Act 10 at Five

The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel published a special report on Sunday about the state of labor unions in Wisconsin since the passage of Act 10 in 2011, the law that severely limited public-sector collective bargaining and ended agency fees. Here are a few choice quotes from the story:

+ “Dave Weiland, an Oconomowoc school district teacher and local union leader, thinks the state union was stuck in a 1920s mentality. ‘The gravy train was running, and they didn’t see the curve,’ he said.”

+ “The seeds of a public backlash were planted by the arbitration law. ‘Some would probably argue that was the death knell of real collective bargaining in Wisconsin,’ said Rick Badger, now statewide head of AFSCME, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which since Act 10 has lost 70% of its members at two of its councils.”

+ “After all, the arbitrators — not elected school boards — now usually decided their contracts. ‘Members disengaged,’ said John Matthews, who ran the Madison teachers union for 50 years. ‘We’d lost our pressure tactics.’”

+ “’I think we became, as a union, a paper tiger of sorts, focusing too much on collective bargaining at the expense of everything else,’ said Kim Schroeder, a teacher who is president of the Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association. ‘We set ourselves up as a target.’”

+ “When administrators told the union at the negotiating table that budgets were tight, teachers didn’t believe them. And unions that caved at the bargaining table were ostracized. ‘That just kind of fell on deaf ears,’ [former local union president Gary Stresman] says.”

This kind of critical introspection is rare at the higher levels of unions and it’s refreshing to see it published in a public forum. Still, it always seems to involve past actions and not current practices. How might things have turned out differently if all of the above concerns had been raised and publicized at the time they were occurring?

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Greenhouse Shouldn’t Throw Stones

It’s understandable that we should be deluged with pundits trying to explain how the hell Donald Trump became President-elect. The latest in this series is from Steven Greenhouse, the former New York Times labor reporter, who penned an editorial for his former employers headlined “What Unions Got Wrong About Trump.”

For my part, I don’t think the unions got anything wrong about Trump. They relentlessly highlighted his untrue and hateful statements, and warned their members of the coming apocalypse should he be elected. “What Unions Got Wrong About Hillary” would have been a much more interesting topic.

“For the nation’s labor unions, the day after Election Day was going to be a victory lap,” Greenhouse wrote. “They planned to boast to the world that their vaunted get-out-the-vote operation had delivered the White House to Hillary Clinton by winning three crucial Rust Belt states for her: Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. But the unions, to their shock and horror, failed to deliver those states — or victory — to Mrs. Clinton.”

The failure of unions to deliver the decisive votes for Hillary was certainly a factor, but an examination of Greenhouse’s Twitter timeline shows he has about a dozen explanations for Trump’s victory – a couple even before the election.

On November 3, it was because of FBI Director James Comey.

On November 7, he added Russian intelligence services.

The train really got rolling on Election Night. At 7:24 pm, it was because the Democrats didn’t nominate Joe Biden.

At 8:25 pm, it was because of dark money and voting restrictions.

At 9:38 pm, it was because Hillary didn’t run against Gerald Ford in 1976.

Greenhouse then slept on it, and at 7:23 am on November 9 he blamed it on the stupid.

Then he thought more about it and at 8:41 am settled on Debbie Wasserman Schultz and the Democratic National Committee.

But by 9:56 am he concluded with the Electoral College.

Maybe one, or more, or all of these are correct. But a week before the election, Greenhouse touted a New York Times story that stated “Trump’s alienation of key voting blocs has bolstered Democrats in the West and South, and Republicans fear it could be a grim glimpse of their future.”

In short, Greenhouse doesn’t have any idea why Trump won. He shouldn’t be embarrassed about this. Almost all of us don’t know. If we reexamine our assumptions and sources of information perhaps we’ll do better the next time.

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How to Improve Graduation Rates

There is no shortage of ideas of how to increase the number of kids who successfully graduate from high school. But when NEA president Lily Eskelsen García visited Rogers High School in Spokane, Washington, she cited its improved graduation rate and called it “a model for the nation.”

