Michigan Education Association in Contract Dispute with Local Employees

The Michigan Education Association has hundreds of employees. These workers are themselves represented by five different staff unions. One of the smaller of these, the Michigan Executive Directors Association, represents labor consultants who work directly for MEA’s local affiliates.

Contract negotiations are often contentious, and just because the employer is a union doesn’t make them less so. In fact, they are often more volatile because both sides know every trick in the book.

MEDA recently filed an unfair labor practice complaint against MEA with the National Labor Relations Board. The staff union accuses MEA of violating Section 8(a)(5) of the National Labor Relations Act, which is failure to bargain in good faith.

I don’t yet have the specifics, but it may have to do with MEA trying to circumvent the staff union and deal directly with the employees.

These types of complaints are usually withdrawn when a contract agreement is reached, but I will provide further details as they reach me.


Charter School War Extends All the Way to Guam

Guam might be 9,800 miles from Los Angeles, but its education politics are similar in one respect: the teachers union hates charter schools.

So much so, that when a bill was introduced in the legislature to convert Simon A. Sanchez High School into a charter, the Guam Federation of Teachers (an AFT affiliate) listed seven reasons to oppose the idea.

Only two need to be addressed. GFT’s press release states “students can be denied enrollment for many reasons such as disability and not being smart enough.”

This is triply untrue. Guam’s charter school law forbids charters to discriminate against applicants on the basis of disability, requires them to use a lottery or similar random system if applications exceed vacancies, and allows only one reason to deny enrollment – if the applicant has been expelled from his previous school.

In fact, charters have to give preference to students who already attend the converted school, or live in the attendance zone.

GFT’s seventh reason to oppose the Simon Sanchez conversion is the only one that matters: the school’s teachers will no longer have to belong to GFT.


Sometimes I’m Wrong

Over the last 20 years I feel I’ve been pretty good about getting facts right, but I can still mess up when speculating. That was the case this week when I wondered why NYSUT hadn’t released its election results. I wrote:

It could be a simple oversight or perhaps the results were embarrassing to the elected officers for one of two reasons: 1) it was too close; or 2) it was too much of a blowout.

Too close and it casts doubt on Pallotta’s support. Too large a victory and it casts doubt on how representative the NYSUT representative assembly is.

Well, an opposition caucus finally managed to extract the results from NYSUT, and Andrew Pallotta took 74 percent of the vote.

Contrary to my speculation, that’s right in the sweet spot he and his Unity caucus wanted. It was a resounding victory, but not up in the 95% range that would have prompted comparisons to elections in authoritarian nations.

We still don’t know why this wasn’t announced to the delegates or the public, but it does give us the proper lay of the land. There is a solid organized opposition within NYSUT, but it is nowhere near being ready to challenge the incumbent powers.


Nevada State Education Association Has Bold New Proposal to Increase Membership

The last few years have not been kind to the Nevada State Education Association. It lost 11 percent of its members, is on the brink of losing several thousand more, and the executive director of its largest local predicted it would be out of business in two years.

But NSEA president Ruben Murillo has an idea to turn this all around. He drafted an amendment to the union’s bylaws and will present it to the delegate assembly next week.

The idea? Let anyone become a member.

Murillo wants to create an “associate member” category. He defines it this way:

Individuals whose interests, purposes and activities are aligned with the work and goals of the Nevada State Education Association are eligible for associate membership. Associate member status shall not be available to those individuals who qualify for other membership status. Associate members shall submit an associate membership application and pay dues as set by the Nevada State Education Association Board. Associate members are ineligible to nominate officers, run for office, or vote in elections or matters of the Union. Associate members may attend meetings if they receive approval from the appropriate governing body. The Nevada State Education Board has the right to determine the benefits and privileges of associate members.

Murillo cites the participation of friends and family of union members in opposing the nomination of Betsy DeVos as U.S. Secretary of Education. “An Associate category would allow our education allies to belong to an organization they believe in and support the goal of a great public education for all students regardless of zip code,” he wrote.

