Two Wins for the Independents

Two years ago elected representatives of the Santa Rosa Professional Educators decided they had had enough of their spotty relationship with the union’s parent affiliates – the Florida Education Association and the National Education Association. They voted unanimously to disaffiliate.

This triggered the usual response, culminating in FEA and NEA creating a competing local, the Santa Rosa Education Association, which challenged the now-independent SRPE for exclusive representation.

Well, the votes are in and SRPE will continue to represent the 1,900-teacher bargaining unit.

SRPE president Rhonda Chavers said the union will not consider a return to FEA and NEA.

In related news, the Carmel Teachers Association, which ousted the NEA-affiliated local last May, celebrated the ratification of its first contract. The independent Indiana local represents a 900-teacher bargaining unit.

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CTA Fires Back at Staff Union

The California Teachers Association is in the midst of negotiating new contracts with its own employees, who are represented by two staff unions. The California Staff Organization has been holding pickets and rallies at CTA and NEA events to draw attention to what the staffers say are unreasonable demands by CTA management.

Over the weekend dozens of CTA employees formed a line around the union’s local presidents conference in San Jose, holding signs that read “When we stand together, we win together.”

CTA wasn’t going to let the staff control the narrative, so it distributed its own bargaining update to the presidents.

“Contrary to the rhetoric disseminated by the staff organizations, CTA is and has been bargaining in good faith,” the update reads. The union’s managers raised the specter of losing agency fee as the rationale for their bargaining stances:

Just as local chapters are preparing for the loss of fair share fees, CTA also has the responsibility to prepare for this reality. There are currently two legal cases moving through the courts with the goal of reaching the U.S. Supreme Court as early as next year. We know losing fair share fees will have an immediate $7.7 million impact on the CTA budget. CTA is committed to maintaining services to our members and wants to avoid the staff layoffs of up to 50 percent experienced in Wisconsin and Michigan when they lost agency fee. This means we must plan ahead and that’s what we’re doing.

The update also notes that the staff retirement trust currently has an unfunded liability of $105 million.

CTA has a $188 million budget, so it’s very likely this will be settled to the satisfaction of all parties. It is strange, however, that the most financially sound NEA affiliate is having the most strained negotiations.

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Local Control

Jo Ann Fujioka abruptly withdrew her candidacy for a seat on the Denver Public Schools board due to a loss of union support. Fujioka’s platform seems to be right out the union playbook. She opposes school closures, new charter schools, and Betsy DeVos.

She wanted to run on a three-member slate in order to coordinate a campaign against the board’s pro-reform majority, but somehow that ran afoul of the plans of the Denver Classroom Teachers Association. Fujioka posted a statement on her campaign web site:

Though we had secured agreement for a team of three candidates, that agreement ended very abruptly. I learned that DCTA consultants had pressured the other two candidates to withdraw from the slate and then informed me, “You bring nothing to the table.”

It appears that the union has newly hand picked candidates in place and ready to run. From the beginning, I have expressed that I have no desire to pursue less than a majority of the board seats to effect immediate change in the Denver Public Schools. Consequently, I am forced to withdraw.

DCTA had no public comment on the matter, but it’s good to know they’re saving the people of Denver the trouble of handpicking their own candidates.

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Losing Streak

From today’s Las Vegas Review-Journal about the Clark County Education Association’s troubled health trust:

A legal battle is unfolding between the Teachers Health Trust and four ex-executives who claim to have witnessed questionable financial dealings by union representatives charged with overseeing the insurance provider.

It’s a tale of dueling lawsuits, whistleblowers, retaliatory firings, childish name-calling, leaks, financial wrongdoing, sweetheart deals and extreme intoxication, so you’ll need the background the links in this blog post provide.

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Many Are Left Out of Teacher Union Decision-Making

I’m often asked why teacher unions skew so heavily towards the Democratic Party. This isn’t a mystery. Liberals are more active in the union, and though 12 years have passed since I wrote The NEA Pyramid, I believe it is still true that the larger a teacher union is, the more likely its leaders are to be liberal. If the overwhelming majority of decision-makers are Democrats, they are going to support Democratic policies and donate PAC money to Democrats. To expect them to support Republicans according to the percentage of Republican union members is naive.

Political leanings aside, the share of members who are actively involved in union activities is small. The last NEA survey I saw reported only 15 percent were “quite a bit” or “a great deal” involved. A full 36 percent were “not at all” involved.

The NEA Representative Assembly boasts some 7,000 delegates, but the union’s constitution allows for 1 delegate for every 1,000 members in a state affiliate, and 1 delegate for every 150 members in a local affiliate. “The world’s largest democratic deliberative body” is only about 35 percent of its authorized capacity.

State affiliates show similar participation rates. Less than half of the locals of the New York State United Teachers were represented at last April’s state convention, and the same was true of the 2016 annual meeting of the Massachusetts Teachers Association.

Many local union officers are not heavily involved in statewide activities. The California Teachers Association recently discovered that some 600 local union presidents (out of about 1,300) have not attended the state union’s annual presidents conference in the last three years.

Even though this means a relatively small group is responsible for major union policies, it also means a sizable group of union officers and representatives are less than enthusiastic about their state and national union’s activities and simply prefer to be left alone to hammer out local issues at the local level. Less monolithic thought is good for everyone.

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