Oregonian reporter Bethany Barnes and her series of articles documenting 30 years of sexual harassment allegations against a local teacher. (October 18 CJR)
October 12, 2017
NYSUT Secretary-Treasurer Teaches Full Time, Manages Union Finances on Nights and Weekends. Teaching is a demanding job. We know this because teachers tell us so, reporting that they spend upwards of 50 hours each week on classroom duties and after-school tasks.
Being an executive officer of a teachers union is also a demanding job. Unions report that their officers work 35 to 40 hours each week.
Doing both jobs at the same time is problematic at best, so school districts typically grant state and national union officers release time while they serve their elected terms. These leaves of absence are routinely extended, sometimes for decades. Districts hire substitutes to replace union officers, and the union generally reimburses the district for that cost. Sometimes the district pays both the union officer and the substitute, without any reimbursement.
Martin Messner was elected secretary-treasurer of New York State United Teachers in April 2014. The board of the 900-student Schoharie Central School District, about 43 miles west of Albany, granted Messner a three-year unpaid leave of absence from his job teaching health and physical education at the junior high and high school.
Messner was re-elected to his post in April 2017, but the board extended his leave of absence only until June. When school started in September, Messner reported for work. District Superintendent David M. Blanchard confirmed to Union Report on Oct. 3 that Messner has “returned to a full-time teaching position.” It’s not clear why the school board rejected a longer leave for Messner this time around.
The NYSUT constitution states that its executive officers “shall be eligible, at the discretion of the Board of Directors, to serve NYSUT on a full-time basis.” This is what Messner did during his first term, but there is no indication that NYSUT’s board was informed of Messner’s return to the classroom, much less officially authorized it.
Messner’s teaching salary is $57,527 this year, according to a public record database maintained by the Empire Center. He also draws about $240,000 in base salary from his union position, according to NYSUT’s Internal Revenue Service filings.
Arthur Goldstein, a United Federation of Teachers chapter leader who blogs at NYC Educator, wrote that his contacts say Messner is doing his NYSUT work on “nights and weekends” and is drawing a NYSUT salary now reduced by the same amount as his teaching salary, or $182,473 a year instead of $240,000.
“And by the way, if my job were treasurer, I’d also be a little uneasy sending out the message that my nights and weekends, after working full time as a teacher, were worth 180K a year,” Goldstein writes in his Oct. 1 post entitled “Nice Work if You Can Get It.”
Messner could not be reached for comment.
NYSUT spokesman Carl Korn told Union Report, “Martin Messner is teaching in Schoharie County, and while he continues to serve as NYSUT secretary-treasurer, it is with a reduced salary.”
NYSUT’s finances are troubled, with roughly $144 million in debt and $413 million in unfunded pension liabilities for its own employees (not teachers whose retirement is covered by the state). In March, one labor advocate referred to the 600,000-member union’s staff pension system as a “Ponzi scheme.”
Messner’s bio boasts of the many positions he oversees for NYSUT: He heads up the Local Action Project and the Leadership Institute; he serves as chair of the Member Benefits Trust, Employees’ Retirement Plan; the NYSUT Plan for Former Employees of NEA New York; the Financial Review Committee; the VOTE-COPE Committee; and the Disaster Relief and Scholarship Fund.
Can he be doing all this while leading kids in jumping jacks?
Perhaps NYSUT is making sufficient accommodations so that Messner can ably perform both jobs full time. But if that’s the case, why are any union officers granted release time? If the secretary-treasurer of the largest teacher union state affiliate in the nation can teach full time, why aren’t union officers in California or Florida or anywhere else returned to the classroom?
It is more reasonable to believe that the man in charge of NYSUT’s money is shortchanging his members, his students, or both.
Recent Intercepts. EIA’s daily blog, Intercepts, covered these topics October 6-11:
* Colorado Mystery. A staff union decertification election?
* Moving Pictures. AFT gets into show biz.
* Weird But Accurate Headline: Labor Union Imposes Trusteeship Over Department of Labor Union. Plus, local labor union officers file unfair labor practice against Department of Labor for abetting national labor union.
Quote of the Week. “[UFT’s ruling Unity Caucus] will come out and call anyone pushing a fragmentation drive real nasty names long before it ever got to the stage where there is a new union. I would expect they would say anyone signing or spreading a petition to make a separate bargaining unit was Hitler, Mussolini, the devil and maybe Stalin all rolled into one.” – James Eterno, United Federation of Teachers chapter leader, curbing any enthusiasm for the idea of splitting off a high school teachers union from UFT. (October 5 ICEUFT Blog)
October 5, 2017
Top NEA Leader Promises a Progressive ‘Uprising,’ But Is He Part of the Establishment Problem? John Stocks is the executive director of the National Education Association. He is arguably more powerful than the union’s president, who is constrained by term limits.
