NEA Has “Grave Concerns” About Judge Gorsuch

It should surprise no one that the National Education Association does not want Judge Neil Gorsuch seated on the U.S. Supreme Court. He could very well be the fifth vote that puts an end to agency fees and creates a crisis for the union.

But the Gorsuch nomination offers a case study in how NEA tailors its external and internal messages differently. When Gorsuch was named, NEA sent out a press release that read, in part:

As educators, we have concerns about Judge Gorsuch’s record. He has ruled against students with disabilities who seek public education, and he has consistently sided with big business at the expense of working Americans.

We call on the Senate to diligently perform its duty to thoroughly vet the nominee to ensure the Supreme Court will protect all of us.

One week later, these talking points were distributed internally:

Much of it mirrors the language of the press release, but there are some additions. Judge Gorsuch has “embraced and promoted extreme views.” The Senate now “must demand answers” from him. And there is the final bullet: “NEA has grave concerns about Judge Gorsuch and will oppose his nomination unless those concerns are satisfactorily addressed.”

It’s safe to assume that nothing Judge Gorsuch says between now and his confirmation hearing will lead to NEA support, or even neutrality. But as with many issues of public importance, NEA walks a line between forcefully fighting for its agenda and feeding the public perception of it being the No to Everything Association.


NEA Names LeVar Burton 2017 Friend of Education

The National Education Association bestowed its annual Friend of Education award on actor LeVar Burton, best known for his roles on Roots and Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Burton is also revered for hosting the award-winning PBS children’s show Reading Rainbow, which he revived and expanded as a digital app through a Kickstarter campaign that raised more than $5 million.

Unlike last year’s co-winner, Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, Burton is unlikely to cause ideological dissonance among NEA activists. He denounced the nomination of Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education and recently told an audience of university students to “Rise the f–k up!

Burton himself is a product of the Catholic schools in Sacramento, California, having once studied for the priesthood. “I was raised a Catholic because my mother was a teacher and knew that the best education available for her children was parochial school,” he told Oprah in a 2012 interview.


NYC Teacher Union President Says Right-to-Work Is Inevitable

The United Federation of Teachers in New York City is the largest teacher union local in the nation. At its delegate assembly on Wednesday union reps from all over the city endorsed Mayor Bill de Blasio for re-election, and that’s what grabbed the headlines.

But according to several attendees, something remarkable was said by UFT president Michael Mulgrew – and in such an off-handed way it provoked resentment.

The exact verbiage used by Mulgrew differed from source to source, so here are the accounts of two who attended. First, Arthur Goldstein of the NYC Educator blog:

Unless there is a big shift…things can change…we will all be right to work sooner or later. Will it leave states to decide when 1975 decision is overturned? We have legal people and strategists thinking about it. 27 RTW states. NY and CA, MA union strongholds. Believes it will happen, and we have to organize. At AFT exec. committee, we help RTW states organize. Says elections matter.

Goldstein remarked in a later post:

It was also interesting to hear Mulgrew casually admit that we were on the precipice of becoming a “Right to Work” country. I haven’t got the remotest notion of what we do when that happens.

Mike Schirtzer of the union’s MORE caucus was more direct:

Mulgrew replied, “We are going to become a right to work country. We are preparing for what we will do when that happens on the state and city levels. It depends on the provision in the laws and what states can do within that law- some states sign up members every year others sign once.”

Basically, he has already thrown in the towel! Mulgrew spent at least 30 minutes explaining how his tweet campaign is the greatest thing and when members want to know how is the union planning to really fight back against the greatest threat, the president of the largest AFT local basically said we have already lost.

Would right-to-work be utter devastation to teacher unions, or something they could handle? The answer lies somewhere in-between. Florida, for example, is a right-to-work state, but it still practices exclusive bargaining. So while membership in the Florida Education Association hovers around 50% of potential, with no way to compel payments from non-members, it still carries on much as a union would in New York or California.

Such a situation is bad for a union, but hardly life-threatening. FEA is the sixth-largest state affiliate in the National Education Association.

On the other hand, there is a very big difference between forming a teacher union from nothing in a right-to-work state, and going to right-to-work after being in an agency fee state since the 1977 Abood decision.

