Pallotta Elected NYSUT President; By How Much? Who Knows?

To the surprise of absolutely no one, Andrew Pallotta was elected president of New York State United Teachers by delegates to the union’s representative assembly. What was his margin of victory? Well, we don’t know. The vote tallies were not announced to the public, nor to the delegates.

It could be a simple oversight or perhaps the results were embarrassing to the elected officers for one of two reasons: 1) it was too close; or 2) it was too much of a blowout.

Too close and it casts doubt on Pallotta’s support. Too large a victory and it casts doubt on how representative the NYSUT representative assembly is.

Before the convention, NYSUT was proud to boast that 88 percent of its members were represented. Only after repeated inquiries were made by some delegates was it revealed that only 48 percent of NYSUT locals were represented.

In other words, the biggest locals made sure to send representatives. The smaller locals could not.

Martin Messner was re-elected as NYSUT’s secretary-treasurer, and in his speech to the delegates he briefly addressed the union’s finances. You already know what I (and some others) think of NYSUT’s finances. Here’s what Messner thinks:

Three years ago today we assumed financial stewardship of a NYSUT that was hemorrhaging cash and still reeling from the great recession.

Due to a series of deficits that reached as high as $12 million a year, reserves had plummeted by 40 percent.

The NYSUT pension plan was in severe trouble and was on the edge of being frozen. At the same time, our enemies were closing-in on us as they sensed a weakened NYSUT.

We changed the dynamic at NYSUT.

Officer perks were eliminated and sensible reforms were implemented to halt the downward slide.

Tonight, I am proud to report that after a great deal of hard work NYSUT is in the black for the 3rd year in a row and we have fully restored NYSUT’s reserves to pre-recession levels.

At the same time that we were strengthening NYSUT’s reserves, the NYSUT employee pension plan improved from a low of 61 percent funded to 88 percent funded today – the highest it’s been since 2008.

However, the plan is not without issues.

It requires substantially high investment returns in order to remain viable.

Due to interest rates, phasing out of the federal pension smoothing and a change in the mortality tables, we are expecting cost to rise rapidly over the next six years.

A dip in the markets could also put the plan at risk.

In order to address this concern, the Board of Directors has moved to create a special reserve fund to help with future spikes in the plan.

We plan to put in approximately $3.3 million dollars into this fund by September 1st.

We are also meeting jointly with all three bargaining units to look at options that bring more stability and security to the fund because we believe in providing our employees with a strong and secure retirement.

I could dissect this piece by piece but I will limit myself to noting that unions rarely admit to money problems contemporaneously. So Messner can say NYSUT was hemorrhaging cash three years ago (before he took office, of course) but no one three years ago was admitting that.

One last thing: Messner announced the union would set aside $70 million by next year “for the battles ahead,” specifically the consequences of potentially losing agency fee.

As England was preparing for invasion during WWII, Winston Churchill said “We shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.”

And it is in that vein that we will prepare for the fights to come.

…We will fight this battle and, if we persist, our enemies won’t land on our shores.

Rather, like England, it will be us who storms across the channel to fight on their turf.

Yep, the Battle to Retain Agency Fees is just like the Battle of Britain. I think we have a front-runner for Teacher Union Quote of the Decade.


NYSUT Convention Begins

New York State United Teachers opened its Representative Assembly this morning. You can follow along on Twitter by monitoring the hashtags #nysutra and #nysutra2017.

You probably won’t be deluged with tweets, since the delegates are forced to pay for their own wi-fi access.

If you don’t want to devote that much time and energy to the event, simply head over to NYC Educator, who has a brilliant pre-cap of what will ensue.


What Unions Really Fear

Teacher unions are predictably opposed to the appointment of Judge Neil Gorsuch to the U.S. Supreme Court, primarily because he is likely to be the fifth vote to put an end to agency fees for public sector unions.

This would have a damaging effect, but not the existential one that people on both sides of the issue claim. After all, both NEA and AFT have affiliates in states without agency fees. They are not as powerful as those in New York, California, New Jersey and Illinois, but some are still major political players in their states. Florida is a good example.

Florida doesn’t allow agency fees, but it still allows exclusive bargaining. Since teachers are not required to pay the union, many of them don’t. This leaves many locals negotiating contracts for everyone in a bargaining unit, but having less than a majority of that unit as paying members.

This is far from ideal for the unions. They have a large number of free riders. On the other hand, the majority of teachers have no direct say in the operations of the union, including the contents of the contract. This frees the union from satisfying a variety of demands and enables it to pursue its own priorities.

This has not escaped the notice of the state’s Republican legislators. A bill was introduced in both chambers that would require most public employee unions to prove they had a majority of the bargaining unit as dues-paying members. If not, they would be decertified as exclusive representative.

The bill easily passed the GOP-dominated House, but is in some trouble in the state senate.

The bill’s sponsors said they couldn’t estimate how many local unions would be decertified, but I can answer that, at least as it involves the Florida Education Association.

FEA estimates more than 60 percent of its K-12 locals would lose exclusive bargaining privileges, and more than half of its higher education locals.

