Everyone Climbs One Rung at the New Jersey Education Association

We’ve had more contested teacher union elections recently than in the past, and even quite a few upsets. But it seems the larger affiliates are sticking to a strict line of succession.

The New Jersey Education Association announced the election of new officers. Sitting vice president Marie Blistan was elected president, sitting secretary-treasurer Sean Spiller was elected vice president, and Somerset County Education Association president Steven Beatty won a four-way race for secretary-treasurer.

Unlike many other affiliates, NJEA’s officers are elected by the rank-and-file. However, NJEA didn’t release the vote totals so we have no idea about turnout.


NEA Memo on May 1 Day of Action

Here is the full text of an April 5 memo sent by National Education Association president Lily Eskelsen García and executive director John Stocks to all NEA state affiliates. It spells out the role NEA will play in the May 1 National Day of Action and asks state affiliates to share information about their plans with NEA. Note that NEA is also not recommending or promoting a general strike.

TO: State Affiliate Presidents
State Affiliate Executive Directors
State Affiliate Communications Directors

FROM: Lily Eskelsen Garcia, President
John Stocks, Executive Director

DATE: April 5, 2017

RE: May 1st Rise Up! – National Day of Action

On May 1st in cities, towns and communities across the country, progressive activists will be taking actions and raising their voices in support of education, fair immigration practices, and economic justice. As educators, we see firsthand the impact that discriminatory immigration policies have in our schools, on our students, and with our families and peers.

NEA is partnering with the Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools (AROS) and the Fair Immigration Reform Movement (FIRM) to connect our members with local actions that support our immigrant students and their families, and to elevate a call for education justice in our public schools in demanding “The Public Schools all Children Deserve.”

Among the actions NEA is supporting are as follows:

• Supporting and promoting the Day of Action on our national social media outlets;
• Connecting our local and state affiliates to existing actions or supporting their efforts to create their own actions under the broad message umbrella in support of public schools, immigrant students and their families, as well as other education justice issues;
• Providing resources, tools and materials from NEA, AROS, and other partners; and
• Supplying general messaging guidance from NEA Communications and help to locals in tailoring those messages for local actions.

The NEA Communications team is working with AROS to finalize their messaging. AROS is expected to have all of the messaging available by the end of next week and will be posted here. This messaging will complement the frame that the larger coalition (FIRM) will be using, which can be found here. Please note that some national and/or local partners have been calling for a general strike on May 1st (“No Work, No School and No Purchase”). We are not recommending participation in or promotion of these general strike actions. NEA Communications will provide message guidance under separate cover.

Affiliates can use this NEA registration link to register to participate. Please include this link in communications to local affiliates. This will ensure that materials and supports reach you in a timely fashion. To see cities, towns and communities that have already identified that they will be taking action to FIRM and that our members and affiliates could connect to please see the attached list. Whether you decide to participate and/or support local affiliates in marches or rallies, passing school board resolutions or holding Teach-ins, we hope that your state affiliate will be participating on May 1st and look forward to hearing about the actions you plan or join.


Michigan Education Association Getting Serious About Finances?

I named the Michigan Education Association as one of NEA’s five financially shakiest state affiliates. Last weekend the union’s delegates elected new executive officers, but in a way that makes MEA’s future direction a little unclear.

Presidential and vice presidential candidates ran as a team. There were three teams:

* Tom Brenner, a member of the MEA executive committee, ran for president with Frank Burger, the president of an MEA local as his VP.

* Paula Herbart, the president of MEA Local 1, ran with Maury Koffman, who currently sits on the NEA Executive Committee.

* Rick Trainor, the current MEA secretary-treasurer, ran with Chandra Madafferi, an MEA local president.

But the delegates split their tickets, electing Herbart president and Madafferi vice president.

I don’t want to read too much into the result, but Trainor being the current secretary-treasurer might have actually worked against him. Koffman’s high-profile national position didn’t help him either.

More interesting was the race for MEA secretary-treasurer, won by Brett Smith. Candidates for union office routinely avoid details, or even differences between themselves and other candidates. “We will continue to work collaboratively to build partnerships with stakeholders and outside groups who share our vision and goals” is a typical pronouncement.

Smith made several specific pledges to delegates, one of which immediately caught my eye. “I would like to reduce the past due receivables that are attributed to membership dues in arrears by 25%,” he wrote in a candidate statement.

That’s not a sentence designed to win votes, or even make a delegate feel good, but it’s a major problem for MEA. Dozens of locals owe MEA money, almost $10 million of it more than 180 days past due.

That would be a start, but it’s still a drop in the bucket compared to the flood of $300 million in staff pension and retiree health care liabilities.

With about 100,000 active members in a right-to-work state, MEA has the furthest to fall of all NEA state affiliates. Whether the new leadership is prepared to halt that descent is an open question.


Why Did UFT Borrow $62 Million From Citigroup?

You won’t find it in any official union notice, but the United Federation of Teachers in New York City just borrowed $62 million from Citigroup Global Markets, Inc., using its headquarters at 50 Broadway as collateral.

What is the $62 million for? UFT officers don’t have to tell the press or the public, but you would think they would have to tell the union’s own executive board or delegate assembly, comprised of representatives of all the union’s members.

However, UFT board member Arthur Goldstein posts comprehensive notes from board meetings on his blog, nyceducator.org, and there is no mention of any planned loan at any board meeting.

UFT president Michael Mulgrew denies any money problems exist at the union.

Reasons for needing the loan aside, Citigroup ranks high on the union’s Corporate Axis of Evil, having been bailed out by the U.S. government in the financial crisis of 2008. More recently the bank has paid millions in fines to the Securities and Exchange Commission and Commodity Futures Trading Commission.

Well, if you can’t “make the big banks pay their fair share,” you might as well grab some for yourself.


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.