Stocks was in northern Idaho last month to deliver a speech to the Idaho Conservation League. This isn’t as strange as it seems: Stocks served a term in the Idaho legislature in the late 1980s and still has many contacts throughout the state.
In his speech, Stocks predicted “a tremendous resurgence of people who are going to take back their country.”
“I assure you, in a relatively short period of time, there will be an uprising,” he said. “(It) will in fact fuel a more progressive future. That’s what’s going to happen. When it happens, we need to have the infrastructure in place to take advantage of it.”
Stocks announced this at the Hayden Lakes Country Club amid “a sumptuous catered dinner” and no-host bar. Club membership is $20,000 with monthly dues of $457. The job application to work there states: “If employed, I understand that I have been hired at the will of the employer and my employment may be terminated at any time, with or without reason and with or without notice.”
Stocks was not totally unaware of his environment. “I suspect many in this room have tremendous privilege,” he said. “I know I do, as a white male heterosexual, tremendous privilege, coming from a family that was upper-middle class.” He called on the audience to use their privilege to stand for justice.
It may take a while for the progressive revolution to reach Hayden Lakes, but Stocks has long been committed to achieving it elsewhere. In a 2011 profile no longer available online, his former business partner was quoted as saying: “I wouldn’t be surprised if he walks in there with a 20-year plan in his pocket. And it won’t be limited to the NEA. He’ll be leveraging the NEA to remake America in his progressive vision.”
Stocks may see himself at the forefront of a progressive movement, but he is also a Democratic Party insider. He was instrumental in manipulating the NEA endorsement of Hillary Clinton in the 2016 primaries to shut down supporters of Bernie Sanders. He forwarded a confidential NEA memo to the Clinton campaign after the NEA board voted to endorse her.
Stocks also serves as board chair of the Democracy Alliance, “the largest network of donors dedicated to building the progressive movement in the United States.” After Donald Trump’s victory in 2016, one Democratic strategist said of the group: “You can make a very good case it’s nothing more than a social club for a handful of wealthy white donors and labor union officials to drink wine and read memos, as the Democratic Party burns down around them.”
I don’t know if there will be a progressive uprising. But uprisings of any sort usually do not bode well for those with privilege, money and power, a group to which Stocks assuredly belongs.
Recent Intercepts. EIA’s daily blog, Intercepts, covered these topics October 2-4:
* AFT’s Disclosure Report Stirs Things Up. What to do with other people’s money.
* Nevada State Education Association Sets Up Unity Web Site. Unity? Not so much.
Quote of the Week. “No one wants this job. It’s a tough committee. The work can be very discouraging.” – Ben Allen, (D-Santa Monica) chair of the California Senate Education Committee. (September 24 Ventura County Star)
September 29, 2017
Teacher Hold ‘Em in Nevada, as Fractious Union and Its Largest Local Trade Lawsuits. The Clark County Education Association, representing 10,000 teachers who work for the Las Vegas schools, filed a lawsuit earlier this month against its parent affiliate, the Nevada State Education Association, alleging a breach of fiduciary duty and breach of contract.
Soon after, NSEA and the National Education Association filed a countersuit also charging of breach of contract, as well as unjust enrichment and fraud.
The dueling lawsuits are just the latest in a long series of conflicts between NSEA and its locals, particularly Clark County, whose membership comprises almost half of NSEA’s total. I questioned the outlook for the Nevada union’s survival last March, and now a crisis appears imminent.
The Clark County lawsuit details the timeline of its deteriorating relationship with NSEA and lays out what the local union wants.
Early in 2017, Clark County asked NSEA for “a return on investment analytic assessment” to compare what the local’s members receive from NSEA in return for their state dues. Clark County also wanted a neutral third party to review the last three NSEA budgets. One of the reasons it gave was particularly interesting:
Members of CCEA contribute through dues money to the NSEA’s Advocacy Fund and have a right pursuant to the NSEA bylaws and policies to know how money is being spent in that fund and further to object to any payments made by NSEA to political causes or interests to which those members object.
Clark County maintains that its dues transmittal contract with NSEA expired on August 31. Without such a contract, the local union is still collecting state dues from members and putting the money into an escrow account until the dispute is resolved.
NSEA, which had been willing to let the problem linger, was moved to immediate action by the suspension of about half of its total dues money reaching its coffers. Along with attorneys hired at NEA national headquarters, NSEA filed a countersuit last Friday. In true Nevada style, it upped the ante.
