+ The Kentucky Education Association Staff Organization went on strike early Friday morning and immediately set up picket lines in front of the Hyatt Regency in Louisville, Kentucky, where NEA was holding its annual Mid-Atlantic Conference. KEASO is the union of staffers of the state NEA affiliate. And, as is typical when a staff union has a labor dispute with a teachers’ union, there was a high level of both solidarity and hypocrisy, charges and recriminations, personal attacks and personal support, as well as constant amusement for EIA. Some highlights:
* KEASO has repeatedly claimed that KEA Executive Director Charlie Vice sent a letter to all members of the staff threatening to hire “replacement workers” if they went on strike. Vice’s letter also allegedly contained instructions explaining how staffers could resign from KEASO in order to avoid union penalties for continuing to work. “We are embarrassed for the members of KEA that this so-called teacher union has become Kentucky’s foremost union-buster,” said KEASO President Ellen Young. KEASO did not respond to an EIA request to see the letter.
* About 400 union officials from Maryland, North Carolina, Ohio, Virginia and West Virginia were scheduled to meet and hear speeches from both NEA President Bob Chase and Vice President Reg Weaver. At press time, EIA had not yet learned whether Chase or Weaver attended the conference. KEASO claims 150 rooms at the Hyatt were canceled. That still leaves a substantial number of union officials (somewhere between 100 and 250) who crossed or circumvented the picket line.
* Elected union officers of the Jefferson County Teachers Association sided with the staff, closed down their offices and joined KEASO on the picket line.
* KEASO picketers are being supported financially by their parent union, the National Staff Organization, and by a donation of $1,000 from the Michigan Education Association’s staff union.
* KEA last offer was a 2.5 percent pay raise reportedly tied to keeping membership levels above 28,500. KEA’s membership numbers as of June 1999 were 32,653 active and 4,282 other.
* KEA President Judith Gambill revealed to the Louisville Courier-Journal that KEA offered staff a vacation and leave proposal that would allow up to 42 paid days off each year.
* A mediator called both parties in to resume bargaining. No progress was reported from Sunday’s session, but another meeting is scheduled for tomorrow.
EIA doesn’t have current figures for KEA staff compensation, but figures from 1995 showed the professional staff (UniServ directors, et al.) at $54,750 and the associate staff (assistants, secretaries, et al.) at $24,919. Those numbers ranked Kentucky 31st and 37th, respectively, in the average NEA staff salary figures for that year. EIA also notes that KEA dues for 1998 were $217. So, the solution to the impasse is simple. Raise staff salaries to the national average and pay for it by raising member dues to the national average. From what I’ve been told, this is the only fair and equitable way to deal with salaries and financial inputs. How is KEA going to attract the best and the brightest to its staff if it doesn’t offer them competitive wages?