NEA Discovers It Is a Labor Union

The 2009 National Education Association Representative Assembly adjourned at 6:53 p.m. There’s an awful lot to dig into, but I’ll be as brief as I can, and I’ll likely add more in the days ahead.

* Linda Darling-Hammond received her Friend of Education award and gave a very well-received speech. For someone acclaimed as “America’s most influential education policy writer and researcher,” she made an awful lot of claims – particularly about “high-achieving nations” – that were arguable at best and deserve some further investigation. It was the kind of speech that probably would have driven Gerald Bracey into apoplexy.

* NEA promises to post the video of General Counsel Bob Chanin’s farewell speech. I’m looking forward to it, because it began as a fascinating recital of the early history of public school teacher collective bargaining. Chanin was in on it from the very beginning. If he wasn’t the architect, he was certainly the mason, welder and custodian of the teacher union as we know it today.

Whether it was Chanin’s retirement, Van Roekel’s new emphasis, or a spontaneous paradigm shift, this year NEA finally embraced the labor union label it has downplayed for 25 years. Delegate after delegate touted unionism and identified themselves proudly as part of the broader labor movement. Chanin told the crowd that while professional issues were important, “NEA and its affiliates should never lose sight of the fact that they are unions.”

The middle part of the speech was a detailed listing of NEA’s foes over the years, specifically the Landmark Legal Foundation, the National Right to Work Committee, Fox News, the Wall Street Journal and Forbes, along with the Bush Administration labor and education departments and, Chanin asserted, the IRS.

With a line that you may not hear reported from other sources, Chanin asked rhetorically, “Why do those conservative right-wing bastards hate us so much?”

The answer? “It’s the price we pay for success.” Chanin said NEA wasn’t hated in the past because it was powerless and “nobody gave a damn what we did.”

He finished by reminding the delegates that NEA’s power derived not from its noble mission or righteousness of its cause, but because 3.2 million members send hundreds of millions of dollars in dues money to NEA to fight their battles. (Actually, only 2.7 million members send dues money, because most members of New York State United Teachers don’t send NEA jack.)

Whatever you think of Chanin, he is to be applauded for his clarity in an age where obfuscation is the norm in politics. We shall not see his like again.

* NEA raised $1,625,289 in PAC money.

* In accordance with the request contained in NBI 58, Van Roekel will write a letter to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan asking him to “clarify his remarks about testing and teacher effectiveness made to the Representative Assembly on July 2, 2009.”

* The delegates defeated NBI 66, which would have required NEA to publicize the salaries and benefits of NEA’s executive officers. In introducing the item, the delegate from California said she had asked her local and state affiliates, and even NEA, to provide the information, but had received no response. Clearly there is yet one more poor soul who needs to visit

* I have been reliably informed by sources in three separate NEA state delegations that Greg Johnson of Oklahoma used the evil specter of yours truly in an effort to drum up votes for his runoff election to the NEA Executive Committee. Since he won the seat, I can only assume that using my name in vain was helpful to his effort. I feel his victory is at least a little bit mine as well, so I will feel free to poke fun at him in the future, whenever I want to.

* Thanks for your kind attention and patience. I’m heading home for a decent meal. EIA audiences are the best audiences in the world!


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