The parent union claims the dues transmittal agreement is still in effect, and that by collecting and withholding state and national dues, Clark County is being unjustly enriched and is violating NSEA’s and NEA’s property rights. The parent unions further accuse the local of committing fraud by continuing to advertise state and national union benefits such as liability insurance, to which its members are not entitled if their state and national dues are not paid.
Deploying the big guns doesn’t seem to have had the desired effect on Clark County. The local’s president and vice president posted this video in response:
The Clark County’s officers repeatedly insist they have no intention of disaffiliating from NSEA and NEA. However, with no money going up the chain to the parent unions, and no parent union services coming down the chain to the local, they are already in a de facto state of disaffiliation.
While such public disputes between local teacher union affiliates and parent unions are rare, this one is not unique. Madison Teachers, Inc. and the Wisconsin Education Association Council had an affiliation agreement dispute that went on for years, including litigation and withheld dues. The dispute was ultimately resolved, and just this year the Madison local moved its headquarters into the WEAC building.
The difference in Nevada is that Clark County is one of NEA’s largest local affiliates, and has clout within the state that is unmatched by any other NEA local in the nation. One could reasonably argue that NSEA and NEA need Vegas much more than Vegas needs them.
All in or fold? It’s high-stakes poker with a multi-million dollar pot.
Recent Intercepts. EIA’s daily blog, Intercepts, covered these topics September 25-28:
* Supreme Court to Hear Agency Fee Case. When the facts are on your side, pound the facts. When the law is on your side, pound the law. When neither is on your side, pound the table.
* The Return of the New Jersey Kerfuffle. The New Jersey Education Association’s $1.2 million executive director compensation barely makes the top five of its spending outrages.
* The X-Punged Files. A peek into the way the teacher discipline sausage is really made.
* First Set of Iowa Locals Vote Overwhelmingly to Recertify Union. 13 down, about 1300 to go.
Quote of the Week. “I didn’t want to fight with them. I still don’t. I believe in teachers. I believe in collective bargaining. There was resistance to virtually everything we did. I wanted to partner, but they just fought us tooth and nail.” – former Los Angeles mayor (and United Teachers Los Angeles employee) Antonio Villaraigosa, discussing his fractious relationship with the teachers’ union. (September 25 Los Angeles Times)
September 22, 2017
Union Officers’ Guilty Pleasure. It’s no secret that I am critical of teacher unions. One would expect that my views would draw the unanimous ire of National Education Association and American Federation of Teachers officers and employees, and I get my share. One state affiliate president referred to me as “a card-carrying member of the dark evil forces.” An AFT activist once accused me of running guns to the Contras in the 1980s. (I was a U.S. Air Force C-130 navigator in Japan at the time so, for him, it was a logical conclusion.)
But from a former NEA president on down, there have been many teacher union staffers and elected officials who have braved the potential embarrassment to let me know that they enjoy and/or appreciate my work. Here are some of them, anonymized because to keep them from experiencing any ill effects from their colleagues.
- State affiliate president: “You want to know anything that’s going on in NEA, you talk to Antonucci. No one’s ever told me he got something wrong.”
- State affiliate executive director: “I’m a huge fan. I read your stuff all the time. We’re sure you have bugs at NEA headquarters.”
- AFT national staffer: “We don’t agree a lot of the time, but I appreciate your skills as a reporter, and I think a lot of AFT members feel the same way. You’re getting stuff and publishing it before we get it.”
- State affiliate board member:“I can’t wait to read your next item that I’ll love and piss me off. Good organizations pay close attention to news that is both uncomplimentary and accurate.”
- NEA headquarters staffer: “Your name was mentioned in a staff meeting today in order to chill blood and strike fear into hearts.”
- State affiliate vice-president: “Please know that I shall continue to depend on you as the best and most reliable source of information about what’s going on in NEA and AFT – but don’t quote me on that!”
- State affiliate board member: “Our state president was annoyed that Antonucci gets all the information from our Board meeting almost verbatim.”
- State affiliate staffer: “I’m very impressed with your stuff. As someone who is intimately involved in a lot of the things you write about, I’m even more impressed that you’re right as often as you are.”
- State affiliate staffer: “As an employee of an NEA state affiliate, I get more credible information from you than from my employer. I am thinking about circulating your stuff either immediately prior to or immediately after staff meetings just to liven things up!”
- Local affiliate vice-president: “I’ve always been impressed with your ability to report on events taking place in rooms where you’re not allowed.”
- State affiliate staffer: “I have worked for the [teachers’ union] for almost ten years. Your reporting on the day to day issues I run into are unmatched by any other source.”
- State affiliate staffer: “They (sic) must have contacts all over the country. The speed with which they find out what is going on is amazing and frightening.”
- NEA headquarters staffer: “I don’t want to be tarred and feathered by my colleagues, but I want to tell you that you continually and consistently get it right.”
