The Breakfast Club Is Trying to Eat the Union’s Lunch

The San Diego Education Association is having its troubles, as reported previously. But now – to employ the cliché – it has been taken to another level.

Ousted SDEA vice president Camille Zombro appears to be the driving force behind The Breakfast Club Action Group, a faction of the union that is very unhappy about the organization’s direction and governance. Zombro composed an open letter blasting president Bill Freeman for “taking dramatic and abrupt steps to systematically dismantle the very foundation of the powerful union we have built: our democracy, our transparent communication with membership, and our tough stance in defending our jobs and our contract.”

She called the dismissal of executive director Craig Leedham “a political purge” and said the union is “in a tailspin.”

The San Diego Union-Tribune and the Voice of San Diego both got wind of the letter and their stories naturally concentrate on the effect the union’s turmoil will have on contract negotiations and school district operations. But there is plenty more to chew on from The Breakfast Club as it pertains to the California Teachers Association and the larger union movement.

First there’s the post about SDEA’s relationship with its own employees. It contains this segment:

When Craig became the Executive Director, he turned down a forty-thousand dollar salary increase that would have matched his salary to his predecessors, and instead took only a one-percent increase over what he’d been making. He has since pushed to further decrease his own salary and the salary of SDEA staff by negotiating nine furlough days. That might sound like a lot, but not when you find out what the top of the professional staff salary schedule is: $131,560 a year. That’s right. For some of you, SDEA staff literally half your age are making literally twice your wage.

This isn’t to say that our employees don’t deserve fair wages and benefits- of course they do. But there’s fair, and then there’s ridiculous. And it’s no small wonder Craig has some popularity issues with the staff when he directly attempted to reduce those ridiculous staff salaries.

Teacher union officers are notorious for their inability to comfortably combine their roles as labor representatives and managers of a private entity. While urging SDEA not to accept reduced salaries in order to mitigate teacher layoffs, the author also wants SDEA’s unionized staff to accept reduced salaries and furlough days.

It gets even more ironic in “The Bell Curve: Why CTA Is Really Our Frenemy.” The post provides a rare glimpse into the often-strained relationship between NEA locals and state affiliates. I urge you to read the entire post, but I provide an excerpt here:

For the past six years, SDEA has intentionally deemphasized our relationship with our state affiliate CTA (the California Teachers Association) and focused on doing things our own way. Here’s why.

SDEA employs our own staff, who work directly for us and not for CTA. This is big deal because CTA’s staffers tend to be very conservative in their advice to local unions. Theirs is a traditional union model where “expert” staff provide services to “grateful” members (remember, we pay their very large salaries!). They see state lobbying instead of local organizing as the most important role of the union. CTA staff analysis of school districts’ budgets also tends to line up with the districts’ own analysis, which as we know is wrong every single year.

…So why do CTA staff continually advise concessions that so often turn out to be unnecessary? Because when you’re talking to a CTA staff person, you are also talking to a CSO member. CSO stands for California Staff Organization, and that’s the union that all of the CTA professional staff belong to. They have a personal, material interest in the health of CTA’s budget, because that’s where their own wages and benefits come from. The truth is that when SDEA/CTA members give concessions, it doesn’t hurt CTA’s budget. In fact, CTA keeps passing dues increases despite the concessions teachers are taking statewide. But layoffs do hurt CTA’s budget a lot. And when teachers’ jobs disappear, CTA staff jobs disappear. That’s why CTA staff (CSO members) advise teachers that year after year, we should take concessions to avoid layoffs. It’s not just that they have some altruistic interest in saving your job. They want to save their own. It’s too bad CTA staff don’t take a page out of SDEA’s book and realize it doesn’t have to be layoffs OR concessions. We can (and do) fight both!

The obvious response to this is that SDEA should continue to remain as independent of CTA as possible. The advice we get from CTA staff benefits CTA staff, but it sure doesn’t seem to benefit CTA members.

It’s emphasized in the original: It’s not just that they have some altruistic interest in saving your job. They want to save their own.

When I write that unions have their own self-interests at stake, which may or may not coincide with the self-interests of the people they represent, it’s called anti-union. It’s refreshing to hear it from unionists who believe their own organization isn’t combative enough.