A listening post monitoring public education and teachers’ unions.

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Written By: Mike Antonucci - Apr• 18•14

According to its own mission statement, Media Matters for America is “a Web-based, not-for-profit, 501(c)(3) progressive research and information center dedicated to comprehensively monitoring, analyzing, and correcting conservative misinformation in the U.S. media.”

As such, the organization has received financial support from labor unions such as the National Education Association and SEIU ($100,000 each in 2012). Nevertheless, it appears that MMA has been running a non-union shop all these years.

The Washington Examiner reports that MMA staffers have filed for a representation election with the National Labor Relations Board. The employees seek to have SEIU Local 500 as their collective bargaining agent. Because Maryland is a card check state, the Examiner reports this as evidence that MMA refuses to recognize the wishes of its employees and insists on a secret ballot election.

That’s possible, but there is another explanation. The union needs 50% + 1 of the proposed bargaining unit members to receive recognition with a card check. It needs only 30% of them to file for an election.

MMA reported having 96 employees and a $9.6 million budget in 2012 (it still ran a deficit, however). Its chairman, David Brock, received a salary of $273,954 for 22.5 hours of work per week, which sounds like reason enough for a union organizing campaign.

MMA management retained attorneys from Perkins Coie to represent it before the NLRB. The firm is well-known in Democratic circles and describes its labor services this way:

As the Obama NLRB continues to issue union-friendly decisions, we understand the attendant challenges that employers face in developing and maintaining productive employee relations and economic sustainability.

Perkins Coie focuses on keeping employers at the forefront of emerging issues in the areas of social media, union organization campaigns and responses to strikes and picketing. We also serve as effective negotiators of labor agreements.

Sure, it’s fun to ridicule MMA about all this, but just as employees have the right to form a union, management has the right to protect its interests. If MMA believes it can perform its mission better with a non-union staff, it should be able to make that case. A secret ballot election is the best way to protect workers from coercion from both sides, since they vote alone, and anonymously.

So have a laugh, then root for a fair and balanced debate between the sides, after which the staffers will exercise a free choice about their relationship with their employers. It could happen, you know.


Run for the Border

Written By: Mike Antonucci - Apr• 17•14

Real Clear Politics picked up this September 2013 video of U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan in Columbus, New Mexico, in order to make a point about immigration. But I think it illustrates a different irony.

I’m not sure Secretary Duncan would find it inspiring or courageous if he watched kids crossing the border into the Berkeley School District, or Arlington (scroll to the bottom of this interview).

This comes on the heels of Alexander Russo’s post about U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren’s (D-Massachusetts) staunch opposition to what he calls the “current zip code-based system of allocating scarce quality schooling.”

Maybe there’s a Left-Right coalition for this, similar to the opposition to Common Core.


Modesto Disaffiliation Vote Set for May 6

Written By: Mike Antonucci - Apr• 16•14

The Modesto Teachers Association is all set to decide whether it wants to continue being part of the California Teachers Association. The local claims 1,525 members, which would make it the largest CTA local affiliate to break away if the vote goes that way on May 6.

The decision by MTA’s officers was apparently triggered by the use of CTA grant money to give MTA’s executive director release time. CTA says the grant is for local officers only, not staffers. It seems a little weak for a casus belli, so I assume MTA has had its differences with CTA in the past.

MTA is a moderately large local, but not so large that its absence would significantly affect CTA’s coffers. Nevertheless, the state union can’t have locals running around doing their own thing. It would set a bad precedent for waverers elsewhere in the state.

CTA complained about lack of access to MTA’s members to get its message out, and is already threatening to contest the results of an election that is three weeks away.

The Modesto school district ruled that, according to the collective bargaining agreement, MTA is the exclusive representative and so CTA will not be allowed to distribute its materials to teachers, nor use district email.

CTA says the teachers are also its members, and filed an unfair labor practice against the district, claiming the district’s stance requires that “any attempt by MTA to amend its certification to reflect disaffiliation from CTA be denied.”

Although disaffiliations are rare, the National Education Association suffered a large one last year when the 3,000 members of the University of Hawaii Professional Assembly went their own way. I expect NEA and CTA will make every effort, including litigation, to keep this from becoming a trend. Only time will tell if they borrow the much more direct tactics of the American Federation of Teachers.


Charter School Unions: One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

Written By: Mike Antonucci - Apr• 15•14

In what now has become a media tradition, press outlets lit up with the news that the Pennsylvania State Education Association successfully unionized the Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School by a vote of 71 to 34.

The story notes, “PSEA has represented charter school teachers in the past, said spokesman Wythe Keever, but the approximately 115 teachers from the statewide online public school will be the only such members now.”

That’s a welcome detail usually omitted from charter school unionization stories, but it lacks some background, which I will happily provide.

PSEA has been trying to organize charters for more than 13 years and this, as far as I can tell, is the sum total of its efforts:

* PSEA won representation of employees at The Village Charter School, but the school was absorbed into the Chester-Upland School District in June 2008, its employees becoming members of the traditional local in that district.

* In June 2009, PSEA unionized the employees of the PA Learners Online cyber charter school, an achievement that was touted by NEA. The school later became the Stream Academy, and appears to have lost its union along the way. How that happened is a mystery to me, but PSEA no longer represents Stream Academy employees.

* In May 2012, PSEA failed to unionize the employees of Agora Cyber Charter School after a very long and expensive campaign.

* In June 2013, PSEA unionized employees of the Pocono Mountain Charter School. In July 2013, the school’s charter was revoked by the state appeals board, a decision that was recently reversed by a Commonwealth Court. The fate of the union is not clear, but PSEA does not count it as one of its locals.

In the meantime, the charter movement in Pennsylvania grew to a total of 183 schools last year.


Where Do All Your Tax Dollars Go?

Written By: Mike Antonucci - Apr• 14•14

Click here to read.


Unique Poll Question

Written By: Mike Antonucci - Apr• 14•14

Brown University conducted a poll about the candidates in the race for governor of Rhode Island. There was one question I had never seen used in a pre-election survey before.

The poll also tried to gauge how Democratic primary candidates were doing among voters affiliated with unions.

It asked those likely primary voters if they or any relatives were members of a union or teachers’ association. Of those who said yes, 33.9 percent said they would vote for Taveras and 23.5 percent would vote for Raimondo, a difference of 10 percentage points. Pell had support from 8.7 percent.

Among that same sample unaffiliated with a union or teachers’ association, Raimondo led with 32.2 percent to Taveras’ 23 percent and Pell’s 9.6 percent.

That’s about a 20 percent swing between union-affiliated Democrats and non-union Democrats. It makes me wonder if there are similar gaps in other races in other states.


Second-String Theory

Written By: Mike Antonucci - Apr• 11•14

It’s well past April Fool’s Day, so I guess this story is legitimate:

Tennessee had engineered some major education policy changes before boasting historic gains on the National Assessment for Education Progress last year.

But the Tennessee Education Association, the state’s largest teachers organization, has started to point to something simpler to help explain the big jump: a 90-second Tennessee Department of Education motivational video featuring then-Tennessee Titans quarterback Matt Hasselbeck and first lady Crissy Haslam.

TEA wants to ensure that the state’s gains are not attributed to education reforms it opposes, so it insists that a short video by a backup quarterback propelled Tennessee’s students into the NAEP end zone.

Hasselbeck is now warming the bench in Indianapolis, so it’s no surprise to see Indiana also experienced some NAEP gains. Hasselbeck spent most of his career in Seattle, so of course Washington also had some higher scores.

Massachusetts saw 4th grade reading scores drop significantly, which suggests to me that Ryan Mallett may be on the trading block.