Random thoughts. Union leadership conspiracy theories.


Don’t go to a state or national union convention thinking there will be real debate or democracy. As a delegate to a state convention one year I needed a bright orange sweater and my whole region waving their arms around behind me for the state president to recognize me at a microphone. At last year’s national meeting we had a two hour debate about the Confederate flag, the result being that my item passed and was filed in a deep dark hole somewhere, never to be seen or heard from again.

Union democracy. Frequently an oxymoron.

AFT President Randi Weingarten is a lawyer, so she knows how to use rhetorical devices.

When I made note on Facebook of her approving repost of a hack piece (The Right Baits the Left to Turn Against Hillary Clinton) from the New York Times suggesting the Bernie Sanders campaign was a conservative conspiracy to deprive Hillary Clinton of her earned nomination, she responded, “Fred-so when you disagree you call someone a hack?”

Nope. I call a hack a hack. Most of those I disagree with I call wrong or right. Or when I disagree with my wife, honey.

The problem with our union leadership is that they have a hard time with those they disagree with. Every difference among the membership is treated as if it were a conspiracy to destroy our unions.

Randi continued:

“I can’t believe you don’t want to know how the right manipulates us… We know how they do it overtly, but this is an astonishing example of how they do it covertly.”

See. Those supporting Sanders are just being manipulated. It’s not as if there are real issues here.

Is that why there was no rank-and-file input into the early, no-strings endorsement by the NEA and the AFT of Hillary?

In our short exchange I told Randi, “Nobody doubts games are played, but the assumption of this article and your comments suggest that the nomination is rightfully Clinton’s and that differences in policy and program exist in the Democratic Party because of a right-wing plot that created a progressive opposition to Clinton’s centrist corporate politics. Nonsense. These differences have always existed in the Democratic Party. Let them play out instead of treating it as if it were all a conspiracy. It should have been a debate in the AFT and the NEA. But that debate was shut down as well.


My readers respond to NEA/IEA Mark Kirk love.


We learned Friday that the National Education Association and the Illinois Education Association awarded Illinois Republican Senator Mark Kirk an “A” grade.

I expressed my disagreement, of course.

As did many of this blog’s readers.

A sample:

Tim Furman wrote, “Kirk got the “Charter School Champion” award from the charter school lobby in 2014. (Durbin got it the year before.) The method of assigning grades based on key votes is absurd; it misses the major themes behind the work these people are actually doing. Mark Kirk is hardly the worst Republican, but any system that assigns an “A” to someone who is actively trying to privatize public education is missing some fundamental internal checks. You’ve already written about the bizarre, full-of-internal-contradiction IEA endorsements of Mark Kirk; this dumb grading system seems to be more of the same muddled thinking.”

Joan O’Malley. “Fred. The NEA & IEA sure didn’t ask my opinion. Kirk is the worst Senator in Illinois and he has been in power too long. His total conservative voting record shows no thought as to serving the people of Illinois. I hope Tammy Duckworth defeats him this time. His handicap is unfortunate but that is no reason to vote him into office again. I think he is a destructive influence in Congress.”

Anonymous. “Kirk also came out supporting Rauner and Rauner’s plan to destroy SEIU and AFSCME in negotiations with state employees. There seems to be 2 sides to the NEA, the “union” side and the “we are not a union, we are an association” side. This comes from many decades of teachers not being allowed collective bargaining in most states. In some states, it is still a criminal offence for a teacher to go on strike. If a teacher strikes, they are not only fired, they lose their certification and have an official misconduct record. This makes it very hard to get a teaching job anywhere. It is from this sort of history that the NEA “non-union” side tries to tread lightly. They probably did not even notice Kirk’s vicious attack on public sector unions. Meanwhile, the “union” members are sandbagged by this endorsement of someone that supports outlawing fair share and wants to eliminate meaningful representation of teachers and other public employees in Illinois. Sort of the right hand not knowing what the left hand is doing. They either don’t know or they don’t care.”

Glen Brown. “About 4 ½ years ago, Illinois Senator, Mark Kirk, also agreed with Newt Gingrich and advocated for a law that would allow our state to declare bankruptcy, even though state bankruptcy would invariably rob public employees of their contractual right to an earned pension (http://teacherpoetmusicianglenbrown.blogspot.com/2011/08/why-bankruptcy-should-never-become.html).”

