The union as management

By Larry Sand
September 11, 2018

“It files unfair labor practice charges and restraining orders. Circumvents the other side’s negotiators. Threatens to replace employees who go on strike. Cuts off employee health insurance coverage. Crosses picket lines.”

Written by Mike Antonucci in 2004, the above does not refer to some greedy capitalist business enterprise, but rather to state affiliates of the biggest union in the land – the National Education Association. Unions, like other corporations, have employees: PR people, office managers, secretaries, etc.

And what was true 14 years ago doesn’t seem to have changed much.

  • In 2016, the North Carolina Association of Educators was in dire financial straits and its employees claim that they bore the brunt of it, not having had a raise in 8 years.
  • In 2017, the unionized staff at the Florida Education Association was not happy. The workers accused their bosses of having no respect for them, a heavy workload, poor training, etc.
  • Earlier this year, employees of the Virginia Education Association claimed management engaged “in a pattern of intimidation” and refused to bargain with the workers.

Perhaps the most contentious relationship between a union and its employees is here in California. The California Teachers Association and its staffers have a long history of “labor unrest.” In 2000, CTA employees were preparing to strike; pickets with signs were ready to march. The workers complained to the press that CTA was “acting like bureaucrats instead of union leaders.” Facing a myriad of issues at that time, CTA caved to its employee’s demands.

Two years ago, CTA staffers confronted their bosses at a regional leadership conference in San Jose and accused them of underfunding their pensions. Sound familiar? This is an ongoing gripe from CTA when dealing with the government on behalf of the teachers it represents. But in this case, CTA is “The Man” and is forced to deal with economic realities.

Just a year ago, pensions were still an issue with CTA staffers, and low salaries were also a problem. The two sides were far from a resolution, and to shed a bright light on the problem, CTA staffers picketed their employers at the National Education Association yearly convention in Boston in early July. Later that month, the staff union picketed again – this time at a CTA conference in San Jose. But CTA insisted that it was bargaining in good faith and placed the blame on the rather enormous gorilla crouching in the corner: the Janus decision.

And indeed, in the post-Janus era, things are getting worse for the CTA employees. Anticipating a loss in the case, CTA slashed its budget by some $20 million in early June, and reached an agreement to cut eight positions over a three-year period. But, as Antonucci writes, the staffers filed grievances anyway, accusing the union of violating the agreement by, among other things, “denying all staff transfers into vacant positions, even those unaffected by the cuts. The staff union says CTA committed a breach of faith. Employees have filed five grievances over management actions since the Janus ruling.”

The staff union instituted a campaign, accusing CTA of “patterns of poor management behavior,” and adopted a resolution to “participate in an escalation of actions designed to confront the trend of disrespect.”

Interestingly, even with their $20 million budget chop and some very disgruntled employees, the union has shown where it’s priorities really lie by doubling contributions to its political campaign independent expenditure committee and authorizing spending up to $10 million on ballot initiatives scheduled for the November election.

The union is very hard-nosed when dealing with school boards and other elected officials, claiming its right to hefty raises, smaller classes, more this and more that, all on the taxpayers’ dime. Yet when the shoe is on the other foot, the union does a 180, plays hard ball and seems to have no empathy for its very own workers.

In 2012, Troy Senik wrote a scathing article about CTA, called “The Worst Union in America.” He’s right. To which we can add, “and Most Hypocritical.”

Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers and the general public with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues. The views presented here are strictly his own.