So you get to pay dues but get no say in the running of the organization. In other states we call those people agency fee-payers.

This is not a new idea. NEA tried to create a national associate membership category in 2006 and 2007 but failed to reach the necessary two-thirds vote threshold at the Representative Assembly. I called it the “NEA Fan Club” at the time, noting there were some legal complications to denying full-fledged members voting rights.

So if you have ever wanted to be a member of a teachers union but were put off by all that business of actually getting hired as a teacher, this could be your big break. In fact, if you don’t actually have to be a teacher to join, why not just form your own teachers union?


Pallotta Elected NYSUT President; By How Much? Who Knows?

To the surprise of absolutely no one, Andrew Pallotta was elected president of New York State United Teachers by delegates to the union’s representative assembly. What was his margin of victory? Well, we don’t know. The vote tallies were not announced to the public, nor to the delegates.

It could be a simple oversight or perhaps the results were embarrassing to the elected officers for one of two reasons: 1) it was too close; or 2) it was too much of a blowout.

Too close and it casts doubt on Pallotta’s support. Too large a victory and it casts doubt on how representative the NYSUT representative assembly is.

Before the convention, NYSUT was proud to boast that 88 percent of its members were represented. Only after repeated inquiries were made by some delegates was it revealed that only 48 percent of NYSUT locals were represented.

In other words, the biggest locals made sure to send representatives. The smaller locals could not.

Martin Messner was re-elected as NYSUT’s secretary-treasurer, and in his speech to the delegates he briefly addressed the union’s finances. You already know what I (and some others) think of NYSUT’s finances. Here’s what Messner thinks:

Three years ago today we assumed financial stewardship of a NYSUT that was hemorrhaging cash and still reeling from the great recession.

Due to a series of deficits that reached as high as $12 million a year, reserves had plummeted by 40 percent.

The NYSUT pension plan was in severe trouble and was on the edge of being frozen. At the same time, our enemies were closing-in on us as they sensed a weakened NYSUT.

We changed the dynamic at NYSUT.

Officer perks were eliminated and sensible reforms were implemented to halt the downward slide.

Tonight, I am proud to report that after a great deal of hard work NYSUT is in the black for the 3rd year in a row and we have fully restored NYSUT’s reserves to pre-recession levels.

At the same time that we were strengthening NYSUT’s reserves, the NYSUT employee pension plan improved from a low of 61 percent funded to 88 percent funded today – the highest it’s been since 2008.

However, the plan is not without issues.

It requires substantially high investment returns in order to remain viable.

Due to interest rates, phasing out of the federal pension smoothing and a change in the mortality tables, we are expecting cost to rise rapidly over the next six years.

A dip in the markets could also put the plan at risk.

In order to address this concern, the Board of Directors has moved to create a special reserve fund to help with future spikes in the plan.

We plan to put in approximately $3.3 million dollars into this fund by September 1st.

We are also meeting jointly with all three bargaining units to look at options that bring more stability and security to the fund because we believe in providing our employees with a strong and secure retirement.

I could dissect this piece by piece but I will limit myself to noting that unions rarely admit to money problems contemporaneously. So Messner can say NYSUT was hemorrhaging cash three years ago (before he took office, of course) but no one three years ago was admitting that.

One last thing: Messner announced the union would set aside $70 million by next year “for the battles ahead,” specifically the consequences of potentially losing agency fee.

As England was preparing for invasion during WWII, Winston Churchill said “We shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.”

And it is in that vein that we will prepare for the fights to come.

…We will fight this battle and, if we persist, our enemies won’t land on our shores.

Rather, like England, it will be us who storms across the channel to fight on their turf.

Yep, the Battle to Retain Agency Fees is just like the Battle of Britain. I think we have a front-runner for Teacher Union Quote of the Decade.