Union Election Follies

Teacher union elections are often pro forma affairs with little controversy and even less rank-and-file participation. For example, the three executive officers of the California Teachers Association were re-elected last week without opposition by the 760 members of the union’s State Council.

That’s right. Fewer than 400 v0tes can get you elected to the presidency of a 325,000-member union.

The Delaware State Education Association is unusual among state affiliates in that it allows a full membership vote for president. Last month’s election produced a 20 percent turnout, and a tie.

Incumbent vice president Karen Crouse and local president Michael Matthews received the exact same number of votes in a four-way race. This led to numerous complaints about ballots and notifications not being received. DSEA has also been slow to communicate with its members about the status of ballots.

Considering the problems, the candidates expect there will be a runoff, rather than an attempt to resolve the election with possibly contested and questionable ballots.

Meanwhile, candidates are gearing up for the New York State United Teachers presidential election. Incumbent Karen Magee ousted Richard Iannuzzi in 2014, and will face a challenge from his slate’s new candidate, Mike Lillis. But now a NYSUT insider suggests Magee may not run, or will also be challenged by incumbent vice president Andrew Pallotta.

The endorsed candidate of New York City’s Unity Caucus is virtually unbeatable in any NYSUT election, so we’ll have to wait and see who declares and who the kingmakers choose.

Finally, we have an election dispute in Palm Beach County, Florida, where the local teachers’ union disqualified a presidential candidate for taking a semester of unpaid family medical leave to care for his sick grandmother.

During that time Justin Katz didn’t pay his union dues, which was the reason cited by his local for the disqualification. He noted the union’s bylaws were silent on the issue, and appealed the decision to the Florida Education Association, which ultimately ruled in his favor.

The state union’s recommendation is not binding on its Palm Beach local, however. The local board of directors will have to make a final decision. I think it will be difficult for them to rule against a sick grandma, union dues notwithstanding.

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How Many Teacher Union Members Voted For Trump?

Harold Meyerson writes in The American Prospect that the union household vote in the 2016 Presidential election skewed toward Trump according to race.

“Whites from union households preferred Trump over Clinton, 52 percent to 40 percent,” wrote Meyerson, citing a “network exit poll” whose “cross-tabulations have not been previously published” but no further source.

Much of this margin can be ascribed to white, blue-collar union members, but we cannot ignore the possibility that teacher union members and their families accounted for more Trump votes than previously estimated.

The K-12 public school teaching force is 82 percent white, and teacher union members constitute more than 20 percent of all union members in America. If white teacher union households really went overwhelmingly for Clinton, it would require an overwhelming majority for Trump from all other white union households. Is that plausible? Or did a substantial number of teacher union members, particularly in those battleground states, secretly vote for Trump?

It was clear in the primaries that union households were not lining up strongly behind Clinton, and that her margins of victory were being provided by African-American voters. But it’s impossible to tell if these turned into Trump votes in any significant numbers.

I’m not even sure a survey of teacher union members would accurately answer this question. How many members would openly admit to a union pollster that they voted for Trump?

There is a lot we don’t know about the attitudes of the union rank-and-file, and surveys usually fail to distinguish between members and households, or by race, or by public- or private-sector, or even by size of their local.

In 2005 I did discover something extraordinary about local teacher union presidents: the larger the local, the more politically liberal the union president was.

Fewer than 50 members = local presidents 44% conservative, 49% liberal
50-149 members = local presidents 40% conservative, 54% liberal
150-499 members = local presidents 34% conservative, 63% liberal
500-999 members = local presidents 26% conservative, 70% liberal
1000+ members = local presidents 14% conservative, 82% liberal

Of course, we aggregate categories to avoid being overwhelmed by permutations, but in doing so we sacrifice some understanding of the motives, strengths and preferences of smaller groups. Was union membership trumped, so to speak, by race? We still don’t know for certain.

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UPDATED: Activists Everywhere Discover the Existence of Nebraska

There’s a 50-50 tie in the Senate over the confirmation of Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education, according to the information we have.

It will only take one more “no” vote to kill the nomination. The problem DeVos opponents are having is that they already exhausted the only two obvious GOP flippers – Sen. Collins of Maine and Sen. Murkowski of Alaska.

Activists, bloggers and reporters spent much of yesterday trying to identify that last potential swing vote, only to be denied time and again.

Flake of Arizona! Nope.

Gardner of Colorado! Nope.

Moran of Kansas! Nope.

Heller of Nevada! Nope.

Portman of Ohio! Nope.

Toomey of Pennsylvania! Nope.

Capito of West Virginia! Nope.

Barring a stunning reversal, all hope seems to rest on Sen. Deb Fischer of Nebraska.

Fischer won the open seat vacated by Ben Nelson, of Cornhusker Kickback fame. She has more public education experience than the nominee, having served on various commissions and boards, as well as president of the board of directors for the Nebraska Association of School Boards. But the list of 12 priority issues on her official website does not include education.

Fischer received a “C” on the National Education Association’s latest legislative report card, which is a high mark for a Republican. On the other hand, she got on the wrong side of Lady Gaga.

No doubt her office is being deluged as I write this, but if any of it is from within the state it is of very recent vintage. The last two issues of the Nebraska State Education Association newsletter don’t even mention DeVos, and there is no call to arms on the NSEA website.

The nomination is on the thinnest of thin ice, but betting the farm on Nebraska sounds like a longshot. Unless DeVos starts kicking puppies in the next two days, we will avoid having to go through all this again with Michelle Rhee.

UPDATE: Fischer shuts the barn door.

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Act One Complete, No Intermission

The US Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions sent the nomination of Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education to the full Senate. It was a party line vote of 12-11.

There was some minor drama as GOP Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska both hinted at keeping their options open during a floor vote. But that, like most of the hearing, was political theater. Collins and Murkowski will only vote no if DeVos is assured of winning anyway.

Then there was a parliamentary kerfuffle because Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah voted yes by proxy. The Democrats on the committee objected, and while Hatch was located and brought to the committee room to cast his vote in person, the Democrats claimed that the entire voting process had to begin again, which would require advance notice of the second vote, delaying action on DeVos perhaps for days.

Committee chairman Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee ruled against them, and was upheld by a majority vote of the committee.

I knew all those years of following Robert’s Rules of Order at NEA conventions would someday have a practical application.

There will be no respite as Collins and Murkowski will be deluged with union e-mails and phone calls. Other potential GOP swing votes will be targeted, but the HELP committee was the best opportunity to derail DeVos.

This might all seem fruitless if you’re a union supporter, particularly since it’s highly unlikely to result in a more agreeable Secretary of Education. But it keeps the troops focused on fighting Trump, instead of contemplating how he got elected in the first place. Besides, the teachers’ unions now have a stack of e-mail addresses they didn’t have before, so get your spam filter ready.

“We now have more activists that we can activate on a moment’s notice when we need them,” said NEA president Lily Eskelsen García. “They’ve told us, ‘This is vital to us, this is important to us, we are passionate for this.’ And they will want to hold people accountable, from Donald Trump to Betsy DeVos to the senators who made it possible for her to have that kind of power.”

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