NEA/IEA gives Mark Kirk an “A” grade.


I know something about giving grades.

After thirty years of being an art teacher I will admit that there is a lot that is subjective about the whole process. There are times when the line between an A grade and a B grade can be a little wiggly. The line is not so wiggly between an A grade and a failing grade.

Illinois Republican Senator Mark Kirk is a fail.

Even the Chicago Sun-Times was forced to editorialize about our Illinois Senator:

Hard to say whom Mark Kirk offended more.

When he referred to an unmarried Senate colleague on Thursday as a “bro with no ho,” he did a magnificent job of offending women.

But when he added, “That’s what we’d say on the South Side,” he did an equally terrific job of offending African-Americans.

And, of course, Kirk offended everybody else who has a problem with a woman being referred to as a “ho” — slang for a prostitute — or with the assumption that South Siders — read black people — talk that way.

He sure offended a lot of people.

Is this all about political correctness, as Kirk’s apologists are saying?

No. In 1915 it might have been, but not in 2015.

Thoughtful people just don’t make Polish jokes anymore, or Helen Keller jokes, and they don’t say what Kirk said Thursday. They are above that. Their thinking is above that.

In 2016, when Kirk seeks reelection, the voters will have much to weigh about this man. He is to be admired for the way he fought back from a devastating stroke in 2012. He has a reputation in Washington for working hard. His conservative views on fiscal issues and more moderate views on social issues sit well with many in Illinois.

But Kirk’s unclever quip won’t be forgotten, nor will similarly injudicious remarks. He once called for the mass arrest of 18,000 Gangster Disciples, pulling a crazy number out of a hat. He once said a black neighborhood is the “one we drive faster through.”

Kirk has no announced opponent in the March 15 Republican primary.

That could change.

It didn’t change. Kirk has no Republican opposition.

Yet the National Education Association and the Illinois Education Association gave this guy an A grade.

This is the same organization (I admit I am a retired member, but I don’t know how much longer I can put up with this and still send them my dues) two years ago endorsed and handed over a ton of our PAC money to the Illinois State Chair of the anti-union American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) when he ran for the Republican nomination for Illinois governor.

The NEA’s failed strategy of electability.


The IEA’s unanimous vote to endorse Clinton early in no way reflected the mixed views of the rank-and-file.

In the lead up to the NEA leadership vote to give an early, no-strings endorsement to Hillary, I posted and wrote elsewhere that NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia was doing some hard lobbying.

Although the vote of the NEA PAC members and the NEA board of directors went overwhelmingly in favor of the endorsement, that did not represent the divisions within the rank-and-file. For example, all of Illinois’ votes went to Hillary. But in no way does that reflect those in this state that believed we should wait or who support Bernie Sanders.

Garcia made no argument that Clinton should be endorsed because her positions on education issues were better than Sanders. Her main argument was that of Clinton’s electability.

And when you read the post-endorsement talking points that the NEA sent to state and local leaders, you can see that electability is the entire basis for their strategy.

It doesn’t matter whether they are wrong or right on predicting Clinton will win.

Here is their argument as I understand it: We should support Clinton now because she is going to get the nomination anyway and if we wait like we waited to endorse Obama in 2008 we won’t be allowed at the table that’s in the room.

Even from a purely pragmatic point of view that didn’t work.

If Clinton is going to get the nomination anyway, which is by no means a sure thing, what does the NEA bring to the game if it is going to happen anyway.

What bargaining chips does the NEA have if it adds nothing to the equation?

The NEA endorsed Obama at the 2008 RA after he was assured the nomination. They endorsed him two years early in 2012. Did the early endorsement change anything coming from inside the Department of Education. In fact, things only got worse.

All this does is make the NEA look weak.

Although maybe it’s not just a look.

The Hillary endorsement. Not what I call tough bargaining.


Earlier this week, following the announcement that the NEA national leadership had bowed to President Lily Eskelsen Garcia’s lobbying efforts and voted to give the union’s endorsement to Hillary Clinton, many of us received an email explanation from Illiinois’ Jim Grimes. Jim is an NEA Director.

I have printed it in its entirety at the bottom on this post.

