A listening post monitoring public education and teachers’ unions.

NEA Representative Assembly 2015: “You Are the Future of Everything”

Written By: Mike Antonucci - Jul• 03•15

Opening day of the 2015 National Education Association Representative Assembly (RA) featured the first keynote speech of president Lily Eskelsen Garcia.

She delivered a recap of NEA’s long history and involvement with federal legislation. You can read it in its entirety here. I’ve listened to 18 RA keynote speeches and can no longer endeavor to be a judge of their quality. The delegates enjoyed it, but there weren’t any set-the-building-ablaze moments.

Still, two things made an impression and should be of interest to outside observers.

1) The focus for immediate action was to support the Senate “Every Child Achieves Act,” a reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. Eskelsen Garcia announced it would be debated on the Senate floor next week.

That was noteworthy, but even more so because it was preceded by a speech from American Federation of Teachers president (and NEA member via the merged state of New York) Randi Weingarten. Weingarten also used a good portion of her remarks to boost the Senate bill, and both presidents were not short of praise for it.

However, the bill keeps the same annual testing schedule of No Child Left Behind. This might not sit well with the unions’ internal “opt out” crowd, and NEA/AFT support for the bill puts it on the opposite side of some pretty powerful civil rights groups.

They’re going for it without equivocation nonetheless. We’ll see if it ends up being a political plus or minus.

2) Eskelsen Garcia told her audience, “You are the NEA. You are the future of everything.” Those words might have resonated better if she had not been addressing only 6,724 delegates – the smallest number since I started covering the NEA convention in 1998.

It has long been a tradition of NEA RAs to propose solutions to the world’s problems while overlooking their own. This is a greatly diminished organization whose candidates were thrashed in the 2014 elections, which now has organized hordes of Democrats opposing it, which faces internal challenges on its left flank, and which may be one year away from the nationwide elimination of agency fees in the public sector.

Executive director John Stocks will speak tomorrow, and he may be readying some fire and brimstone to address these problems, but this union should stop thinking about the future of everything and start thinking about the future of NEA.


NEA Representative Assembly 2015: Compared to What, When?

Written By: Mike Antonucci - Jul• 03•15

I haven’t even gotten to the hall yet and already I’m looking askance at something. As expected, NEA announced an increase in membership. Good news for them.

Politico reported the union went from “2,956,532 members in 2013-14 to 2,970,886 in 2014-15 as of mid-June.”

That’s an increase, no doubt about it. Except that last year, at exactly this time, NEA reported a total of 2,974,042 members. Here’s a photo of the slide used to illustrate.


I’m sorry the headings were cut off, but there were 2,622,214 active members, 51,951 student members, and 299,877 retired members, for a total of 2,974,042. This year’s numbers would then mean a small loss.

My guess is that the 2013-14 number NEA used for comparison came from the end of the summer of 2014. The summer months, naturally, are when teachers’ unions experience their largest losses, as the end of the school year is when most education employees retire or move on.

The breakdown by state isn’t available, and making sense of the numbers is more problematic than it ought to be, but it’s also possible that in a couple of years these membership numbers will look like the glory days.


Heigh Ho, Heigh Ho, It’s Off to Orlando I Go

Written By: Mike Antonucci - Jul• 02•15

The 2015 National Education Representative Assembly convenes tomorrow morning at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, Florida. I’ll post my first report tomorrow afternoon or evening.

Fortunately for NEA, many state delegations have attendance incentives involving reimbursement of travel expenses. Otherwise it might be very lonely in that hall.


Conn-stitutional Law

Written By: Mike Antonucci - Jul• 01•15

Editor’s note: Detroit Federation of Teachers president Steve Conn has been charged with violating the union’s constitution and bylaws. Here are a few excerpts from his 11-page response.

* Agreeing to proceed on this basis is simply acceding to the cynical belief that the democratic protections in our Bylaws to protect members and officers from witch-hunts, personal slander campaigns and frivolous and unfounded claims, are unenforceable and irrelevant.

* The racist policies of educational degradation in Detroit have created a new Jim Crow system of segregation and inequality. Special Education programs are now under an especially dangerous attack. Michigan under the new Jim Crow is comparable to Mississippi and the other backwater states of the old Jim Crow.

* I pledge that I will fight ’til the last drop of my blood to stop the planned attack on our health care and on the whole public education system in Detroit. To win, however, I will need the members of this union to act on the words of Frederick Douglass, “if there is no struggle, there is no progress.” We must use this summer to prepare ourselves for battle. We must dispense with the myth that we will lose public support if we give up being passive and acting respectable. If we allow our anger over our working conditions and the attacks on DPS to be channeled into organizing the people of Detroit for mass, militant direct actions against EM Early and Governor Snyder, we will place ourselves in a position to win.

* In truth, it is certain that we will have another massive riot in Detroit in the near future if we lose our fight to defend public education and turn our back on Detroit’s black community which we must organize to move this city forward.

* For the reconciliation process outlined in Article 15 to succeed, it is necessary for an impartial mediator to try to resolve differences through a constructive informal process. To achieve this, EVP Bailey should recuse herself now. But that will only partially fix the problem because there are no Executive Board members who could legitimately and honestly claim to be neutral: the majority of the Executive Board members are part of an organized political faction against the DFT President.