Mulgrew and other union officers in the same boat are kidding themselves if they think they will easily navigate the transition by means of improved organizing. They will have to downsize, and since union employees are unionized that means difficult negotiations. It also means cost-cutting in other areas, including Mulgrew’s $283,000 annual salary.

If teacher unions look at a diminished future as an opportunity to examine their own internal structures, they could emerge as leaner, but meaner organizations. If they think the problem will be solved with Twitterstorms, rallies and litigation, they will only further isolate themselves from the rank-and-file.


The Case of the Missing Speech

The California Teachers Association web site has a page devoted to the actions of its State Council, which is a representative body composed of 760 or so delegates from across the state.

The page has reports of each of the union’s policy committees, agendas and the text of speeches delivered by the union’s president and executive director, at least until last week.

CTA executive director Joe Nuñez delivered a speech to the State Council on January 29. Most of it was a farewell to a colleague, and a criticism of Trump, his policies, his Cabinet nominees, and his Supreme Court appointment.

There was little there to interest my readers, except for this one comment about the effects of the loss of agency fee, and I used it as the Quote of the Week in the February 1 EIA Communiqué:

Be prepared to lose 30-40% of your membership base. I don’t believe it will go that high in CTA, but we need to be prepared.

I also provided a link to the full speech. It wasn’t long before I heard from readers that the link was broken.

Well, not exactly. The speech had been removed.

CTA president Eric Heins’ speech is still there, as is every other document originally posted. Only the Nuñez speech is gone.

It must be a simple mistake, since even not-very-tech-savvy people know that Google cache keeps a copy of web pages until updated – not to mention my regular habit of making my own Adobe Acrobat files of source material in case of just such an eventuality.

Along with the loss of agency fees, Nuñez was also concerned that the Trump Labor Department might attempt to regulate all of NEA’s affiliates under the Labor Management Reporting and Disclosure Act.

ALL unions, including CTA and our local chapters could be subject to LMRDA rules and reporting. These are extensive filings that require itemized expenditures and salaries of union leaders. We should expect increased scrutiny and oversight.

I can understand his fear. If something as innocuous as his speech needed to be scrubbed when presented to even a tiny portion of the public, imagine what else is being held under wraps.


Union Election Follies

Teacher union elections are often pro forma affairs with little controversy and even less rank-and-file participation. For example, the three executive officers of the California Teachers Association were re-elected last week without opposition by the 760 members of the union’s State Council.

That’s right. Fewer than 400 v0tes can get you elected to the presidency of a 325,000-member union.

The Delaware State Education Association is unusual among state affiliates in that it allows a full membership vote for president. Last month’s election produced a 20 percent turnout, and a tie.

Incumbent vice president Karen Crouse and local president Michael Matthews received the exact same number of votes in a four-way race. This led to numerous complaints about ballots and notifications not being received. DSEA has also been slow to communicate with its members about the status of ballots.

Considering the problems, the candidates expect there will be a runoff, rather than an attempt to resolve the election with possibly contested and questionable ballots.

Meanwhile, candidates are gearing up for the New York State United Teachers presidential election. Incumbent Karen Magee ousted Richard Iannuzzi in 2014, and will face a challenge from his slate’s new candidate, Mike Lillis. But now a NYSUT insider suggests Magee may not run, or will also be challenged by incumbent vice president Andrew Pallotta.

The endorsed candidate of New York City’s Unity Caucus is virtually unbeatable in any NYSUT election, so we’ll have to wait and see who declares and who the kingmakers choose.

Finally, we have an election dispute in Palm Beach County, Florida, where the local teachers’ union disqualified a presidential candidate for taking a semester of unpaid family medical leave to care for his sick grandmother.

During that time Justin Katz didn’t pay his union dues, which was the reason cited by his local for the disqualification. He noted the union’s bylaws were silent on the issue, and appealed the decision to the Florida Education Association, which ultimately ruled in his favor.

The state union’s recommendation is not binding on its Palm Beach local, however. The local board of directors will have to make a final decision. I think it will be difficult for them to rule against a sick grandma, union dues notwithstanding.