So if you are a union official or employee that hates what you read in Union Report or on my blog, you are in the majority. But if you enjoy it and maybe even occasionally find yourself nodding your head in agreement, know that you are not alone.
Recent Intercepts. EIA’s daily blog, Intercepts, covered these topics September 15-20:
* Las Vegas Local Denies Plan to Disaffiliate, Still at Odds With State Union. The volcano bubbles…
* Nevada NEA Affiliate Fires Back at Las Vegas Local. …followed by the fallout.
* Those Darn Employees. Union board of directors faces staff picket line.
* Polling Is Ammunition, Not Information. Vouchers are very popular or very unpopular. Take your pick.
Quote of the Week. “Nobody – no matter who you are, whether you’re a Democrat or a Republican – is beyond the potential wrath of organized labor.” – Tom Scott, California state executive director of the National Federation of Independent Business. (September 18 Sacramento Bee)
September 14, 2017
When NEA Speaks to the National Press Club, the Faces Change But the Song Remains the Same. Last Friday, National Education Association President Lily Eskelsen García delivered a speech to the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.
She denounced the policies of the Trump administration while calling for common ground because “most people are good people — they want something good for kids and their families and their communities. We can argue over what’s a good idea or a bad idea, but time and time again, I’ve seen people come together when you can show them a plan that makes sense.”
Eskelsen García’s plan is “to make every public school as good as our best public schools.” This can be done, she said, through equal access, equal opportunity, and equal respect, but not through “test prep and cutthroat competition with private charters.”
She went on to describe wonderful NEA-supported programs in Texas, New Mexico, Minnesota, and New Jersey.
While the White House might have objected to the tenor of Eskelsen García’s remarks, there was little to stir up the masses outside the Beltway. NEA presidents make periodic visits to the National Press Club, and they usually offer up a similar vision of utopia if only their agenda were followed.
I am cursed with a long memory, and so I recall the original NEA president National Press Club speech. Bob Chase delivered it 20 years ago, and he used the occasion to introduce the concept of “new unionism.”
New unionism was prompted by a dire internal report NEA commissioned from a public relations firm that concluded the union had no credibility in the education reform debate. The firm suggested NEA’s image-improvement campaign “should be launched in a speech by President Chase in which he acknowledges the crisis, says some things for their shock value to open up the audience’s minds (e.g., there are bad teachers and our job is to make them good or show the way to another career), and then details the association’s substantive programs to improve public schools — those already in existence and those that will be expanded or launched in the months ahead.”
Chase did just that. He admitted NEA had been “a traditional, somewhat narrowly focused union” that was “utterly inadequate to the needs of the future.”
He said, “America’s public schools do not exist for teachers and other employees. They do not exist to provide us with jobs and salaries.”
Chase went on to follow his PR firm’s advice and say, “there are indeed some bad teachers in America’s schools. And it is our job as a union to improve those teachers or, that failing, to get them out of the classroom.”
Just as Eskelsen García would do 20 years later, Chase called for greater collaboration among stakeholders, but his plan to improve schools contained items quite different from those on Eskelsen García’s list, including higher academic standards, stricter discipline, an end to social promotions, and less bureaucracy. He then described wonderful NEA-supported programs in Indiana, Illinois, and Ohio.
One other 1997 union effort Chase mentioned stands out noticeably today: “Imagine the president of a local NEA union taking the lead in founding a public charter school, a new school that she and her colleagues manage by themselves, without a principal. I just described the work of Jan Noble, president of our affiliate in Colorado Springs.”
NEA’s 1996 Charter School Initiative deserves a retrospective of its own, but as failures go, it didn’t come close to the debacle Chase also touted in his Press Club speech: Disney’s Celebration Teaching Academy in Orlando, Florida.
“It will be for educators what a teaching hospital is for doctors: a place where teachers from around the nation can come to sharpen their skills and be exposed to best practices,” Chase said. “NEA professionals on site will help to shape the curriculum and to direct the academy’s Master Teacher Institute.”
He told the audience that “the Celebration Teaching Academy is exactly what the new NEA is all about: a commitment to lifting up teachers as professionals and to revitalizing public education.” Chase put NEA’s money where its mouth was, contributing $500,000 to the academy.
The academy never got off the ground. It was “stillborn, a victim of educational infighting,” according to a husband-wife pair of journalists, Douglas Frantz and Catherine Collins, who moved with their kids to Orlando specifically to take part in the Disney community and schooling experiment. The experience was so disastrous they wrote a book about it.
In her speech, Eskelsen García emphasized the importance of taking action. Chase was no different. “I deal in practical, concrete, tangible changes. I deal in results,” he said.
