A listening post monitoring public education and teachers’ unions.

Hugging It Out

Written By: Mike Antonucci - Jul• 22•14

It is rough sledding for Chicago-area Democrats these days – from Mayor Rahm Emanuel to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and his boss, the POTUS. But they can take solace from tiny thaws in the Cold War.

CSN Chicago reports that while Emanuel is still Public Enemy #1 with most municipal unions, he remains the darling of the city’s building and construction unions. He received public praise from the president of the Chicago Federation of Labor and, even better, sizable campaign checks from Local 134 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and Local 562 of the Plumbers & Pipefitters union.

Meanwhile, NEA president-elect Lily Eskelsen Garcia told MSNBC that she met with Secretary Duncan shortly after returning from the union’s convention in Denver.

She characterized her conversation with him as “interesting” and “honest.”

In conversation, García is soft-spoken but firm. Based on her description of her conversation with Duncan, neither side is likely to yield on the issue of standardized testing anytime soon.

“I made it clear to the secretary that I don’t want to demonize anybody. He’s sincere and he’s absolutely wrong,” she said. “We agreed at the end of that meeting; we were very clear. He was very clear that he thinks we need to stay on what he calls accountability. I believe that has come to mean you hit your number and there’s a consequence for not hitting your number. That’s disastrous, I let him know that I would keep telling people that’s disastrous.”

Despite the education secretary’s outwardly nonchalant reaction to the NEA vote, García says he seemed “hurt” and “surprisingly confused.” In her estimation, he didn’t realize the level of anger he had conjured up.

“Arne Duncan is not a bad man,” she said. “I think he sincerely believes this stuff.”

Despite their differences, says García, they ended the meeting with a hug.

I’m not sure what the fire-breathers at the NEA convention were expecting to happen when they passed a demand for Duncan’s resignation, but I’ll bet it wasn’t this.


Official NEA State Affiliate Membership Numbers for 2013

Written By: Mike Antonucci - Jul• 21•14

Click here to read.


NEA & AFT Give More Than $2.2 Million to Democratic Governors

Written By: Mike Antonucci - Jul• 21•14

There are serious differences between factions in the Democratic Party over education policy, but they all agree that defeating Republicans at the polls is the top priority. During the second quarter of 2014, the Democratic Governors Association received $13.8 million, most of it from labor unions and $2,260,000 from NEA and AFT alone.

Someone will ask, so let’s be clear that this is dues money being used, since it is not a direct contribution to a candidate for office. Traditionally these funds are spent on media buys to promote a particular stance on an issue, which tend to appear in battleground states and coincide with the position of a recommended candidate.

The NEA contribution came from the NEA Advocacy Fund, which is a Super PAC. As we all know, “Super PACs’ corrosive influence undermines our system of democracy and threatens to make elections a commodity to be purchased by the highest bidder,” unless, of course, it belongs to you. Then it’s pretty cool.


Merger Issues Never Go Away

Written By: Mike Antonucci - Jul• 18•14

Since the failed merger attempt in 1998 between the two national teachers’ unions, NEA has routinely had to revisit complications arising from the fact that some of its affiliates belong to two different organizations. Now-forgotten battles over Education Minnesota’s back dues, the NEAFT Partnership, and individual affiliate entry into the AFL-CIO arose.

Even recently, NEA dealt with the merger in North Dakota, the postponed merger in Wisconsin, and the removal of the six-affiliate cap on mergers. But each of these was resolved with little or no uproar.

At next year’s Representative Assembly in Orlando a proposal will be placed before the delegates that could revive the contentious emotions of the past. Delegates will vote via secret ballot on an amendment to the NEA constitution that would eliminate “proportional” representation at the convention for merged affiliates.

The current system works this way: Merged state affiliates send delegates in proportion to how many NEA members there were in the state before the merger, and essentially half of members picked up after the merger. The amendment would count all members equally, regardless of whom they belonged to before the merger, or how much they contribute in dues to NEA.

The greatest effect will be felt in New York, which is currently represented at the convention as if it had somewhere between 30,000 and 40,000 members. If the constitutional amendment passes, its representation would increase almost tenfold. Florida and Minnesota would also pick up a significant number of new delegates.

I suspect this would have little effect on NEA’s policies in general, except for issues related to merger itself. All of the merged affiliates belong to the AFL-CIO. Increased representation might mean new business items like #44 would have a better chance of passing. It would also add a whole slew of pro-merger delegates to the assembly. Who knows what that might bring?


“Common Labor Practice” Under Examination

Written By: Mike Antonucci - Jul• 17•14

In the aftermath of Harris v. Quinn, we are suddenly seeing a lot more scrutiny of processes that have been established by history, tradition and inertia.

On the pages of the Los Angeles Times, law professors Catherine Fisk and Benjamin Sachs asked the question “Why should unions negotiate for workers who don’t pay their fair share?” They come up with a sensible, if novel, answer.