I read it closely to try to figure out what we got for this endorsement. What kind of commitments did we get from Clinton? Were there any promises (even a politician’s promise) made to the members of our union?

I could find only this: “Secretary Clinton literally promised not to make education decisions without us, the NEA, at the table and in the room.”

I worry. Once we at least demanded to be at the table.

Now it may be enough that we are just in the room.

Ironically, this was nearly identical to the justification the NEA gave for their early no-strings endorsement of Obama in 2012.

“We should be working with you, not against you,” Joe Biden told the NEA RA delegates long after the NEA gave Obama its endorsement. “We should be listening to you, not lecturing to you. We should be embracing you, not pushing you aside. You are not the problem.”

With a straight face he said this.

Unless my memory is bad, mainly what we got from Arne Duncan and the Obama administration were lectures, blame and were we ever pushed aside.

Even taken at face value, having us sitting at the table is a politician’s promise. There is no there there. What decisions are we talking about? I ask the question once raised in a presidential election long ago, where’s the beef?

Yesterday Hillary switched sides on the Pacific Trade Partnership because Sanders has been pushing her hard for labor’s support.

The Hill reports:

Labor leaders are “playing hard to get” with Hillary Clinton in her bid for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Many of the nation’s top unions are sitting on the sidelines, content to let Clinton sweat it out while they withhold endorsements.

Some labor officials are frustrated with Clinton for not coming to their aid in the fight over trade legislation in Congress, while others are skeptical of her commitment to their issues.

The face of the labor movement, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, has not endorsed Clinton while seemingly courting her biggest rivals in the Democratic primaries: Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Vice President Biden, who is weighing a run for president.

“Say you’re in love with a girl and want to marry her. She’s playing it cool. So you figure the best way to make her jealous is to flirt with someone else,” said Democratic strategist Brad Bannon.

“Trumka wants to marry Hillary, but until she’s willing to make stronger commitments to labor he’s going to flirt with Bernie and Biden,” Bannon added.

“That will get Hillary’s attention.”

The NEA and the AFT don’t play hard to get.

All Hillary has to promise is that we will be in the room.

It is not what I call tough bargaining.


October 3, 2015–A Message from the Illinois NEA Directors to the IEA Board of Directors and Grassroots Political Activists

Today, your NEA Board of Directors voted to recommend the candidacy of Hillary Rodham Clinton for President of the United States in the Democratic Primary Election.  Clinton received 75 percent of the vote from the 174-member NEA Board, which has voting representatives from all NEA constituents and affiliates.  The NEA Board of Directors recommendation requires at least 58 percent support. The Board’s action came after the NEA Political Action Council had voted by an 85% majority to recommend Hillary Clinton for President in the Democratic Primary.

Your Illinois NEA Directors voted unanimously for the recommendation of Hillary Clinton in the Democratic Primary Elections.

Among the considerations raised during the recommendation discussions were the candidate’s history on education and union issues, electability, and support for the candidate from elected officials, minority and women’s organizations.  During a town hall discussion with the NEA Board of Directors, Secretary Clinton literally promised not to make education decisions without us, the NEA, at the table and in the room.

The primary election decision followed discussions with members since our Representative Assembly in Orlando this summer, a discussion with NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia at the IEA September Board meeting, a sample national survey of NEA membership, and hours of debate online and in person in Washington, DC.  Secretary Clinton also made herself available for a phone conference with NEA members in September and spent 90 minutes answering questions in person at the NEA Board meeting in Washington on Oct. 3rd.

According to IEA President Cinda Klickna, who also serves on the NEA Political Action Council, former Secretary of State Clinton, who received the NEA’s Friend of Education Award in 1999, is a lifelong supporter of public education, and of the collective bargaining rights of education employees.

“Hillary Clinton has always been on the right side of the key education issues. She supports reducing the role of standardized tests. She believes in equal opportunity for all students, regardless of their ZIP code. She opposes school vouchers and supports making college more affordable.

“She will fight to ensure all students have access to arts education, school nurses, librarians and counselors, and funding. Hillary Clinton will be a true champion for students and public education” Klickna said.

To be considered for a recommendation, candidates must complete a questionnaire and sit for an in-person, videotaped interview with NEA President Lily Eskelsen García. The videos were made available to NEA members via the Internet.