“The new NEA is about action,” he told the Press Club audience. “And, on that score, I challenge the American public: Watch what we do, not what we say.”
In the 20 years since, we have watched what NEA does. The evidence suggests there’s no point in listening as it tells us what it’s going to do — again.
Recent Intercepts. EIA’s daily blog, Intercepts, covered these topics September 8-13:
* When the Hand Grenade Gets Lobbed Back. Let’s play “Who’s a Segregationist?”
* NEA Director Goes Nuclear in Dispute with New Jersey Education Association. Election kerfuffle could lead to new disclosure requirements for 33 state affiliates.
* Trouble in Paradise? Hawaii State Teachers Association employees file ULP complaints against the union.
Quote of the Week. “It’s like buying two new iPads a month and throwing them in the trash.” – Sharon Thornton, a hairdresser from Delaware, describing what it’s like to pay Obamacare premiums without a government subsidy. (September 4 Associated Press)
According to the story, “Some are expecting premiums for 2018 to rival a mortgage payment.” My premiums already exceed my mortgage payment. By quite a bit. They rank as my second biggest expense – just behind taxes.
September 7, 2017
When Unions Don’t Protect Teachers’ Jobs. The most common criticism of teacher unions is that they protect bad employees. It can often take years and hundreds of thousands of dollars to fire a tenured public school teacher. Sometimes districts don’t even bother trying — even if the teacher is in jail.
But protecting teachers isn’t as straightforward as many believe. The district, the union, and often the union’s insurers all have economic interests that help determine how a teacher termination case will proceed. The teacher may have less influence over the outcome than any of these other players.
Teachers start in a probationary period of two years or more; during that time they can typically be dismissed for any reason or none at all. After completing probation, the teacher receives tenure — or, as the unions prefer to say, due process protection.
Semantics aside, dismissing or reprimanding a tenured teacher must follow prescribed procedures set out in collective bargaining agreements, school district policies, and state law.
It is very rare for a teacher with tenure to be fired simply because he or she is not very good in the classroom. Cases that result in termination usually involve misconduct of some sort, like inappropriate contact with a student, intoxication at school, or excessive absences, among other offenses.
After a series of warnings and documentation, the district may decide to terminate the teacher; in most cases the union will intervene by filing a grievance alleging violation of the contract, bias, or a similar charge.
One of the union’s primary purposes is to provide job protections for teachers. They are highly motivated to perform this function because it demonstrates the union’s value to other members. And because grievances generally do not require the services of an attorney and can be handled by a staffer (because they are procedural rather than legal) the task of filing a grievance is usually performed without undue delay.
If the district doesn’t respond by backing off from the discipline or dismissal action, it advances to arbitration or termination hearings, the teacher normally requires some form of legal representation. This can be provided by a union attorney or a private attorney contracted by the union.
What isn’t commonly understood by the public, or even by teachers, is that the union has wide discretion to pursue, or not pursue, the defense of its members. If the union and/or its attorney determines that they are unlikely to prevail, or the costs may be excessive, they may counsel the teacher to resign, transfer, or accept a lesser punishment.
If the union is paying for the individual teacher’s representation, it makes the final decision. Occasionally, a teacher faced with dismissal or discipline decides to forego union representation and hires his or her own attorney in order to maintain some control over decision-making.
So while school districts complain about the costs and time involved in teacher dismissal cases, unions also incur costs and time loss. Cases often proceed to resolution not necessarily based on their relative merits, but on cost-benefit calculations made by both sides.
Unions provide teachers with protections not only against employers, but against parents, students, and any other individual who might file suit. Sometimes these cases overlap with teacher discipline or dismissal cases; in that event the school district and the accused teacher are usually on the same side.
The National Education Association provides $1 million in liability insurance. It touts this member benefit when recruiting teachers, and denies it to those who only pay agency fees.
Lawsuits against teachers are rare, but typically involve parents claiming teachers have discriminated against, mistreated, or abused their child. Some states have laws that provide liability protections for school employees and/or limit the extent of damages paid. NEA’s insurance provider specifically states that its coverage kicks in only after all other insurance sources are exhausted.
The insurer also states that it will “investigate, defend, negotiate, and settle any claim even if such claim is groundless or fraudulent.” Once again, the entity paying the price decides how to pursue the teacher’s case, even if it means settling a charge against the teacher that is fraudulent.
Teachers might even face criminal charges for a work-related incident, such as abuse of a student. In such cases NEA coverage includes up to $35,000 reimbursement of attorney fees — but only if the teacher is ultimately exonerated or the charges are dismissed.
Teacher liability insurance is a battlefield in right-to-work states where NEA and the American Federation of Teachers have to compete for members with other, non-union teacher organizations. All parties use their policies as a selling point, but insiders admit that the value of what they’re offering is overhyped.
