I like clarifying moments. General counsel Bob Chanin’s farewell address to close this year’s NEA Representative Assembly was one of them. (If you’re ambitious and/or bored, a video of the 25-minute speech is available here.)
Alan’s despairing column about Arne Duncan’s speech to open the Assembly identified the problematic responses of some selected teachers resistant to merit-based pay reforms.
But the problem runs even deeper. Look all the way to the top rungs of the organization in its official pronouncements.
As Mike Antonucci explains, the tone was set by current NEA president Dennis Van Roekel — who “used the words ‘union’ or ‘labor’ 14 times in his speech, which is roughly 13 times more often than any previous NEA president”. Chanin, however, brought it home in clarifying fashion, as Education Week‘s Stephen Sawchuk reports:
In completing his speech, Chanin pointed out that the NEA using collective bargaining and strikes to more effectively represent education employees. And while NEA should continue to advocate policies to close the achievement gap and stop dropouts and promote educational equity, it should not do so at the expense of hard-won rights, such as due process or collective bargaining, he concluded.
“NEA and affiliates must never lose sight of the fact that they are unions, and unions first and foremost represent their members,” Chanin said.
A fitting capstone that nicely summed up the flavor of this year’s RA.
There was not a dry eye on the stage. The delegates gave Chanin a five-minute standing ovation. [emphasis added]
Did the Colorado delegation stand and cheer, too? Thank you, CEA.
Antonucci, who follows the national teachers unions more closely and carefully than any other outside observer, noted of the whole Assembly: “NEA finally embraced the labor union label it has downplayed for 25 years.”
Why the embrace? In a larger discourse about ornithological copulation, the Eduwonk opines on the new “union” emphasis:
It’s a smart strategy for the NEA. There is little love for their policies and stances these days* but making themselves invaluable to organized labor ensures some political relevance and toleration.
I don’t know enough to say how much NEA and its affiliates need to latch on to the broader labor coalition to ensure their political relevance, but at least in Colorado it fits the motif of last year’s fight to deny extending teachers’ right-to-work protections to the private sector.
Are the old guard unionists on the rise in the NEA, or was this year’s Assembly just their last hurrah? Because this year’s high-ranking lineup of speakers sure made it sound like the union is dead serious about keeping public education firmly in the mid-20th century while so many others work to move its delivery system, governance, assessment tools, accountability, and data management into the 21st century.
Finally, what do the reform unionists — especially those in Colorado — think of it all? Somebody had to ask.
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