Labor Unrest Spreading… at the Virginia Education Association

The Virginia Education Association is engaged in contentious contract negotiations with its own staff. The animosity led to the staff union calling for sanctions against VEA, which means NEA staffers from other states will not assist VEA, nor apply for positions there.

The staff union - the Virginia Professional Staff Association - went a step further last week and delivered a vote of no confidence in Breanne Armbrust, VEA’s director of field support. This is a bit strange, because employees normally direct such denunciations at the union’s executive director, or chief of staff.

That isn’t possible in this case because VEA’s executive director, Phillip Forgit, is on his way out. The circumstances are a matter of some dispute.

In any event, Ms. Armbrust is accused of canceling or shortening meetings, postponing staff training, causing confusion, and marginalizing the staff.

“As a result of these and other issues, VPSA morale has suffered dramatically, frustration has mounted, and there is a general feeling that Ms. Armbrust routinely creates unnecessary obstacles to, and interferes with, UniServ staff work,” reads the no confidence document.

There is a lot of support for the staff’s position, but some pushback, too. Former VEA president Meg Gruber called on members to get both sides of the story. Retired VEA activist Lee Vosper Dorman was less diplomatic in a response posted to the VPSA Facebook page:

It seems VPSA still up to their usual tricks! For YEARS VPSA has tried EVERY TRICK they could think of to tear down the very structure of the VEA - they have organized protests, whisper campaigns against elected leaders, stalled negotiations with ridiculous demands, clouded and confused local association leaders with patently false information, done next to nothing to increase membership, demanded cuts in member programs if that’s what it takes to provide them ever increasing salary increases and healthcare benefits - never seeming to understand the very direct relationship of membership dues to healthy budget balances.

VPSA has fought against evaluations and accountability of their jobs filing grievance after grievance to obstruct and obfuscate the very fact that they want a bigger salary and don’t care about visiting building or membership - but don’t mind spending members’ money. They have now successfully removed the executive director who was trying to bring about a process of evaluation and accountability- with the help of clueless governance they now have posted a no confidence vote on the manager who is directly responsible for evaluations of field staff - current VEA (board of directors) members meantime sit mute asking not one question - as a member and elected leader of 45+ years I’m very sad and afraid of what is coming.

These internal labor disputes usually get hashed out, or papered over with additional money, but it does illustrate that working with unions can be difficult, combative and nasty - even for unions.