The Department of Education Is Wrong

About 100 protesters from NEA and AFT, including union presidents Lily Eskelsen García and Randi Weingarten, headed over to the U.S. Department of Education yesterday with boxes of failing report cards for Secretary Betsy DeVos. They were turned away at the door by security, citing the group’s lack of an appointment.

The group feigned outrage, apparently forgetting their pledge from last year that there would be no photo op with DeVos.

Still, the Department of Education was entirely mistaken about the composition of the group.

“It’s unfortunate that instead of working to have productive dialogue, the unions decided it was important to pull teachers out of the classroom for a two-hour political publicity stunt — for which they shot their own footage to send to media outlets,” said Department of Education spokeswoman Liz Hill.

I doubt many – if any – teachers were pulled out of the classroom. Both unions have their headquarters in the area, as does the Washington Teachers Union. They were undoubtedly augmented by the NEA board of directors, who are in DC for their regular meeting this weekend and traditionally use Thursday as a lobby day.

I don’t know what obligation public officials have to participate in union street theater, but we’ll see more of this sort of thing on February 24, when public sector unions will be staging their Janus protests.

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What Are California’s Public Sector Unions Up To?

Being out here in California is a disadvantage when it comes to staying in the Northeast-NY-DC news loop. On the other hand, I often have more California news than I can reasonably use for a national readership.

Fortunately my partnership with The 74 has been a happy one, and so I will become a regular contributor to its sister publication, LA School Report. As it describes itself, LA School Report “is an online news site, focusing on the intersection of politics and education in Los Angeles.”

While I will pay close attention to United Teachers Los Angeles, I will concentrate on the doings of the California Teachers Association, California Federation of Teachers, California School Employees Association, SEIU, and how their actions at the Capitol affect LA and all of the state’s school districts.

Check out the first installment: “Campaign contributions flow as California Teachers Association makes more political endorsements.”

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Not Everyone’s Thrilled With Chicago Teachers Union Merger

Last week members of the Chicago Teachers Union approved constitutional changes that merged CTU with its charter school counterpart, the Chicago Alliance of Charter Teachers and Staff (ChiACTS). The two organizations were already joined at the hip, so it will be difficult for outsiders to notice the difference.

The vote wasn’t close, particularly with the help of more than 1,000 retirees, but opponents really didn’t like the idea. CTU devoted most of the January issue of its newsletter to promote the merger, suggesting some concern with how it was being perceived at the school level.

George Schmidt, long-time CTU member and editor of Substance News, sees the merger as representative of a series of failings of CTU:

The current union leadership has already negotiated some of the most controversial contracts in CTU contract history (which stretches back to 1968), including two contracts which, over a total of more than eight years, include zero raises in three of those years (the first was caused by giving back the final year raise of four percent negotiated by the current leadership’s predecessor).

Schmidt accuses CTU’s leaders of “standing alone,” instead of in solidarity with other city and school unions. Some of this may be sour grapes, but CTU is eager to restore some categories of school employees, currently represented by SEIU, to CTU’s jurisdiction.

President Karen Lewis has united an historically fractious CTU during her tenure, but some fissures never heal. These may widen in a post-Janus world.

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Teacher Union Plans to Take Dues Even If You Stop Being a Teacher

If my phone calls and e-mails are any indication, everyone wants to know what public sector unions are planning to do if the U.S. Supreme Court bans agency fees. One thing they won’t do is meekly accept their fate.

Last September the Center for the American Experiment got hold of an Education Minnesota membership application and found it tailored for a post-Janus world. It authorized the deduction of dues “irrespective of my membership in the union.”

Apparently this wording got the OK from union lawyers, because now it also appears in the membership application for United Teachers Los Angeles. As part of its “UTLA All-In” campaign, the union wants to get every member – and current agency fee-payer if possible – to recommit to paying dues.

The form states, “This agreement to pay dues shall remain in effect and shall be irrevocable unless I revoke it by sending written notice via U.S. mail to UTLA during the period not less than thirty (30) days and not more than sixty (60) days before the annual anniversary date of this agreement or as otherwise required by law. This agreement shall be automatically renewed from year to year unless I revoke it in writing during the window period, irrespective of my membership in UTLA.”

So a teacher who takes an administrative position, or leaves teaching altogether, and is then ineligible to be a UTLA member, will still be on the hook for dues payments until the next window comes around. God knows what happens if you die before you can revoke the agreement.

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Who’s Most Worried About Janus? NEA Employees

If the U.S. Supreme Court eliminates agency fees from the public sector in Janus v. AFSCME the workers most directly and immediately affected won’t be teachers or municipal employees, it will be the staffers who work for public sector unions.

The National Staff Organization, which is the umbrella group for unions representing employees of the National Education Association and its state affiliates, is dispensing advice to its members about what to do in case of an adverse Janus ruling.

NSO warns that staff unions will be “under assault as NEA and State Affiliates attempt to cut back and restructure in the face of the Janus threat.”

It tells staff unions “Don’t let managers use these crises to pick and choose staff, allowing them to reshape your union in their image” and to “Keep management’s ability to RIF, Transfer, or Reassign as narrow in scope as possible.”

What I find most interesting is NSO’s lack of trust in NEA’s accounting. It suggests staffers should use “verifiable financial figures (e.g. from the LM Report or the IRS 990) rather than membership reports, since those can be easily manipulated.”

NSO advises an examination of union finances, to include recent audits, reserve fund balances, pension funding ratio, membership trends, and prior year surpluses and losses.

Sounds like a good plan. Here’s the best place to start your research.

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