Watching the NEA RA from afar.

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Like the guy in Annie Proulx’s Brokeback Mountain, when it comes to the NEA’s Representative Assembly, I just can’t quit it.

It has been several years since I ran and went as a delegate. I have been following it as best as I could, what with their live stream constantly going down but with constant texting from friends who were attending.

The Minneapolis meeting ended last night after business that included 129 New Business Items and votes on constitutional amendments.

Although smaller in the number of delegates, it seemed, at least from afar, that it was a typical RA, with NBIs that addressed a bazillion different issues.

Some mock this. But I go with those that support my old teaches union addressing more than just a narrow list of so-called education issues. Even if most of these NBIs end up in a file cabinet somewhere in NEA headquarters, never to be heard from once the delegates go home.

And I remain dumbfounded that an NBI 91 was voted down.

“The RA directs the NEA PAC Council to consider guidelines to prevent the recommendations of any political candidate who takes and/or solicits support from the National Rifle Association (NRA).”

This wasn’t even an anti-gun statement. It was an anti-NRA statement. It is the contradictions within the NEA RA that Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School’s’ David Hogg can be warmly greeted on one day and then delegates vote against an anti-NRA New Business Item on another day.

On the other hand, a New Business Item to establish a $3 per member voluntary contribution to strike support was a rank-and-file member response to the Red State Teacher Revolt that swept through the south and west this past year in states from West Virginia to Arizona.

Although a majority of delegates voted to open up non-voting membership in the NEA, it was not enough to meet the two thirds requirement to change the constitution.

The defeated language would have created a new membership category of “Community Ally” and charge the NEA Board of Directors with establishing the dues, benefits, and services for such members, while preserving NEA governance positions for education professionals and active equivalents.

Although I supported the amendment, a minority of delegates expressed distrust of the leadership. Some argued that this was just a trick to get more dues money or get corporate reformers in as members.

There is plenty of history to justify distrust.

But realistically Janus has put a potential financial hit on public employee unions.

Beyond that, I believe we do have to rethink the way our unions, particularly public employee unions, respond to the new world workers are facing.

In the Sun-Times this week Robert Bruno, professor in the School of Labor and Employment Relations at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, wrote:

In this environment, the very substance of bargaining in the public sector has to be re-conceptualized. Instead of a union bargaining as merely an economic agent for the financial good of its members, it must reorient contract negotiations around the public interest, with the union bargaining on behalf of the community and fighting for the services it needs. Unlike conventional transactional labor-management relations, the bargaining demands are broad and inclusive. Most importantly, unions are able to transform the aim of bargaining into advocacy for the common good.

And the need to forge community alliances is paramount. What I fear is that the there is a systematic effort to wipe clean our national memory of the benefits of unionism and collective bargaining. When the facts about labor and its undeniable profound role in building the middle class becomes fiction and vice versa, we make it harder to remember a past when collective action produced prosperity.

Janus may shrink the resources available to effectuate public sector collective bargaining, but it cannot prevent citizens and workers from finding a common voice. Contrarily, the decision is a powerful inducement to give fresh meaning to a clichéd belief that “an injury to one is an injury to all.”

 

 

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