NEA Affiliate Executive Directors Under Pressure

In the NEA affiliate system, executive directors are the most senior, highest-paid employees on the staff. They oversee all aspects of the union’s operations and deployment of personnel. And they tend to last a long time – a serious advantage when most elected officers are term-limited.

However, it isn’t all cakes and ale for them. Recent movement among their ranks suggests more unrest than usual.

* Richard Sanders, the executive director of the Oregon Education Association for five years, resigned without warning last month. No explanation was given, but Sanders was not popular among the staff, which has gone without a new contract for almost two years.

* Going from the frying pan into the fire, Brenda Pike resigned as the executive director of the debt-ridden Indiana State Teachers Association in order to take the executive director position of the debt-ridden Alabama Education Association.

* Rachelle Johnson has only been the executive director of the troubled North Carolina Association of Educators for two years, but it has already been a rocky tenure. The staff union recently declared a unanimous vote of no confidence in her, citing several deficiencies, including “failure to ensure a safe working environment in the headquarters building.”

* Vermont NEA announced the retirement of Joel Cook, who has been its executive director for the past 16 years. By all appearances it is a quiet and happy separation, but I am reminded that it was exactly eight years ago when EIA broke the story of the battle within the union’s leadership and representative bodies over whether Cook’s contract would be renewed. Weeks later, Cook was given a new deal, but there was similar turmoil among NEA state affiliates at the time.

NEA’s staff unions have been constrained in recent years by the recession, early retirements, RIFs, and the threat of Friedrichs. With those concerns mostly behind them, we may see them try to make up for lost time – and money. That will make for turbulent times among executive directors and union management in general.

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