The former president of the Texas Federation of Teachers called high levels of liability coverage “an expenditure of money that does no good for anybody.” The Oklahoma Education Association general counsel admitted that its liability policy “has only paid a handful of claims, none over $50,000 since 1980.” An unaffiliated teacher union in Georgia called liability insurance from rival unions a “scam.”
Unions constantly battle the public perception that teachers are guaranteed jobs for life. But they also benefit from the fact that their members have much the same perception. For many of them, job protection is what keeps them paying union dues year after year. It is only the small number of teachers who have to draw on that protection who discover its limitations.
Recent Intercepts. EIA’s daily blog, Intercepts, covered these topics August 31-September 6:
* Billion Year Contract. Member for life?
* Washington Education Association Employees Set Strike Date of Sept. 27. But it probably won’t come to that.
* Why Wait Months for Union News? Get your Labor Day news on Memorial Day.
* Two Things People Love Until It’s Time to Pay Them. Actions speak louder than polls.
Quote of the Week. “I was still in high school in the ’70s when these elections took place.” – Lynette Claeys, a UniServ director for the Iowa State Education Association, describing when most teacher unions were certified as exclusive bargaining agents in the state. A new Iowa law requires union to hold a new certification election prior to contract expiration. (September 4 Quad City Times)
August 30, 2017
Have We Hired Too Many Teachers? Scholar Warns of Economic ‘Time Bomb.’ Any day of the week you can find an article warning of the national teacher shortage. The latest is from Washington Post columnist Valerie Strauss, who blames a dearth of teachers on “low morale over low pay, unfair evaluation methods, assaults on due-process rights, high-stakes testing requirements, insufficient resources and other issues.”
There’s nothing new about these alarms; they date back to at least the early part of the 20th century. As I’ve noted, since that time we have almost quintupled the number of teachers and also cut the student-teacher ratio in half (student population data are here and here).
So it is refreshing to find a report on actual teacher staffing numbers from a respected academic who is willing to call them what they are: “a ticking time bomb.”
In an Education Week report on the National Center for Education Statistics latest school staffing survey — which showed the number of teachers was growing faster than student enrollment — University of Pennsylvania Professor Richard Ingersoll characterized the teacher workforce as “ballooning.”
“Financially it’s a ticking time bomb, we think,” Ingersoll said. “The main budget item in any school district is teachers’ salaries. This just can’t be sustainable.”
It’s easy to see what Ingersoll means. NCES produces its survey every four years. Almost all public school staffing took a hit during the 2012 survey, as districts laid off thousands during the recession. Hiring was bound to return to normal levels afterwards.
If we go back to 2008 we get a clear picture of the growth of America’s public school workforce. While, student enrollment in 2015-16 was virtually identical to what it was in 2007-08 — almost 49.3 million students — the number of employees in 2016 was substantially higher.
The population of teachers grew from 3.4 million to more than 3.8 million — an increase of 12.4 percent.
But teachers comprise only half of the public school labor force. Over the past eight years, the numbers of administrators, bureaucrats, specialists and infrastructure support employees have also ballooned. The ranks of vice principals and assistant principals grew by 8.3 percent. Instructional coordinators and curriculum specialists increased by 10.5 percent, and there was between 5 and 12 percent growth in the number of nurses, psychologists, speech therapists, and special education aides.
Again, this larger group of employees is responsible for the same number of students as were enrolled in 2008.
Not all professions have grown over this period. There are fewer secretaries, librarians, school counselors, and teacher aides (other than in special education). Some support employees may effectively be paying with their jobs for all the new teacher hires.
The immediate financial impact is troubling, but that’s just the start. Many of those additional teachers, vice principals, and curriculum specialists will qualify for a pension. Many states will find themselves shortchanging those who teach in order to fund those who no longer teach.
As much as we think of schools as buildings, desks, and books, more than 80 cents of every dollar spent on public education goes toward the cost of employee salaries and benefits. When a recession hits, the only effective way to cut costs is through reductions in the labor force. Yet when additional appropriations are made, most will be spent only two ways: on more compensation for education employees and/or more education employees.
Professor Ingersoll told Education Week it was tough getting a handle on the national education labor market. “We never were able to figure all of it out,” he said.
This is understandable. The labor market for teachers has never been based on student enrollment, only on the amount of money available to spend. Raising that money is easier if there is a teacher shortage of crisis proportions.
Debunking teacher shortage panic requires swimming against a tide of conventional wisdom — much like reporting on average teacher salaries. If there is a teacher shortage, it may be because we will keep hiring more and more teachers until we finally run out of available adults.
