Tag Archives: NEA

Not a Walkout, but a Walk-in

walk-in1Rock Creek, Montana   There’s a difference between being off-the-grid physically and off-the-job mentally. Not surprisingly I found myself talking shop with an old friend and comrade while drinking coffee in the early dawn and sitting on a tent pad, and what I was hearing was both good and interesting news.

She works near the top of the heap of the nearly 3-million member teachers’ union, the National Education Association, the nation’s largest labor organization that is not known typically as an organizing union. Nonetheless after several years of membership losses in the state-by-state battles with increasingly conservative governors and state legislatures who have been in thrall of school privatization and anti-public school anti-teachers’ union, charter school, she shared that the NEA had won back the several hundred thousand members that they had lost and ended up net 35,000 in growth this year. They had been organizing against the potential disaster that the Fredrichs challenge to union agency fee dues programs had represented for all public sector unions until the happenstance of Justice Antonin Scalia’s death and the deadlocked 4-4 vote of the Supreme Court left in place a union-affirming Appeals Court decision. Preparing for one disaster by upgrading their emphasis on their locals, they had achieved sustained growth as a reward, so that now the challenge will be keeping it up.

All that was good, but what I really enjoyed hearing her describe was an exciting new tactic that the union had initiated this year: a walk-in. We all know what a walkout means when workers, teachers in this case, leave the workplace, schools in this situation, and hit the sidewalks and streets to protest or strike for better wages, hours, or working conditions. Every new school year presents the almost predictable drama of teachers walking out, though the names and places may be different, it is going to happen somewhere as predictably as the fall weather.

NEA though tried something different during this last school year to make sure administrators of schools got their messages by calling a walk-in. They didn’t care if it were a dozen teachers or hundreds, and the issues were deliberately left to the local chapters to sort out what was on their minds – which was ingenious as well and strengthened the local’s individual incentives for action – but in a perfect showcase of what I have always called “coordinated autonomy,” the key was that it would happen at the same day and roughly the same time all around the country. Much of NEA’s strength is in smaller districts and cities around the country, but they also got traction in some bigger cities where NEA and AFT have merged. The result was that 80 to 100 districts did walk-ins all over the place, exciting the organization internally and helping set the tone for more potential innovation and actions in the future.

This is not something that any of us had heard about perhaps, but knowing that this kind of thinking and action is happening is encouraging and leads us all to hope that a thousand more flowers will bloom in this and other unions trying to revitalize around the country and the world.


State Initiatives Move the Needle on Key Issues in USA Elections

New Orleans  Obvious disclosure:  I’m a huge proponent of the strategic and tactical value of local and statewide initiative on our issues to build organizational power and actually win campaign results.   This is obvious given the number of living wage, lifeline utility, sales tax on food & medicine, generic drug, minimum wage increase, and single member district measures we put on the ballot – and mostly won – before voters in cities and states throughout the country with ACORN.  When people are given the opportunity to speak and be counted, and when organizations prove they have both the wherewithal and the courage to put the questions before them, the needle moves.  Sometimes it moves with us, and sometimes it moves against us, but, doggone it, it moves!

In the elections around the country it moved yesterday in some interesting ways, so let’s look at a couple with undoubtedly more to come:

  • In Michigan I had called attention recently to a number of measures where unions were willing to take their case to the voters on important collective bargaining issues.  There were mixed results.  The preemptive effort to ward off “wisconsinitis” and protect the public employees bargaining rights in the constitution failed, though it may have immunized the state in the future, which is critical.  On the other hand the powers of “emergency managers” to take over schools and cities and reject existing collective bargaining contracts won decisively.
  • Teachers, and this is mostly the NEA, were able to turn back statewide initiatives by so-called school “reformers” masking as hard right turners in Idaho and South Dakota and protect both collective bargaining and tenure in those states.
  • In California upending all of the Debbie Downers and pollsters that were signally that Governor Jerry Brown was going down, voters decisively voted to raise their taxes to try and rebuild the once great public school system in that state.  This is the first successful pushback to “repeal” the impact of the Howard Jarvis property tax limitations from over 30 years ago that have crippled public funding.  This is huge!
  • Maryland and my friends at Casa de Maryland have much to celebrate having not only won a state-based “DREAM” act through the legislature but also winning voter approval to the measure in the shadow of the White House.  We’re going to win DREAM soon, I would bet.
  • On protest votes on Obamacare voters in Alabama, Wyoming, and Montana on health exchanges:  I’m glad I only got to Montana for fish and fun, because my brothers and sisters there are drinking bad water before voting these days.  Florida voted “yes” which should have been a message to Romney, but whatever for the 47%, eh?  It doesn’t matter though since federal law preempts state measures in the USA.  The tide is moving out on this rightwing resistance.  Even the business-based conservative Times-Picayune in New Orleans editorialized a couple of weeks ago in our solid red state that Republican Governor Bobby Jindal was a fool to not take “free” federal money for three years to provide Medicaid support for Louisiana citizens.  Their message was essentially “don’t play national politics with the lives of Louisiana poor people.”  A lot of these governors are going to be getting this message about reality now.
  • Remember that Planned Parenthood is still fighting in the trenches state-by-state to protect its health services program after the ACORN-style Congressional scam attack, well in Florida voters lined up to say that state funding for their programs and others around birth control were fine with them.
  • On other “wedge” issues dividing modern voters, two more states, Maryland and Maine are ok with gay marriage.  My bet is that the Supreme Court will be watching these state plebiscites with decisions coming before it soon on this issue.  Washington and Colorado were OK with legalizing marijuana (yes, I can already hear the advertisements about being a “mile high” there!), but Oregon said no.  Unclear how this will sort out since the US and the Attorney-General are still insisting anything about marijuana is a crime, but Latin America is also moving this way with Uruguay and other countries believing we must legalize to stop the Mexican drug cartels.  Change is coming on both of these issues no doubt!

Let the people speak and be prepared to follow.

We need to put more living wage and minimum wage efforts on the ballot locally and statewide in 2014.  We need to look at some of these other issues and assess what it takes and start making plans.