NEA Director Goes Nuclear in Dispute with New Jersey Education Association

Andrew Policastro has held numerous offices in his local and the New Jersey Education Association. He is one of NJEA’s representatives on the National Education Association board of directors.

Policastro ran for the position of NJEA secretary-treasurer, finishing third in a four-way race. He filed complaints with the union’s election committee, claiming his opponents and their allies violated internal campaign rules. When NJEA dismissed his complaints, Policastro appealed to the U.S. Department of Labor, only to learn that NJEA is not subject to the requirements of the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act (LMRDA), the federal law that regulates union procedures.

Not to be denied, Policastro filed suit in district court, calling on the court to rule that NJEA is subject to the LMRDA.

Should Policastro succeed, it would usher in a new era of public knowledge of NEA affiliates. Not only would NJEA and every other NEA state affiliate be required to file financial reports annually, but NEA trusteeships, such as those imposed on affiliates in Alabama, Indiana and South Carolina, would have to make details of those operations publicly available.

Alas, the outlook for such a revolution is not good. In 2003, the U.S. Department of Labor sought the same jurisdiction over all NEA affiliates, resulting in a union lawsuit, a rebuff in the courts, and a bureaucratic death after the election of Barack Obama.

Policastro is nothing if not determined, having financed out of his own pocket a First Amendment suit against his school district, representing himself in the process.

Should his complaint proceed up the judicial ladder, it is inevitable that NEA’s attorneys will intervene. Will Policastro, as a member benefit, be able to draw on legal advice from his union?


Trouble in Paradise?

I don’t know for a fact that the collective bargaining agreement between the Hawaii State Teachers Association and its employees is about to expire, but circumstantial evidence suggests that it’s that time of year.

Suddenly this week, HSTA’s staff union made four complaints to the National Labor Relations Board. HSTA management is accused of unilateral changes to the contract and in the terms and conditions of employment, coercive actions and statements, and “refusal to furnish information.”

The latter charge is usually employed in an effort to get comprehensive data from management about the union’s financial status, so the staff union can make informed salary and benefit demands during negotiations.

Similar to NEA affiliates in California and Washington, HSTA rode out the post-recession years reasonably well, so I expect the same result: differences papered over with cash. These are all agency fee states, however, so the entente cordiale may be short-lived.


Washington Education Association Employees Set Strike Date of Sept. 27

The sticking point, as usual, is pension costs and post-retirement health care liabilities. Although the bargaining atmosphere is acrimonious, I expect a deal will get done before the strike deadline, just as it was in California.

The reason is simple. While those liabilities are a burden often kicked down the road, the affiliates in California and Washington are among the financially healthiest in NEA. You can rationalize cutting benefits in places like Wisconsin, Michigan and Indiana, but there’s no case to be made for belt-tightening when the feast is laid on the table.


Why Wait Months for Union News?

The New York Post‘s featured Labor Day story was headlined “UFT may have to dramatically slash $182M budget.” The newspaper reported that the United Federation of Teachers expected a 20-30 percent drop in membership – according to “labor sources” – should the U.S. Supreme Court strike down agency fee laws.

The unspecified cuts were announced by UFT president Michael Mulgrew at a union retreat last week, the Post reports.

It was an appropriate story for Labor Day, but you read about it back around Memorial Day in The 74.

In a column detailing what a number of unions were doing in advance of a possible Supreme Court ruling, I included this:

United Federation of Teachers: UFT’s New York City local estimates a 20 percent reduction in membership and feels it can safely cut $16 million, which is about 10 percent of the annual dues it collects.

Budget cuts at UFT might not affect your daily life, but if you have any interest at all in such issues, this is the place to come.


Billion Year Contract

Over at the Center of the American Experiment, Tom Steward draws our attention to the latest effort of Education Minnesota to stave off the potential loss of thousands of members if the U.S. Supreme Court strikes down agency fee laws.

Down at the bottom of the union’s 2017-18 membership application, in small print and grayed out, is the usual authorization to allow the school district to deduct union dues from the teacher’s paycheck, but with an added twist:

This authorization shall remain in effect and shall be automatically renewed from year to year, irrespective of my membership in the union, unless I revoke it by submitting written notice to both my employer and the local union during the seven-day period that begins on September 24 and ends on September 30.

“Irrespective of my membership in the union.” This is a brazen attempt at collecting agency fees even if agency fee laws disappear. Actually, it’s worse than that because, as the fine print tells us, “Your dues include $25 per year for the Education Minnesota PAC.”

Agency fee law or not, no union member anywhere is required to contribute to the union’s PAC. But getting your money back won’t be easy. You have to email or hand deliver “a signed original request form” within 30 days of signing the membership application.

Where do you get the request form? You have to phone Education Minnesota’s headquarters to find out.

These types of tactics are vulnerable to court challenges, but someone still has to initiate the legal process to put an end to them. We’ll see this and other assorted trickery in all of the agency fee states.


Two Things People Love Until It’s Time to Pay Them

Taxes and unions.

The Wyoming Education Association released a poll it commissioned that shows 78% of the state’s voters are willing to pay more in taxes for K-12 schools – 32% were willing to pay $200 or more per year.

The respondents weren’t asked what the current levels of spending are – information that tends to affect their answers, as polling by Education Next has repeatedly shown.

The annual Gallup poll shows approval of unions is up to 61% this year, the highest level since 2003.

Since 2003, the number of workers has grown by 14 million and the number of union members has fallen by 1.2 million.