Sunday, April 03, 2005

Washington State Teachers Union Boycotts Wal-Mart And Hurts Itself Instead

The Washington Education Association (WEA) is the Washington State affiliate of the National Education Association. (NEA) The WEA has been running a program for needy children that merits some respect:

The WEA Children's Fund earmarks $50,000 a year for needy students. Teachers can purchase items such as warm coats, new shoes and basic school supplies and submit receipts to the Fund for reimbursement.

The Fund allows teachers to meet the everyday needs of children that would otherwise hinder their learning ability.

As Martha Stewart would say, "That's a good thing." The not-so-good thing is that the Union had to go and spoil it:

The WEA recently decided that, despite the direct benefit to children, the Children's Fund will now refuse to reimburse teachers for some of their purchases simply because [a] great many of the receipts members submit for reimbursement are for purchases from Wal-Mart.
Apparently, the WEA is unhappy that Wal-Mart has successfully withstood attempts by any union to organize Wal-Mart's workers. So... in a show of "union solidarity" WEA has instructed its members not to buy any materials for their classrooms (or their students) from the "non-union" Wal-Mart.

WEA President Charles Hasse said

"We've heard loud and clear from WEA members on this issue -- the overwhelming majority don't want their charitable contributions lining the pockets of Wal-Mart," WEA President Charles Hasse said. "Since the story broke, we've also heard from our allies in the labor community, all of whom are appreciative of the policy change."
Hasse's statement insinuates that there was some sort of secure vote or electronic polling done in order to sample the opinions of the rank-and-file on this matter.

The concern that we have is the fact that there was no vote and no poll. The union claim that mail ran "20-1 against reimbursing purchases from Wal-Mart" doesn't stand-up to scrutiny because WEA merely counted responses to a magazine article that touted the new policy.

The Washington Education Association, (like other state affiliates of NEA) uses an awkward and antiquated system of president-appointed boards, committees, and "representative assemblies" that are supposedly charged with governance and the setting of union policy.

What is missing is any sort of election by the rank and file for any union officer or policy.

In fact, since the membership of these boards and committees is appointed by the president, they essentially serve as a rubber-stamp for the all-powerful (and unelected) president. As for the representative assemblies, they rarely (if ever) vote against the "recommendations" of the executive, even though they may have (at times) healthy debates.

The committee "responsible" for the oversight of this fund is called the WEA Children's Fund Board. Predictably, the board
rubber-stamped Hasse's "recommendation" that teachers who buy items at Wal-Mart to help their students would no longer be reimbursed from the fund.

The union would prefer now requires that teachers buy products from higher-priced stores in order to get reimbursed under the Children's Fund program. This hurts children because when the dollars are spent in those higher-priced retail outlets, not nearly as many items can be bought with that original $50,000 budget as can be purchased at the much lower-priced local Wal-Mart.

Sadly, the union has yet again shot itself in the foot done the reputation of the state's teachers a disservice.
All the negative publicity about this decision implies that it was the teachers that instigated the boycott. In reality, the decision to impose the boycott resulted from the actions of a tiny (unelected) cabal of union activists. Any effective teachers organization needs to foster good community relations.

Like a number of states, (including California) Washington State is a "closed shop" state, meaning teachers are forced to pay dues to the union, even if they choose not to join it.

Will Wal-Mart lose significant sales from this WEA boycott? Probably not much, as the program involved a total of $50,000. The real losers will be the children who will not get helped because the funds were not spent in the most optimal fashion but were instead wasted spent at higher-priced stores in order to "send a message" to Wal-Mart.

Tipped by:
Right on the Left Coast
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