The Bell Curve: Why CTA Is Really Our Frenemy

For the past six years, SDEA has intentionally deemphasized our relationship with our state affiliate CTA (the California Teachers Association) and focused on doing things our own way. Here’s why.

SDEA employs our own staff, who work directly for us and not for CTA. This is big deal because CTA’s staffers tend to be very conservative in their advice to local unions. Theirs is a traditional union model where “expert” staff provide services to “grateful” members (remember, we pay their very large salaries!). They see state lobbying instead of local organizing as the most important role of the union. CTA staff analysis of school districts’ budgets also tends to line up with the districts’ own analysis, which as we know is wrong every single year.

Here’s an example of how SDEA sees the world fundamentally differently than CTA: When we were bargaining our current contract, then-SDEA Executive Director Steve Johnson met with CTA budget analyst Angela Su to get some help costing out parts of our contract proposals. Angela Su advised us that we were crazy to be seeking a three-year contract, and that our best bet was to take a one-year deal with concessions. We ignored her advice and fought for a three-year contract that gets our concessions paid back in the third year. And we won. We won doing it our way, not theirs.

Now CTA is at it again, trying to convince SDEA leadership that our members should accept concessions as inevitable. Two weeks ago on April 25, SDEA President Bill Freeman invited Angela Su and other CTA staffers to do a dog and pony show about SDUSD’s budget for our own SDEA Board. In that presentation, Angela Su showed a chart demonstrating that SDEA’s healthcare ranking is among the best in the entire state. We’ve worked hard to hang on to our fully paid family healthcare, while most CTA locals have given it away. Amazingly, rather than ask SDEA leaders how CTA can learn from SDEA’s more successful way of doing things, CTA staff used that slide as part of a presentation implying that SDEA members have some room to concede. CTA should be looking at SDEA as a successful outlier that can move the entire CTA bell curve. But instead, they are encouraging our leadership to accept sliding back into the middle of the pack. CTA also told SDEA’s Board that our “No Layoffs, No Concessions” position is a pipe dream. But remember, that’s what both CTA and our District have told us every year. And every year, we are the ones who have been right.

So why do CTA staff continually advise concessions that so often turn out to be unnecessary? Because when you’re talking to a CTA staff person, you are also talking to a CSO member. CSO stands for California Staff Organization, and that’s the union that all of the CTA professional staff belong to. They have a personal, material interest in the health of CTA’s budget, because that’s where their own wages and benefits come from. The truth is that when SDEA/CTA members give concessions, it doesn’t hurt CTA’s budget. In fact, CTA keeps passing dues increases despite the concessions teachers are taking statewide. But layoffs do hurt CTA’s budget a lot. And when teachers’ jobs disappear, CTA staff jobs disappear. That’s why CTA staff (CSO members) advise teachers that year after year, we should take concessions to avoid layoffs. It’s not just that they have some altruistic interest in saving your job. They want to save their own. It’s too bad CTA staff don’t take a page out of SDEA’s book and realize it doesn’t have to be layoffs OR concessions. We can (and do) fight both!

The obvious response to this is that SDEA should continue to remain as independent of CTA as possible. The advice we get from CTA staff benefits CTA staff, but it sure doesn’t seem to benefit CTA members. That’s why three years ago, SDEA decided to no longer have an on-loan CTA manager serve as SDEA’s Executive Director. We decided that would be able to bargain better contracts for ourselves if we hired our own independent Executive Director, and that’s what we did. Those non-CTA Executive Directors are the ones who oversaw the successful negotiation of our current contract… the same contract Angela Su told us we’d never get, and that we would not have gotten if we’d done things the CTA way.

But now SDEA President Bill Freeman is taking us back in the other direction. He has pushed out our locally-controlled Executive Director, and according to the upcoming May 14 SDEA Board agenda, plans to hire a CTA manager to replace him. If SDEA members want to keep our wages and benefits AND our jobs, the last thing we want is to go back to doing things the CTA way.

10 thoughts on “The Bell Curve: Why CTA Is Really Our Frenemy

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  2. My understanding is that CTA dues is based on a percentage of salary, not on a per capita basis. If true, it makes absolutely NO difference WHATSOEVER to CTA’s bottom line if teachers are laid off or give concessions. Yes, SDEA has done a great job of protecting the interests of its members by protecting teacher wages. Yes, SDEA has done a great job at protecting student learning by making sure SDUSD has been able to attract new and maintain current talented teachers.

    At some point, however, the District will reach the breaking point where it will no longer be able to use up its reserves and layoff more classified employees. At some point, if current trends continue (without added concessions), there will be no choice but to layoff massive numbers teachers. The questions SDEA members need to ask themselves are: 1) Have we reached that point?; and 2) Are we willing to sacrifice the layoff of teachers and the consequences of increased class sizes on student learning and the effects of increased workloads for teachers who survive?

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