* Anyone looking to unseat me knows that replacing this election committee with a corrupt election committee is an essential ingredient for defeating me.

* EVP Bailey, Ms. McCoin and the Executive Board have no legal right to censor, charge, or remove me from office because they disagree with my political affiliations or beliefs. In fact, the McCarthyite red-baiting within our union only benefits the political powers that we must take on to save our union.

* It is a basic principle of union democracy that once a decision of the membership is made, no group of teachers is entitled to act in opposition to the decision simply because they disagreed with it. There is also no right of any group of teachers to make a special pleading to me to absolve them from having to carry out a membership decision.

* I never refused to pay per capita dues either to the AFT or the Michigan AFT. I have spoken with AFT President Randi Weingarten and several other AFT representatives and worked out a plan to create a new forbearance agreement mutually satisfactory to both parties.


The End of the Beginning

Written By: Mike Antonucci - Jun• 30•15

The U.S. Supreme Court will hear Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association next term, a case that challenges the use of agency fees by public employees’ unions.

You will hear a lot from me on the case in the coming months, so I won’t scoop myself here. Let’s just say it has the potential of turning the union membership situation in California and New Jersey into that of Texas and Florida.

That might not seem so monumental, but the unions have the recent example of Wisconsin to see how it might go nationwide.

The positive side for the public employee unions in agency fee states is that they have a full year to prepare for an adverse decision. They have already begun to do so, and those efforts will expand.

The unions are not optimistic about their chances in court, and the joint statement by NEA, AFT, CTA, SEIU and AFSCME reflects it.

The statement has nothing to say about the case itself, the practice of agency fees, or the concerns of non-members. It does have a lot of quotes from union members about advocacy and “sticking together.” The five union presidents inform us that “the Supreme Court has chosen to take a case that threatens the fundamental promise of America—that if you work hard and play by the rules you should be able to provide for your family and live a decent life.”

I’m pretty sure the fundamental promise of America has nothing to do with threatening people with the loss of their jobs if they don’t pay fees to a private organization they did not choose to represent them.

There’s no doubt agency fees have helped those five union presidents to live a decent life. Soon they will have to manage it solely on the dues paid by willing members.


Kids Are Learning More Than You Think

Written By: Mike Antonucci - Jun• 29•15

The House Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education held a hearing last week on school nutrition and got an earful.

“When it comes to whole grain-rich variations of biscuits, grits, crackers and cornbread, all too often, students simply toss them into the trash cans,” said Dr. Lynn Harvey, chief of school nutrition services at the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction.

Those who believe any problem can be solved by a government program should read the rest of Dr. Harvey’s written testimony, where she details how efforts to provide more nutritious meals have resulted in higher costs, more waste, an increase in processed foods and a reduction in the number of kids eating, which is supposed to be the point.

The good news is that some students are learning about the free enterprise system and are even applying its principles to their daily life.

“Perhaps the most colorful example in my district is that students have been caught bringing–and even selling–salt, pepper, and sugar in school to add taste to perceived bland and tasteless cafeteria food,” said John S. Payne, the president of Blackford County School Board of Trustees in Hartford City, Indiana.

That’s why America is the land of opportunity.

In a related story, Politico reports “A dairy industry-led push to let schools serve flavored 1 percent milk has hit a roadblock amid haggling over school nutrition and spending legislation — but another avenue may have opened up. In a move that surprised industry officials, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack recently said he’d support expanding school milk options through executive action.”

I searched in vain through The Federalist No. 69 for any reference to school milk options.

In his testimony before the House subcommittee, Mr. Payne broached the subject of milk. “Some kids cannot drink or dislike milk,” he wrote. “Our district tried to provide needed calcium to those students with juice, but was cited by the School Nutrition Department within our state education agency and was forced to discontinue the practice.”


Conn-demned (I’ve Got a Million of These, Folks)

Written By: Mike Antonucci - Jun• 26•15

From a June 25 letter to members of the Detroit Federation of Teachers from executive vice president Ivy Bailey:

I have today notified President Steve Conn that DFT members have filed charges against him alleging violations of the DFT constitution and bylaws and conduct detrimental to the union. As is required by the DFT bylaws, I have scheduled conferences between President Conn and the members to attempt to resolve the matters. If there is no successful resolution, the DFT Executive Board will be asked to decide whether to hold a trial on the charges.

The members charge that President Conn has attempted to cancel regular meetings and has failed to preside over them; has improperly called “special mass meetings;” and has conducted meetings without agendas, without allowing members to speak, and without proper and valid votes. It is charged that he has permitted the DFT to become affiliated with BAMN without authorization from the members or Executive Board. It is charged that he has permitted members to be threatened and abused at meetings and that when a member was physically assaulted (an assault captured in a surveillance video and now the subject of a criminal charge) he refused to take action against the attacker, but instead publicly and libelously blamed the victim. It is charged that he has failed to pay the Union’s per capita dues to the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and AFT Michigan.

The Executive Board and myself have received numerous complaints, that we have a duty to respond to. We hope for a successful resolution which is in the interest of the members of the DFT and the students in the Detroit Public Schools.

Background here.

That’s a lot to chew on, but the one item to pay close attention to is the failure to pass the dues to the parent affiliates. It suggests to me the threat of an AFT trusteeship, something the national union has not been shy about establishing elsewhere.