The NEA questionnaire was sent to all viable presidential candidates, including Republicans, Democrats and third-party candidates.

The only presidential candidates to complete this process were former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley and U.S. Senator Bernard “Bernie” Sanders of Vermont.  President Eskelsen-Garcia complimented all three of the Democratic candidates who participated in the NEA recommendation process and said that all three are true friends of public education.

This is the fourth time that NEA has made a recommendation for a primary election since the 1970s.  Any recommendation for the General Election will come before the 2016 NEA Representative Assembly.

If you or your members have any questions please ask them to contact one of your NEA Directors.

Thank you,

Jim Grimes
Joyce Bailey
Tom Tully
Alex Wallace
Rainy Kaplan
David Watts
Kari Vanderjack
Maggie Huttlinger
Gladys Marquez

What happened to my NEA RA New Business Item on the Confederate flag? I just received an answer.

Screen Shot 2015-10-05 at 9.19.44 AM

Many delegates who attended the July NEA Representative Assembly in Orlando will recall the two-hour debate on my New Business Item 11.

Our meeting in Orlando came just days after the murder of nine African Americans in a church in Charleston.

The horrific murders led to nation-wide calls for removing the Confederate flag from public spaces. At the time it flew in front of the capitol building in South Carolina, among other places.

My New Business Item called on the NEA to support these efforts to remove the Confederate flag.

I have been told that no NBI debate ever lasted so long as the one over the Confederate flag.

After the long debate the NBI was passed by an overwhelming vote of the 8,000 delegates.

New Business Items normally sunset after a year.

In the three months since the Orlando RA I have made two requests for information about the implementation of NBI 11.

Today I received this from Carrie Lewis at the NEA:

Good morning:

Attached please find the preliminary report on implementation of New Business Items adopted by the 2015 NEA Representative Assembly.  This report is being sent to all makers of adopted NBIs.  An interim report will be provided in February and a final report will be provided in May and to the 2016 Representative Assembly in July.

Thank you,

Carrie Lewis

NEA Center for Governance

Since I have offered up other adopted New Business Items – well one. In support of the Chicago Teachers Union in 2012 – and never received a report like this, I can only assume this is either a new practice or a response to my blogging.

11. Confederate Flag

The NEA RA directs the NEA to support, in ways it finds appropriate and effective, efforts to remove the Confederate battle flag from public schools and public spaces.

NEA will work with our partners in the Civil Rights community on this issue. We will use EdVotes to highlight stories of actions in communities and states across the country to remove the Confederate battle flag from public schools and public spaces. In addition, NEA will monitor any federal legislation that would accomplish this NBI.

I don’t know how the rest of their support work is going.

But as for using the web site EdVotes to highlight stories of action in communities and states across the country?


In spite of opposition, NEA endorses Clinton.

Lily_Eskelsen_Garcia (1)

My fellow educators,

I wanted to be the first to let you know that your elected representatives to the NEA PAC Council and the NEA Board of Directors took action to recommend Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primary for President of the United States.  I am so proud of the thoughtful, thorough and incredibly rich discussion that your elected leaders held.  It was truly what democracy looks like.

I am also extremely proud of this decision because I know that Hillary is a strong leader who will do what’s best for the future of all of America’s students and public schools.

After an extensive review of the candidates and an in-depth discussion, your leaders saw what I know – Hillary Clinton will be a champion for students and educator in the White House. She has a 30 year history of standing up for students and strong public schools and has actively engaged in conversations with educators in this campaign.  Secretary Clinton told your leaders today that she won’t make a single decision about developing education policy without educators being in the room.

As a U.S. Senator, Hillary Clinton was a champion for our cause, earning an “A” grade from the NEA for her support on the issues most important to our students, but even before serving in the Senate, Clinton was a champion of the students we educate. While every first lady has an admirable cause, Hillary chose to stand up to the for-profit healthcare industry to advocate for children’s healthcare. Her campaign ultimately led to the largest expansion of public health care in decades, when millions of American children received health coverage under the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).

Even before running for president, Hillary championed early education and affordable college, and she sponsored efforts to ensure equal pay for equal work and to make it easier for workers to join a union.