Recent Intercepts. EIA’s daily blog, Intercepts, covered these topics August 18-29:
* CTA Employees Reach Tentative Agreement. Plenty of money to go around.
Quote of the Week. “Obviously, these charges are based on lies and they’re using it as a negotiating tool because we’re in bargaining. That is a tactic that unions can use. I personally find it without honor, dishonorable, to use that kind of tactic. But they are within their rights to do that.” – Mike Gandolfo, president of the Pinellas Classroom Teachers Association in Florida, describing unfair labor practice complaints filed by the union’s own employees against him. (August 18 Tampa Bay Times)
August 16, 2017
Why Teacher Unions Really Want to Organize Charters, But Can’t (Yet). Over the past few years we have seen major efforts to unionize teachers in charter schools in Los Angeles, Chicago, and Washington, D.C. Some have been successful, others not, but teacher unions and their allies continue to hope they can make significant inroads in the charter school movement.
These efforts face significant challenges, not the least of which is the unions’ continuing opposition to the establishment of new charter schools and hostility to many that currently exist.
In public statements the National Education Association and American Federation of Teachers say they aspire to providing the best education for students and the benefits of collective bargaining for teachers. But if we want a more complete picture, we can find it in a remarkable document produced by the Pennsylvania State Education Association almost 17 years ago.
At the time charter schools were in their infancy and PSEA was mostly concerned with charters managed by Edison Schools, an aggressive for-profit company. To address the challenge, the union created a 17-member task force called the Charter Schools Strategic Options Project.
The task force worked for most of a year on a report presented to the PSEA board of directors and adopted as official union policy on November 30, 2000. While Edison Schools ultimately disappeared from the charter management scene, the report survives because of its prescience in forecasting what charters might become and candor in revealing PSEA’s motivation for opposing and unionizing them.
The task force understood the limitations of outright opposition. “Attempts to prevent the granting of charters can have negative public relations consequences,” the report states. The authors knew that “even if charters never produce the educational innovations promised by their early proponents, they will continue to extend their reach because they provide an expanded range of consumer choices and also provide options for students who are not fitting well into their regular public schools.”
The task force saw the employment of non-union charter school teachers as a form of “outsourcing,” and recommended organizing them to prevent a decline in union membership.
This isn’t unusual, but the task force’s rationale was astonishing in its forthrightness. The report notes that the state’s public sector collective bargaining law granted unions “a legal monopoly” explains why that’s important:
“Once we obtain majority representative status, PSEA becomes the exclusive bargaining agent. IN NO OTHER ENDEAVOR PSEA UNDERTAKES CAN IT ENJOY THIS EXCLUSIVE POSITION… The main source of PSEA’s influence is that almost all Pennsylvania teachers are unionized. If we want to maintain our influence, our ability to do ANYTHING, we must make sure that education remains a unionized industry.” (emphasis in original)
The task force warned: “If we lose our grip on the labor supply to the education industry, we will bargain from a position of weakness.”
Having issued this call to arms, the task force set out a strategy. It needed to overcome the fact that the average charter school employed only 16 teachers: smaller workplaces are harder to organize and not cost-effective for the union to represent. By contrast, it could use the growth of charter networks against them.
The report’s authors noted that “with the corporate entry into the charter school movement, there may be an opportunity, in the long run, to create single company statewide units and to merge small locals into statewide locals with a single contract.” In other words, all the KIPP schools in New York State would be one bargaining unit, with one contract, negotiated with KIPP’s central management.
This is the key that unlocks union organizing decisions about charters since that time. While they are happy to organize small charters here and there for public relations value, neither NEA nor AFT can really afford to unionize a dozen teachers at a time. But organizing a network of 50 schools with 1,000 teachers would be worth the expenditure of time and resources.
The task force recommended organizing the larger for-profit charters first in the hope that this would also create pressure on smaller charters to follow suit, or pressure them to raise salaries which, in the union’s eyes, would make them less attractive from a budgetary standpoint relative to traditional public schools.
Charter networks head off this strategy by maintaining they are not the “employers” for collective bargaining purposes at individual schools. Union successes have come where this argument is weaker, such as online charters in California (California Virtual Academies) and Pennsylvania (Agora Cyber Charter School) where there are no individual campuses. Other wins have come at places like Green Dot, whose founder is union-friendly.
The United Federation of Teachers has been unsuccessful organizing KIPP charter teachers as a single group, but over the years has managed to unionize a few individual schools, which seem to go through cycles of certifying and decertifying. The status of one KIPP charter school union is currently under investigation by the National Labor Relations Board.
United Teachers Los Angeles is helping to organize teachers at 26 Alliance charter schools into a single bargaining unit.