Requiring unions to offer free representation to workers who do not want a union in the first place makes no sense. Nor does it make sense to have a system in which workers can benefit from union representation without paying their fair share.

So, to alleviate this double bind that courts would impose on unions and workers, we propose a simple reform: Unions should not be required to represent workers who do not want, and who decline to pay for, such representation.

…Where unions are unable to require objecting workers to pay fees — whether it’s in right-to-work states or in work situations that fall under Harris vs. Quinn — we should get rid of the rule of exclusive representation.

Some would argue that this would lead to chaos – except that it is pretty much how the rest of the U.S. economy operates, and somehow we manage.

The second challenge to established practice comes from Springfield, Missouri, where Springfield NEA is the exclusive collective bargaining representative for teachers. Teachers are not required to join NEA, but only NEA members are allowed to vote on contract ratification.

The independent Missouri State Teachers Association filed suit on behalf of its members and those teachers who belong to neither organization, alleging their rights to equal representation have been violated by disenfranchisement.

“My hope is that the court would find in favor of what is common labor law practice and that is dues-paying members of the union ratifying their contracts,” said Kittilu Maxson, president of Springfield NEA.

This could have wide repercussions, since the basis of agency fee law is that the exclusive representative can charge non-members for activities related to collective bargaining. However, it is common practice to bar non-members from voting on the collective bargaining agreement.

A further complication is that there seems to be no provision in law that requires a union to place the contract in front of members for a vote. That, too, is simply common practice.

We are still a long way off from unions being organizations made up of willing members, who work exclusively on behalf of, and are paid exclusively by, those members. But perhaps we are finally at the stage of looking at the possibility.


Will Karen Lewis Be the Next Mayor of Chicago?

Written By: Mike Antonucci - Jul• 16•14

Speculation is running rampant that Chicago Teachers Union president Karen Lewis will challenge her nemesis, Mayor Rahm Emanuel, and take his job. It has only accelerated now that Cook County Board president Toni Preckwinkle has removed herself from consideration. Lewis reportedly created an unofficial exploratory committee.

A spur to all this is an automated poll commissioned by the Chicago Sun-Times that shows Lewis with an 9-point lead over Emanuel. The poll’s methodology is problematic, but Emanuel has high negatives no matter how you measure them. Dave Weigel of Slate suggests the poll actually underestimates Lewis’s support, adding what seems to me to be an insulting evaluation of the city’s African-American voters:

(Lewis) trailed by only 3 points with white voters, led by 4 points with Hispanics, and led by 18 points with black voters—a margin that might increase if Lewis ran and black voters discovered that she, too, was black.

If Weigel has some evidence that black voters don’t know that Karen Lewis is black, he ought to present it to the rest of the world.

Lewis has serious weaknesses. She would be, almost by definition, a single-issue candidate running against a well-seasoned, if greatly disliked, machine Democrat. And last week’s AFT Convention demonstrated that her pull within her own union has been overestimated.

Nevertheless, voter emotion has carried many a challenger to victory over an entrenched incumbent, and teacher union officers often have electoral success at the local and state legislative level.

They fare less well in statewide or national elections, although the sample size is small. NEA’s new president, Lily Eskelsen Garcia, ran for Congress in 1998 against a very vulnerable one-term incumbent Republican and lost by 10 points. The Alabama Education Association’s powerful executive secretary Paul Hubbert ran for governor in 1990. He lost by four points to the incumbent Republican.

I haven’t researched it recently, but there was a general dearth of national candidates who have ever even been members of a labor union.

It probably wouldn’t be wise to bet on Lewis, but she has a puncher’s chance of toppling Emanuel. If she wins, she would be the first labor union president to hold such a high elected office, since, well, this guy.


Meanwhile, in Modesto

Written By: Mike Antonucci - Jul• 15•14

You may recall that the 1,200-member Modesto Teachers Association held a vote on whether to disaffiliate from the California Teachers Association. The members decided to stick with CTA. But the night before the election, the CTA board voted to establish a trusteeship over the local, and were thwarted only when the police were called.

One would think that the vote would have settled the matter, but that’s not the case. The officers of both CTA and MTA claim they are in control of the local and its finances. The dispute went to court, but the judge ruled that the union’s internal appeals process should continue in an attempt to resolve the issues.

CTA held a hearing last Thursday, but reports out of the closed-door meeting were not encouraging. Regardless of the outcome achieved internally, MTA wants to proceed with its court case, schedule to resume on July 29.

“MTA wants the court to determine what the terms of the legal relationship between CTA and MTA actually are,” said MTA attorney Rafael Ruano. “Specifically, can CTA impose a trusteeship, but also whether MTA is bound by none, some or all of CTA’s adopted rules.”