NEA Executive Director John Stocks scolded the delegates at the recent NEA Representative Assembly about calling those who refused to join or pay agency fees “freeloaders.”
This is not a time to isolate ourselves. We won’t get far by labelling people free loaders. We can’t shrink away from people or partners. Just the opposite. This is a time to lean in. This is a time forge deep relationships with all who share our values. Our core values are timeless.
Of course, I don’t know when it was a time to isolate ourselves. But John is right. This is certainly not the time.
Which is why when Evanston delegate Clare Kelly proposed a New Business Item asking NEA members across the country to donate an additional $3 over and above their dues for strike support for actions like we saw last year in the Red State Teacher Revolt, the NBI passed overwhelmingly.
If only a third of the 3 million NEA members sign up to give the three bucks, that’s three million dollars.
That’s a floor. Not a ceiling.
Plus there is this.
I never called anyone in my local a freeloader because we didn’t have any.
We had one counselor who didn’t join but paid his fair share.
Every Fall I would talk to every new hire and explain why they should join and be active (after a year or two of focusing on their classroom and teaching practice).
I also explained about their Weingarten Rights. I explained how they should always call for a union rep anytime an administrator wanted to meet with them about a work issue.
That was their right. It was one of the benefits of being a union member or a fee payer.
Some never believed they would need that benefit. It only took one experience to convince them otherwise.
I don’t think the problem is calling freeloaders freeloaders.
Freeloaders won’t be a problem if we build strong locals that encourage active, engaged membership, that monitors and enforces the contract, that bargains tough and well, that believes in and fights for social justice, where local leaders are well trained and supported by state and national leadership and where members are consulted when leadership makes their political endorsements. Then we will see every potential member be a member.