Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Progressive unionism flexes its muscles at RA

On July 1, I introduced New Business Item #4 at NEA Representative Assembly.  It was supported unanimously by the Vermont delegation.  A team of fantastic leaders from the Teacher Union Reform Network (TURN) Caucus organized to support NBI #4, including Mary McDonald of CEC Illinois and CETT chair Maddie Fennell, who mobilized the entire Nebraska state delegation to yield microphones.
An all-star cast of union leaders spoke for NBI #4, including Massachusetts Teachers Association president Paul Toner, Montgomery County MD president Doug Prouty, former Fairfax VA president Rick Baumgartner, and Wisconsin State Senate candidate (and CETT member) Shelly Moore.
This is the text of NBI #4:
NEA will create a plan for presentation at 2013 RA to implement recommendation 9c on page 22 of the NEA Commission on Effective Teachers and Teaching report “Transforming Teaching” which reads: “Transform the UniServ Program, making UniServ directors advocates for educational issues to advance NEA’s professional agenda.”
The NEA Commission on Effective Teachers and Teaching (CETT) produced the policy brief “Transforming Teaching” with recommendations from real teachers on reform.  Recommendation 9 calls for NEA to “Address internal barriers to organizational engagement about teaching quality and student learning.”
The Rationale/background as published in RA Today is a follows:
The Commission on Effective Teachers and Teaching provided recommendations from accomplished teachers which highlight that educational issues have come to the forefront more than ever before.  One of the recommendations from the report is substantial and actionable within the current budget.
Pretty technical stuff…. Why then, did it inspire the opposition to organize a floor strategy against it?  NBI #4 became a screen on which the regressive forces in NEA projected their worst fears.  The opposition did not listen to our arguments.  They simply let their imagination run amok.
While NBI #4 was defeated by voice vote, much was accomplished:
·         A substantial debate about progressive unionism occurred on the floor of RA, exactly the type of internal debate which a healthy union needs.
·         The entire body of RA delegates took notice of “Transforming Teaching”
·         The progressive leaders of the Association flexed their muscles and demonstrated a remarkable capacity to organize on short notice.
·         A substantial minority of RA delegates stood up on division and supported a progressive action.  I’m sure the NEA leadership took note.
·         9000 people heard about TURN and saw demonstrated the group’s excellent work.
For the record: here is the text of my speech introducing NBI #4:
While bread and butter issues remain an essential task of our work, in the 21st century, unionism is shifting. We have the opportunity to take control of the quality debate more than ever before.   We see the link between controlling this debate about quality and our continued success in providing our members with professional pay, benefits, and working conditions. 
We need a Uniserv program prepared to support elected leadership at the local level in meeting 21st century challenges.  Our Uniserv directors need detailed knowledge of the policy challenges we face as local leaders, and the ability to respond to those challenges – bread and butter and teaching quality, with a full range of contemporary technical skills.
In many places, local leaders tell me this is already happening.  The plan we are requesting will not change that.
New Business Item #4 has three parts:
1.       We are asking for a plan to be brought to the 2013 Representative Assembly.
2.       We are asking that plan to address professional development for Uniserv directors to support our locals on issues of education quality and leading the profession.
3.       We expect that plan to align the Uniserv program to the NEA vision and the needs of our local and state affiliates to take the lead on teaching and learning.
Many of us are encountering challenges to the survival of our union and the well being of our members.  We request NEA create a plan of action for Uniserv professional development and report back to next year’s RA, so that our local and state affiliates have the support they need.
Please support New Business Item #4. 

Update, state caucus positions on NBI #4:

Support: Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Wisconsin

Support - leadership: Maine

Oppose: District, Maryland, Michigan, Nevada

Oppose - leadership: New Jersey

Refer - Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Indiana

No position: California, Delaware, Federal, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Texas, Virginia, West Virginia


  1. Steve,

    I've been watching the change in the perspective of unions from afar and had taken notice of TURN last year. I had just read your response to the EdWeek article by Stephen Sawchuck which led to your post. This past year I co-authored a book entitled, "Reclaiming Our Teaching Profession: The Power of Educators Learning in Community." We only touch very briefly on the topic of traditional unionism but our message is consistent with the ideals of TURN - if teaching is a true profession, it's time to take on the real work of professional organizations which is to elevate the profession through the continuous work to improve as professionals. That may mean becoming more accountable to ourselves as professionals rather than having those outside the profession enforcing accountability measures on teachers. I wish I had found the "Transforming Teaching" document to use as an additional reference in the book - I'm sure that it will be if there's a second edition. With the change in attitudes towards traditional union roles, it's time to "professionalize" the profession.
    Ed Tobia

    1. Ed, your book was released before the Commision report, that's why you couldn't use it as a reference :) Looking forward to reading it.

      There is a whole constellation of activity like Transforming Teaching, ED's RESPECT initiative, various Teacher Voice groups (CTQ, VIVA, Teach Plus) and forces within the unions like TURN, which are converging on the very conversation it seems is the theme of your book. As much as some would see the unions go away, I really don't think that's going to happen. The more productive conversation is how those of us inside and outside the unions can work together. Unions steer like aircraft carriers - it takes time. If we can get pointed the right direction, we can be essential partners in moving education forward, and enhance our traditional functions. Glad to have thrown our role into higher relief for you. I'll look forward to seeing your thinking on the subject develop.

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