I Don’t Where Kevin de León Will Get the Cash, But I Know Whom He’ll Ask

California Senate president pro tem Kevin de León has decided to launch a primary challenge to Dianne Feinstein for her seat in the U.S. Senate. This requires me to trot out my one and only Kevin de León story.

It was March 1998, and I was attending the California Teachers Association’s Equity and Human Rights Conference. On the ballot that year was Proposition 226, which would have required unions to annually obtain their members’ permission to use any portion of their dues for political purposes.

At the time de León was working for NEA. This is what I reported afterward:

NEA’s Kevin de León discussed the results of recent internal polling and focus group surveys of CTA members. He revealed that 70 percent of CTA members currently support Prop 226. The news brought gasps of surprise from the assembled teacher union representatives and activists. “Yes, we’ve nudged that down from 76 percent,” interjected a chagrined CTA board member standing at the back of the room.

…de León discussed the external campaign, designed to swing voters who are not members of teachers’ unions. Because most people do not belong to unions, NEA/CTA focus group research determined that discussing 226’s negative effect on union influence was counterproductive. “Therefore,” de León said, “we are not going to use the word ‘union’.” He added that campaign ads, literature and other documentation targeted at external audiences would not refer to “unions.”

That year CTA spent $500,000 on an “internal campaign,” designed to persuade its own members that wanting to authorize the spending of their money on political purposes was wrong, and millions to persuade California voters that the initiative had nothing to do with unions. This being California, CTA succeeded on both counts. Prop 226 lost 53%-47%.

The newspaper headlines wonder: “Where will Kevin de León get the cash?” de León may be a long shot against Feinstein, but the appeal of putting one of their own in the U.S. Senate might be worth the gamble for NEA.

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The Straight-Face Awards

I’ve read a dozen articles about the New Jersey Education Association’s campaign against state senate president Steve Sweeney. Sweeney is a Democrat and an officer of the ironworkers’ union, but he’s under fire from NJEA for supporting pension reform. NJEA went as far as endorsing a pro-Trump Republican in Sweeney’s district.

This union-Democrat grudge match is getting a lot of national attention, but I’m more amused by the things being said by participants and close observers, presumably with a straight face.

Sen. Bob Smith (D-Middlesex) said, “The leadership of this union is unbelievably arrogant. I talked to other senators today and they are hot. There is going to be very long-term impact on relations with the NJEA.”

He added that if teachers knew how much money they were paying NJEA officers “there would be a revolution.”

This notion was repeated by Matt Hale, a political science professor at Seton Hall University, who said the NJEA campaign “could very well lead to revolt from the ground up.”

That’s hilarious. If I had a nickel for every time someone predicted a union rank-and-file revolution, I’d be able to pay Ed Richardson’s pension. The only thing that will have a very long-term impact on relations with NJEA is a Supreme Court ruling that ends agency fees. When teachers vote with their wallets, then we’ll know how they really feel about union officer pay.

“Our concern is with the people who get elected, not the party that they belong to,” said NJEA spokesman Steve Baker.

C’mon man. Just last week NJEA endorsed 98 candidates for the state legislature. By my count 89 are Democrats.

Finally, there is this irate response by the aforementioned NJEA executive director Ed Richardson to a column about his compensation written by Tom Moran of the Newark Star-Ledger. Richardson defends his pay by comparing himself to Sweeney.

That allegiance probably explains how Tom can write a column ostensibly about union officials’ compensation without mentioning the fact that Sweeney’s union compensation, according to the most recent filings by his union, is over $235,000 for what is, presumably a part-time job. Approximately one-third of his work in that job, according to the same filing, is lobbying and political work.

I say that job is presumably part-time, because Sweeney also gets a taxpayer-funded salary of over $65,000 as Senate President, a position widely acknowledged as the second most powerful elected office in New Jersey, with commensurate responsibilities. So the $235,000 he earns from his union for work done in his off hours is a pretty good salary indeed.

Well, he’s right about one thing: a six-figure union salary for work done in off hours is pretty good. That’s why I wrote a column about it last week. I’m sure Richardson shared his concerns with NYSUT about the stewardship of member dues.

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UPDATED: Nevada Infighting Escalates

When we last checked in, the warring Nevada State Education Association and its largest local affiliate, the Clark County Education Association, took to the Internet while their dueling lawsuits awaited movement through the courts.

NSEA built the NVUnity web site, now adorned with counterpoints to CCEA’s claims. CCEA replied with its “Unity With Fairness” campaign, but NSEA stole a march by registering the domain name unitywithfairness.org, which redirects you to the NSEA page. (UPDATE: I failed to notice that CCEA had already created unitywithfairness.com.)

Expect more from the bag of tricks as this proceeds. It doesn’t take a labor attorney to see that the dispute isn’t about unity or fairness, but the age-old battle between the status quo and more money, a staple of labor relations since unions were first formed.

While money is the overarching issue, there is a structural reason the two unions have reached this impasse. Current membership numbers are hard to come by, but it appears CCEA members constitute about 49 percent of NSEA’s total membership. Why then can’t CCEA use its numbers to change NSEA policy?

The reason is CCEA holds only one-third of the seats on the NSEA board of directors, due to seats being held by NSEA’s executive officers and the heads of the retiree and student programs. Seven seats are held by the Education Support Employees Association, which could muster only nine percent support of its bargaining unit in a representation election against the Teamsters.

So CCEA’s financial complaint is at its heart a representation complaint, which is much harder to settle.

One last side note: The NSEA/NEA suit against CCEA also included the Clark County School District, because the district is the entity that actually deducts dues from teachers’ paychecks. The district has filed a motion to dismiss. It is likely to succeed since all dues are still being deducted and transmitted to CCEA, per provisions in the collective bargaining agreement. CCEA has placed the state and national dues in escrow.

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Weird But Accurate Headline: Labor Union Imposes Trusteeship Over Department of Labor Union

The American Federation of Government Employees sacked four officers for improper expenditures and placed Local 12 under trusteeship. Local 12 represents employees of the U.S. Department of Labor.

Despite the best efforts of Washington Post columnist Joe Davidson, the story has nothing to do with the Trump administration. It appears that the AFGE national president, J. David Cox, is systematically removing potential challengers to his own power.

“All said, there have been no financial or representational misdeeds,” Eleanor Lauderdale, Local 12’s former executive vice president, said in a statement. “There has simply been a sloppy coup d’état by AFGE National Office and District 14,” which covers the Washington area.

Local 12’s ousted officers also filed an unfair labor practice complaint against the Department of Labor, claiming DOL assisted AFGE national in imposing the trusteeship. The complaint will be heard by the Federal Labor Relations Authority, which is independent from the DOL.

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Colorado Mystery

This is an unusual National Labor Relations Board filing:

An “RC Petition” is a request for a representation election, and an “RD Order” is a procedure to decertify the incumbent union. The Colorado Education Association Staff Organization represents CEA’s professional employees in negotiations with union management.

Since it’s a virtual impossibility that CEASO is being replaced, I’m guessing that this is required in order to expand or otherwise alter the scope of the bargaining unit.

If anyone out there knows for certain about this particular petition, or what similar petitions can do, let me know. It could have a significant effect on the operations of the Colorado Education Association.

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