To that end, the NEA has held training sessions across the country to teach members how to shape their message for every possible audience — including their own spouses. The vast majority of NEA members are white suburban or rural women, and their spouses are mostly middle-age white men, a voting bloc that Democratic candidates have traditionally struggled to reach. Union strategists see huge potential in training their members to start their voter outreach in their own living rooms.
I’m going to go out on a limb here and assume these union strategists are not married, at least not successfully.
One of NEA’s staff unions, the Association of Field Service Employees (AFSE), has been working without a contract since the end of May. If their communications are any indication, a key issue to be hammered out is workplace bullying.
The management side of this dispute is represented by executive director John Stocks, and AFSE has some choice words about his approach to labor relations:
We would like nothing more than to be able to show up to work, and go into battle for public education, free from distraction and fear in our own workplace. In public, NEA’s executive director John Stocks delivers passionate and fiery speeches about social justice unionism and activism. In private, however, his rhetoric does not match his actions. Mr. Stocks and and his spokespeople continue to say that they “support collective bargaining.” But he knows well that supporting the process is not synonymous with supporting union values.
Throughout this process we have tried to negotiate a contract which restores dignity to our employees, recognizes our professionalism and demands respect for the work that we do. Instead we have found ourselves having to defend basic union values: we can’t even get Mr. Stocks to consider language that protects NEA staff from bullying.
The latest negotiations bulletin goes further.
Over the last year, we have done our best to work collaboratively with new management to meet the goals of the organization. Unfortunately, we cannot seem to break through the new culture—one that rewards secrecy and divisiveness, instead of respect and cooperation. Mr. Stocks’ management team issued their “last, best, and final offer” last week even while negotiators were making progress at the table.
We are no strangers to this type of hostility. The truth is, we come across it every day when we’re on the front lines, supporting and fighting for NEA members. What we have witnessed is shocking: just like “so-called” reformers who want to rid public schools of skilled and experienced educators, unfortunately it seems NEA has the same vision for its field staff.
Some union people have suggested to me that the staff union is engaging in hyperbole simply to enhance its negotiating position. I hope they remember they revealed that tactic the next time there is a public dispute between a teachers’ union and a school district.
Both sides return to the table on Monday with a federal mediator on hand.
It is rough sledding for Chicago-area Democrats these days – from Mayor Rahm Emanuel to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and his boss, the POTUS. But they can take solace from tiny thaws in the Cold War.
CSN Chicago reports that while Emanuel is still Public Enemy #1 with most municipal unions, he remains the darling of the city’s building and construction unions. He received public praise from the president of the Chicago Federation of Labor and, even better, sizable campaign checks from Local 134 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and Local 562 of the Plumbers & Pipefitters union.
Meanwhile, NEA president-elect Lily Eskelsen Garcia told MSNBC that she met with Secretary Duncan shortly after returning from the union’s convention in Denver.
She characterized her conversation with him as “interesting” and “honest.”
In conversation, García is soft-spoken but firm. Based on her description of her conversation with Duncan, neither side is likely to yield on the issue of standardized testing anytime soon.
“I made it clear to the secretary that I don’t want to demonize anybody. He’s sincere and he’s absolutely wrong,” she said. “We agreed at the end of that meeting; we were very clear. He was very clear that he thinks we need to stay on what he calls accountability. I believe that has come to mean you hit your number and there’s a consequence for not hitting your number. That’s disastrous, I let him know that I would keep telling people that’s disastrous.”
Despite the education secretary’s outwardly nonchalant reaction to the NEA vote, García says he seemed “hurt” and “surprisingly confused.” In her estimation, he didn’t realize the level of anger he had conjured up.
“Arne Duncan is not a bad man,” she said. “I think he sincerely believes this stuff.”
Despite their differences, says García, they ended the meeting with a hug.
I’m not sure what the fire-breathers at the NEA convention were expecting to happen when they passed a demand for Duncan’s resignation, but I’ll bet it wasn’t this.
There are serious differences between factions in the Democratic Party over education policy, but they all agree that defeating Republicans at the polls is the top priority. During the second quarter of 2014, the Democratic Governors Association received $13.8 million, most of it from labor unions and $2,260,000 from NEA and AFT alone.
Someone will ask, so let’s be clear that this is dues money being used, since it is not a direct contribution to a candidate for office. Traditionally these funds are spent on media buys to promote a particular stance on an issue, which tend to appear in battleground states and coincide with the position of a recommended candidate.
The NEA contribution came from the NEA Advocacy Fund, which is a Super PAC. As we all know, “Super PACs’ corrosive influence undermines our system of democracy and threatens to make elections a commodity to be purchased by the highest bidder,” unless, of course, it belongs to you. Then it’s pretty cool.
Since the failed merger attempt in 1998 between the two national teachers’ unions, NEA has routinely had to revisit complications arising from the fact that some of its affiliates belong to two different organizations. Now-forgotten battles over Education Minnesota’s back dues, the NEAFT Partnership, and individual affiliate entry into the AFL-CIO arose.
Even recently, NEA dealt with the merger in North Dakota, the postponed merger in Wisconsin, and the removal of the six-affiliate cap on mergers. But each of these was resolved with little or no uproar.
At next year’s Representative Assembly in Orlando a proposal will be placed before the delegates that could revive the contentious emotions of the past. Delegates will vote via secret ballot on an amendment to the NEA constitution that would eliminate “proportional” representation at the convention for merged affiliates.
The current system works this way: Merged state affiliates send delegates in proportion to how many NEA members there were in the state before the merger, and essentially half of members picked up after the merger. The amendment would count all members equally, regardless of whom they belonged to before the merger, or how much they contribute in dues to NEA.
The greatest effect will be felt in New York, which is currently represented at the convention as if it had somewhere between 30,000 and 40,000 members. If the constitutional amendment passes, its representation would increase almost tenfold. Florida and Minnesota would also pick up a significant number of new delegates.
I suspect this would have little effect on NEA’s policies in general, except for issues related to merger itself. All of the merged affiliates belong to the AFL-CIO. Increased representation might mean new business items like #44 would have a better chance of passing. It would also add a whole slew of pro-merger delegates to the assembly. Who knows what that might bring?