This is really what public sector unions everywhere are worried about. While even the loss of exclusivity would not be the end of public sector unions, it would devastate their current mode of operations and force revolutionary change upon them.

Everyone talks about the effects of competition on schools. No one spends time on the effects of competition on school labor relations. Would it be chaos, as many union advocates claim, or would it settle into a mode similar to private schools, universities, and businesses?

Teacher unions will not thrive in a world without agency fees. But they will survive. They are not prepared to survive in a world without exclusive bargaining.


Merged Montana Union May Merge Again

MEA-MFT is the merged Montana state affiliate of both the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers. At more than 18,000 active members, it is by far the largest union in the state.

And may get much larger. The teachers union announced it was negotiating a merger with the 7,000-member Montana Public Employees Association. MPEA represents a wide range of state and municipal employees.

If consummated, the merger will give the new union more than 25,000 active members, or approximately 90 percent of the public sector union members in Montana, and 51 percent of all union members in the state.


Florida Education Association Seeks to Replace Seceded Local

The officers of the Santa Rosa Professional Educators were informed by their parent union, the Florida Education Association, that they were behind in dues, and were about to be absorbed into a larger, regional unit. They disagreed, and voted unanimously to end their relationship with both FEA and NEA.

That was 18 months ago, and FEA hasn’t sat idly by. Two attempts to challenge the disaffiliation failed, and now comes the unveiling of a rival local, the Santa Rosa Education Association, which is affiliated with FEA and NEA.

The new organization claims to have 100 dues-paying members and filed paperwork with the state labor board to challenge SRPE for representation rights. Teachers unions fight tooth-and-nail to maintain agency fee laws, but the task for FEA and NEA is made easier because Florida does not have an agency fee law. Those who want FEA and NEA back are not required to also financially support SRPE, their exclusive bargaining agent.

This has become standard procedure at NEA, which formed a competing local in Memphis immediately after the Memphis-Shelby County Education Association seceded in 2015.

One Santa Rosa teacher finds this newfound union attention curious. “I’ve been in the SRPE since 1999 (and) I’ve been on the negotiation team since 2012,” he said. “I’ve never seen a person from the FEA in this county until we disaffiliated.”


Paul Public Charter School Union Attempt Peters Out

This is how it went last month:

AFT press release – “In a historic first for the District of Columbia, a decisive majority of educators at Paul Public Charter School have signed a formal petition asking the school’s governing board to recognize their union.”

Washington Post – “Teachers at a D.C. charter school are pushing to unionize, citing the need to provide more resources for students, improve the school’s culture and reduce churn in the teaching force.

“About three quarters of the staff at Paul Public Charter School in Northwest signed a petition asking the school’s governing board to recognize their union, the District of Columbia Alliance of Charter Teachers and Staff.”

The American Prospect – “This morning, teachers at Paul Public Charter School, one of the oldest charters in Washington, D.C., publicly announced their intent to unionize—a first for charter schoolteachers in the nation’s capital. As in other cities where charter teachers have formed unions, the Paul educators are forming their own local—the District of Columbia Alliance of Charter Teachers and Staff (DC ACTS)—which will be affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers (AFT). Seventy-five percent of Paul’s teaching staff signed a petition in support of joining DC ACTS, and asked administrators to voluntarily recognize their union.”

WAMU – “Teachers At A D.C. Charter School Want To Try Something New: Unionizing”

Education Week columnist – “I expect to see more charter school teachers in Los Angeles and elsewhere indicate that they want to unionize. The latest evidence comes from the District of Columbia, where teachers at Paul Public Charter School have asked the schools’ governing board to recognize their union.”

In These Times – “Last month, Washington, D.C. became the newest city to join this growing movement, with workers at Paul Public Charter School announcing their intention to form a union.”

Just five weeks later the story was a little different:

“An effort to create the first teachers’ union in the city’s large charter sector stalled this week with the last-minute cancellation of a planned vote to unionize teachers at Paul Public Charter School in Northwest D.C.”

Try making sense of this explanation from the teacher who initiated the unionization campaign:

Our organizing committee felt that we had the votes to win, and voted to go ahead with the election, but we did not have enough people who were willing to be public with their support to convince AFT that we were definitely going to win.

That sounds to me like AFT wanted public assurance of the outcome of a secret ballot vote, and overruled the pro-union teachers at the school, which is a sign of who was running the show.

Some charter schools will get unions, and many of those that do deserve them because the school administrators failed to treat their employees well. Others will face a unionization effort because NEA, AFT and their affiliates see something to be gained by it.

Whatever the case, every one of the above stories lacked one crucial ingredient: the perspective of even a single teacher who might be opposed to the union drive, or simply on the fence about it. Instead, we got a lot of cheerleading.

You can add the Paul Public Charter School story to a long list of cautionary tales (the KIPP NY unions, the UFT Charter School, NEA’s Charter School Initiative, et al.) about teachers unions and charter schools, but I am certain I’ll be back in this space very soon criticizing another “charter school unionization trend sweeping the nation” story.