And in 2016, the stakes for strong public schools will be too high to sit on the sidelines! Right now, there are presidential hopefuls who have made a career of attacking educators and public education to the detriment of students. They have allies like the Koch brothers, who have committed to spend $1 billion to defeat a pro-public education candidate like Hillary Clinton and taking control of the White House.

With so much at stake, you cannot sit on the sidelines – America’s students need you today!

Together, we can help elect Hillary Clinton as our next president and ensure that every child has the opportunity to succeed.


– Lily

Lily Eskelsen Garcia

National Education Association President

#NoEarlyEndorsement. Hillary and the NEA. What’s the deal?


What do teachers and public schools get in return from our union endorsements?

– My column from In These Times:

With just a few days before the a meeting of the National Education Association’s (NEA) board of directors in Washington DC, what seemed like a sure thing several weeks ago now seems a little less certain.

The plan was for the leaders of the largest teachers union in the country to vote for an early endorsement of Hillary Clinton for the Democratic Party nomination. With the backing of NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia, the endorsement should have been a breeze.

As Annie Karni reported in Politico has reported,

Top brass of the 3 million-strong National Education Association, the country’s largest union, are recommending an endorsement of Hillary Clinton, according to an email obtained by POLITICO—a move that has many state leaders and rank-and-file members planning to protest the early endorsement.

The email, sent from the union’s campaign office, states that the NEA PAC, the union’s political arm, is planning to hold an upcoming vote ’recommending Hillary Clinton for the presidential primary.

I don’t know what, if anything, has been asked for in return for the Clinton endorsement. But we can look back to past recent endorsements for a bit of instruction. Those endorsements show us that despite the fact that a union’s main job is bargaining, political horse-trading has frequently been a weakness of the NEA.

If the NEA board of directors follows instructions, it would be the second national teachers union to endorse Clinton. The earlier American Federation of Teachers endorsement was met with criticism by many progressives among their ranks and by those AFT members “feeling the Bern.”

But Weingarten controls her union’s endorsement procedures even more tightly than Eskelsen Garcia controls the NEA. Given the close relationship between Weingarten and Clinton (Weingarten sits on the board of the pro-Clinton PAC Priorities USA), there was zero chance the AFT would choose not to endorse her.

Clinton does have many supporters among the rank and file of the NEA. Yet there were plenty of Bernie buttons at the NEA convention in Orlando last July. And the past week has witnessed a growing revolt within the union against an early endorsement.

Read the entire column here.

Will the NEA pull the trigger for a Hillary endorsement too soon?


Sanders was introduced by Obama advisor David Axelrod at the University of Chicago yesterday.

What NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia wants is an endorsement of Hillary Clinton this coming weekend.

What are we getting in exchange if Hillary gets our endorsement?

Probably more of the same centrist Democratic Party corporate education policies that we have seen the last eight years.

Lily’s main argument is Hillary’s electability. But that is coming more into question in the days leading up to the NEA board of directors meeting in DC.

Polls show Sanders within seven points of the tanking Hillary campaign.

And I have to wonder if former Obama advisor David Axelrod’s effusive introduction of Bernie Sanders to a University of Chicago crowd doesn’t reflect less than effusive support or confidence in the inevitability of Hillary by Obama’s folks.

Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders was met with open arms at the University of Chicago on Monday.

David Axelrod, director of the school’s Institute of Politics and President Barack Obama’s former political adviser, who reels in trending politicians to speak at the school, introduced his guest: “We have never had a president named Bernie Sanders. Ladies and gentlemen, Bernie Sanders.”

At least three NEA state affiliates have called for #NoEarlyEndorsement.

They include New Hampshire, Massachusetts and New Jersey. New Jersey is the largest fundraiser for the NEA PAC of any state affiliate.

One can understand why Sanders supporters oppose an early endorsement of Hillary.

And then there are those of us who see this as one more example of top-down decision making that so often characterizes our NEA and IEA.

I received this comment from a reader.

I wrote to President Klickna through the IEA website my same concern of an early endorsement. Linda Rice wrote back “NEA makes no recommendation prior to the primary and affiliates are always consulted. I will pass your concerns on to our Government Relations Dept.”

We don’t do it but when we do do it we consult, but we’re not doing it, but we’re planning on doing it this weekend.


Even Hillary supporters should be asking how it helps teachers and public education to endorse a candidate so early without demanding anything in return.


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