Recent upticks in union activity around charters are directly related to the growth of charters themselves. The bigger the charter, the bigger the threat it is to the union’s “grip on the labor supply to the education industry.” But it also becomes a bigger target for a union organizing drive.
The PSEA policy was binding only on the Pennsylvania union, of course, but its 17-year-old directives and rationales tell us much more about current teacher union strategies and motivations than any recent NEA policy.
Recent Intercepts. EIA’s daily blog, Intercepts, covered these topics August 11-15:
* On Segregation, Sacrifice and Scolding Both Sides. Opportunism.
* Stats For Your Back Pocket. Some new teacher staffing statistics that might surprise you.
Quote of the Week. “I did not get a fresh start.” – Mark Kramlich, middle school teacher in Billings, Montana, after he was fired by the school board for poor performance. Kramlich was the subject of a series of incidents dating back to 2008, but the district failed to terminate him earlier, citing “attempts to improve Kramlich’s teaching that took several years.” The union did not represent Kramlich at his termination hearing because he chose to hire his own counsel. (August 9 Billings Gazette)
August 10, 2017
AFT Adds 40,000 Members… Sort Of. Amid stagnating union membership rolls across the country, the American Federation of Teachers added 40,000 education employees into its ranks last week.
AFT reached an affiliation agreement with the Asociación de Maestros de Puerto Rico, the exclusive bargaining agent for the island’s public school teachers. It represents a unit larger than the Chicago Teachers Union.
But the affiliation is a unique one, characteristic of the difficult and often combative relationship between American unions and Puerto Rico’s teachers.
For one thing, AFT and AMPR describe the new relationship as a “trial affiliation” of up to three years. This is an unprecedented arrangement in my experience. Second, AMPR will be charged national dues of only $1 per member per month. AFT affiliates on the U.S. mainland, by way of comparison, will pay $19.28 per member per month beginning in September. AMPR members’ dues will remain stable because their union pledged to pay AFT’s fee from its own coffers. For its part, AFT pledged to provide AMPR’s members with the same services it provides all other members.
AMPR became the bargaining agent for teachers in Puerto Rico in April 2016 after an election in which its rival, the Federación de Maestros de Puerto Rico — FMPR — was banned from participation. The two unions have been battling since public-sector collective bargaining was enacted in Puerto Rico in 1999, even as America’s unions have treated the island like their own little Game of Thrones.
Back in 1999, AMPR was affiliated with the National Education Association and FMPR with AFT. FMPR won the first union representation election — the right to negotiate the island’s teachers contract — giving AFT the upper hand and all but eliminating NEA’s presence in Puerto Rico.
In 2003, a radical caucus won election to FMPR leadership and began disaffiliating from AFT. In what has since become standard operating procedure, AFT first sought to have the FMPR president removed from office, then, in 2005, attempted to establish a trusteeship over the union. This was met with massive defiance and protests that reached all the way to an AFT conference in Washington, D.C.
After losing several court battles and failing to form a competing organization, AFT effectively surrendered, disaffiliating FMPR — as if FMPR had not already disaffiliated itself.
FMPR’s victory was short-lived, however. After it authorized an illegal strike, the government of Puerto Rico decertified the union in 2008 and called a new representation election. With FMPR legally sidelined, AMPR rose from its ashes, assisted by a new affiliation with the Service Employees International Union.
Teachers were given the choice of AMPR or no union, and 55 percent of them voted for no union. That ended SEIU’s involvement, and left the island’s teachers without any union representation.
Labor militancy continued, however with both FMPR and AMPR participating in strikes and protests in 2014, but it wasn’t until last year that the government allowed a new representation election to be held. With FMPR banned from participating, AMPR easily won.
AFT gets a morale boost from taking AMPR under its wing, but not much else. Puerto Rico doesn’t permit the collection of agency fees. All union dues are voluntary. Even if every teacher were to join, the annual take for AFT would be less than $500,000, not enough to cover the cost of three union staffers.
Perhaps AFT members will think it is worthwhile to subsidize union operations in Puerto Rico, but AFT isn’t likely to ask them.
Recent Intercepts. EIA’s daily blog, Intercepts, covered these topics August 4-9:
* “Maybe I’m Too Generous of Spirit.” Sure, that would explain everything.
* Morning Constitutional. Does a union have the constitutional right to pitch membership to teachers on school premises?
* Massachusetts Teachers Association Preparing For Post-Agency Fee World. Time for the hard sell.
Quote of the Week. “It’s not a matter of ‘D’ or ‘R’, it’s a matter of what your philosophies are toward education. That’s why we endorsed him to begin with and that’s why after the discussion with him we’re still standing behind the governor.” – Dale Lee, president of the West Virginia Education Association, after Gov. Jim Justice switched parties from Democrat to Republican. (August 7 Metro News)