As Peter Cook points out today, Rogers isn’t exactly high-achieving. So how did Eskelsen García choose Rogers for a visit? It couldn’t just have been because Debby Chandler, the president of NEA’s National Council for Education Support Professionals, works there.

So what’s the Rogers secret?

And how are they doing this? It’s not a product that this district bought. It’s not more test prep. It really is giving people the time to feel like they’re family … what they’ve discovered here, the magic — the secret sauce — is, you know, we can actually just do stuff that we want to, like this pep rally. Let’s get everybody in the hall and let’s clap for these people that are never recognized, the lunch ladies, and let’s get a limo. The kids loved that. They loved planning it. They loved deciding who was gonna be recognized. And when it comes from — it sounds like a cliché — when it comes from the roots, when it comes from the community, then there’s joy to it. You’re not doing it because someone told you to.

We should applaud the school for teaching the kids appreciation for people who provide services for them. It’s an important attribute to take into their adult lives. But so is mastery of high school math, and apparently four of every five students at Rogers haven’t obtained that.

Standardized tests are misused and overused. But they provide us with information that teachers’ unions are determined to downplay or hide from public view. We should listen to what school employees tell us about students. We should not accept their descriptions as the unvarnished truth.

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Bits & Pieces

Here a few small stories to finish your week:

* The Teamsters conducted an all-member vote for president. Junior Hoffa has been running the union since 1999, but this time he faced a strong challenge from Fred Zuckerman, president of a Teamsters local in Kentucky. So strong, in fact, that initial vote counts reveal Zuckerman defeated Hoffa among all U.S. locals. Unfortunately for him, Hoffa appears to have run up a huge margin among the 12 Teamsters locals in Canada and leads by about 6,000 votes out of about 200,000 cast. The results still have to be certified.

* Union representation of Detroit teachers was a convoluted mess this year, but things may return to normal as votes are counted for the top offices in the Detroit Federation of Teachers. The incumbents are being challenged by a slate of candidates called Dedicated Teachers for Fairness and Equity. Some of the candidates on the slate helped organize teacher sick-outs last year.

* The former treasurer of the Coffee County Education Association was indicted on one count of theft after an investigation by the Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury. Stephanie Cunningham misappropriated more than $29,000 of union funds, using the money to purchase personal items. Normally this wouldn’t be worth noting, but one of the reasons Cunningham was able to steal the funds was because the union didn’t require two signatures on checks – a simple safeguard that still hasn’t been instituted everywhere even after many years.

* After only a year and a half, support employees with Illinois Valley Community College dissolved their union, which was affiliated with the Illinois Federation of Teachers.

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NEA In Panic Even Where It Won

As I tried to demonstrate yesterday, even though the results of the election were bad overall for teachers’ unions, they had some big victories, too. But the most worried union presidents seem to be from the two states where teachers’ unions had their best day – California and Massachusetts.

The California Teachers Association dropped a ton of money to support a ballot initiative with no organized opposition, won the return of bilingual education, and achieved super-majorities in the legislature. What is there to worry about?

Well, it seems some of those new Democratic legislators were backed by charter school supporters, defeating candidates backed by CTA. (California has a “top-two” primary system.) CTA president Eric Heins called this “dangerous,” presumably because some special interest group might end up controlling education in the state.

Meanwhile on the other coast, Massachusetts Teachers Association president Barbara Madeloni, straight off her expensive but successful effort to keep the state’s cap on charter schools, wants to leverage her victory into organizing “standouts” next Tuesday. Sit-ins are too Sixties, apparently.

Madeloni told her members to “declare your buildings and campuses safe spaces,” adding it was “a time to push past rules and bureaucracies that limit our ability to show and live our compassion.”

“Push past rules and bureaucracies?” Maybe Trump has found himself a new candidate for Secretary of Education.

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