Sunday, March 06, 2005

Union Clowns: The Local Edition

I actually like the ideal of a teachers union. I strongly believe that there should be an organization whose purpose is the advocacy of issues related to compensation and working conditions for public school teachers. Having said that, there are many aspects concerning the reality of teachers unions that I do not much care for.

Like most teachers that work in California, my district is forced to withhold dues from three separate unions. These are: The National Education Association, (NEA) The California Teachers Association, (CTA) and the (fictitiously named) Middletown Elementary Teachers Association. (META) We are forced to pay dues to all three of these organizations.

One of my greatest concerns is the fact that since California is a "closed shop" state, a teacher does not have the option of withholding (even a portion of) his or her dues in order to express dissatisfaction with the way things are being done. Even if the teacher formerly withdraws from the unions, an amount equal to the combined dues is taken from the teacher's paycheck in what is termed as an "agency fee."

Over the last several years, META has developed a well-deserved reputation as an organization that is dominated by a small, self-serving clique that refuses to relinquish any of its power or privileges and will go through great lengths to maintain the status quo even though doing so is clearly to the detriment of the great majority of the membership.

This is the type of nonsense that our local teachers union (META) pulls:

  1. Lack of financial accountability: The local union refuses to disclose its expenditures or its assets. Whenever members ask to know where the money is going, they are answered with sarcasm and disdain by the entrenched leadership. "Why do you want to know; don't you trust us?" is a typical response.
  2. Rigged Elections: An appointed "nominating committee" presents a slate of "approved" candidates to the membership for a vote. Usually, there is only one name for each office except those rare occasions when an "outsider" dares to challenge the "approved" candidate. The teachers in each of the 10 schools in our district then vote at their individual school sites. The vote lasts for several days. There are no locked ballot boxes, nor secret ballots of any kind. Each teacher hands his or her marked ballot to the union representative who then has unsupervised custody of the ballots which the union representative keeps (for several days) in an unsealed envelope. The unsealed ballots are then delivered from all ten sites to a union officer who has (again unsupervised/unsealed) custody of the ballots for several days. With all this chicanery it is no surprise that only officially-approved candidates have ever won in all the years that I have taught. Any "unapproved" campaign literature that is placed in teacher's mailboxes is declared to be "unauthorized" and subsequently removed by union operatives. Of course, our district finds this highly amusing and stays out of the fray.
  3. Appointed, not elected, negotiators. The people that (supposedly) negotiate on our behalf are appointed by the union President, without any vote by, or accountability to, the membership. Without exception. these people are close friends and associates of union "insiders." Most are only a few years from retirement, so their focus is on getting more money for themselves and others at the higher-end of the seniority list. Once upon a time, a group of teachers attempted to amend the bylaws in order to have elected negotiators represent them. The union's response was to not advertise the special meeting that had been called (through petition, according to bylaws) so that the only people that knew about the meeting were the petitioners and "good union people" from the school-site where the meeting was held. Of course the amendment failed to garner the 2/3 majority needed to succeed. After the meeting the bylaws were (illegally) changed to make it all-but-impossible for the rank and file to call for a special meeting.
  4. Suppression of dissent: There are only two union meetings per year. There is one meeting after the district's "Welcome Back" assembly, and one in April or May. There are no discussions of union business, as the meetings are choreographed through the use of an "Agenda" that is written in advance by the President. No items may be added by members, and nothing can be discussed at the meeting that is not on the pre-published Agenda. Since no newsletter has been published (in violation of bylaws) for the last year, there is no forum for the expression of dissenting opinions. (Please refer to note below regarding this newsletter.)
  5. Our union is controlled by a tiny group of "Administrator Haters" who dislike school administrators to such a degree that everything that these union "leaders" say and do is colored by that hatred. This is counter-productive to the negotiations process. The group is not open to outsiders and participation is "by invitation only."
  6. Cronyism. We actually have a person (close friend of the President) that was appointed in order to supposedly publish a monthly newsletter. She has gotten a union-purchased computer and all her high-speed internet fees are paid by LETA. She has traveled to numerous workshops and conventions during the past two years. In that time, this parasite has published one newsletter. When this fact was pointed out by our school site representative (Who is thought of as a "reformer.") at the monthly meeting of the union's leadership, he was (you guessed it) met with sarcasm and disdain. Union officers routinely travel to union workshops in such locales as Washington, Las Vegas, Honolulu, and Anchorage (!?!) Alaska. For several years, a union "insider" was given $500.00 per year to maintain a website. This website was not updated for at least three years and subsequently expired due to non-payment of domain fees. We don't know if this individual is still drawing his stipend, as the union refuses to answer any questions regarding expenditures or budget.
  7. Perks: Besides the aforementioned computer, union officers get cell-phones, pagers, and (at least one of them) a lap-top computer. They also miss a phenomenal amount of school due to the fact that they are on "union business," as they go globe-trotting about the country spending the Local's money like the proverbial drunken Union Boss.
  8. Failure to follow their own bylaws. Even illegally-adopted bylaws must be followed by the leaders of an organization. That is not the case with META, which ignores those aspects of the bylaws that actually require a little bit of work. Meeting minutes are not posted, records are not kept, and members are not informed as to what is going on. Again, when people question the irregularities, they are met with hostility and sarcasm. Protests are ignored.
  9. Failure to grasp even the fundamental tenants of leadership. Here is an example: During our last round of negotiations, the President repeatedly asked members to write letters to the newspaper for the purpose of rallying community support. When it was pointed out that none of the officers had written any letters themselves, the offending member was told: "We have already done our share of the work." (I guess when they go to those "leadership workshops," they don't pay much attention.) Not surprisingly, NO letters were sent in to the newpaper's op/ed page.
  10. Ever-Increasing Dues: We now pay combined dues of $810.00 per year. We have no vote regarding the amount of either state or national dues, and local dues are voted upon using the corrupt procedure described above. These dues have increased every year for the past four years, and will go up again next year.

I would email a copy of this post to the union's "leadership" if they hadn't let their domain lapse last year for lack of payment of domain fees. That URL is now owned by some firm in Canada.

As I have said before: I will support any teachers union that is transparent, accountable, and democratically-run. None of these unions meets even one of these criteria.

A number of us younger and mid-career teachers have tried to affect positive change to no avail. There is no recourse, as the only state-level union official in the County happens to be a good "drinking buddy" (literally) of our current President. For the time being, the great majority of teachers in the Middletown Elementary School District do not feel that the union represents them, (myself included) and have chosen not to be associated with this circus or its clowns.

Unfortunately, because of inept union leadership and uninvolved membership, the union's position vis-a-vis our district has gotten steadily worse over the past few years. Since our union's leadership is so narrowly focused on getting the largest percentage raise possible (Which benefits those at the top of the salary range.) many other issues that need to be discussed (such as class sizes and instructional materials) are not addressed in any fashion.

And our district likes it that way.

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