Union Report: Teachers Union Employees Stage Job Actions — Against Teachers Unions

NEA President Lily Eskelsen García (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Mike Antonucci’s Union Report appears Wednesdays; see the full archive

When the U.S. Supreme Court in June ruled that public employee unions could no longer charge representation fees to non-members, leaders of the National Education Association and other labor officials issued a joint statement declaring that unions “will remain a strong and vibrant force for working people, and will continue fighting to sustain our families, improve our workplaces and to make our communities stronger regardless of the court’s ruling.”

Little did they know the strong and vibrant force of employees at NEA affiliates across the country would immediately turn against NEA managers.

From coast to coast, employees of NEA-affiliated unions are accusing their bosses of unfair labor practices, bad-faith bargaining, and benefit cuts. As teacher unions attempt to deal with projected losses of revenue resulting from the court’s Janus decision, the workers they employ are trying to save their jobs and avoid cuts in compensation.

The staffers knew this would happen. Back in January the National Staff Organization, which is the umbrella group for unions representing employees of NEA and its affiliates, warned members they would be “under assault” by union management in the wake of an adverse judicial ruling.

NSO advised staff unions to use “verifiable financial figures” from federal disclosure reports during contract negotiations rather than internal membership reports, “since those can be easily manipulated.” The implication was that union managers would make their financial situation look worse than it is to justify staff cuts.

Over the summer, NEA affiliate employees began to organize direct actions. Here are just the ones of which I’m aware:

California: Employees of the California Teachers Association accused union managers of “betrayal” over a memorandum of understanding agreed on prior to the Janus ruling. The staff union agreed to allow CTA to cut eight professional staffers over a three-year period. Now the staff union claims CTA wants deeper cuts and is reneging on provisions regarding employee transfers into vacant positions.

The staff union instituted a campaign to address “patterns of poor management behavior” and adopted a resolution to “participate in an escalation of actions designed to confront the trend of disrespect.”

Kentucky: In March the Kentucky Education Association was instrumental in organizing protests against a pension reform bill. Last month KEA employees picketed outside union headquarters to protest management proposals to reduce their health insurance benefits.

“We don’t feel that we have been fairly treated in the negotiations that we’ve had with KEA management,” said KEA employee Dennis Janes.

The current staff contract expired on Aug. 31. Union managers are confident a settlement will be reached. “Negotiations are always about wages and benefits,” said Mary Ruble, KEA executive director. “The current contract is very generous, and they [staffers] are interested in keeping everything in their current contract.”

Maryland: The website of the Montgomery County Education Association, one of NEA’s largest local affiliates, exclaims, “I support strong unions!” But MCEA employees asked for, and received, national sanctions from the NSO against MCEA for creating a hostile work environment.

In a Facebook post, the staff union accused managers of showing “a complete disregard for union values” and interfering with staffers’ ability to perform their duties.

Sanctions ensure NEA affiliate employees in other states will refuse to interview for vacancies at MCEA and will boycott training or assistance requested by MCEA managers. The idea is to apply pressure that will result in a settlement of differences with the staff.

South Carolina: Employees of the South Carolina Education Association filed an unfair labor practice complaint with the National Labor Relations Board, claiming bad-faith or surface bargaining in their contract talks with union management. No further details are currently available, and the NLRB has yet to investigate the complaint.

Virginia: Employees of the Virginia Education Association asked for, and received, national staff union sanctions against VEA for “attempts to intimidate and harass staff members.”

VEA and its workers have had a troubled year. Sanctions against management imposed in the spring were lifted when the two sides reached agreement on a new contract. The latest flare-up occurred when staffers were handing out pamphlets outside a VEA organizing workshop at the University of Richmond. VEA managers called campus police to have the staffers removed.

For obvious reasons, teacher unions don’t want their internal labor problems to attract public attention. It is possible that discontent is even more widespread than these incidents indicate. I suspect we will see more employee job actions against unions as budget cuts take their toll on personnel.

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