A Preview of Things to Come
With the announcement that the TA has passed, changes for SDEA aren’t over – they’re only beginning. The TA itself represented much more than just a short-sighted bundle of unnecessarily deep concessions. It represented a shift away from organizing to solve our problems. The changes we all felt in our union this past spring – the lack of rallies protesting layoffs, the poor communication with members, the botched attempt to get member feedback (a failed telephone survey rather than listening sessions), the last-minute rush to concessions – these changes do not represent a one-time response to a one-time crisis.
Rather, SDEA President Bill Freeman and the SDEA Board are intentionally choosing to move away from the structural independence that allowed us to become the most powerful education local in California, and back towards the structural dependence on CTA and NEA that strips away our ability to continue as the strong, unique, democratic, ORGANIZING local that we have worked so hard to become over the past five years.
Changes to SDEA Leadership and Staff
How do we know this? The SDEA Board has quietly decided that we will no longer hire and direct our own local SDEA Executive Director. Instead, the Board is essentially “outsourcing” the position to CTA. Our next Executive Director will be a CTA manager, a CTA employee, and will be directed by CTA management — no longer an employee of the SDEA Board, directed solely by the locally elected SDEA Board. The job posting is available here, and as you can see, it is for a job with CTA, not SDEA. Per the job posting, our new CTA Executive Director “Reports and is directly responsible to the CTA Assistant Executive Director/Region IV Manager, Deputy Executive Director and Executive Director.” This is a big change.
Hiring and directing our own Executive Director has meant real independence. Under local leadership we have won national attention for our internal and external organizing efforts by the very people in CTA and NEA who are now working to undermine that independence. But since Bill Freeman and the SDEA Board began reversing the direction of SDEA back in March, we’ve seen an influx of staff and direction from CTA and NEA within our building. Not only did CTA staff advise SDEA’s bargaining team to trade deep concessions in exchange for layoffs (the sort of thing that CTA unions all over the state do on a regular basis, but which we had successfully resisted from 2008 until this year), but now CTA’s grip on SDEA is set to grow even tighter with a return to employing a CTA manager to serve as SDEA’s Executive Director.
Why should this matter to SDEA members?
Simply put, because we will no longer control the person who directs SDEA staff – which ensures that SDEA members direct the work of our organizers, and that our primary resource (our staff) are focused on organizing and serving SDEA members. Under this new management agreement with CTA, SDEA will not only spend $30,000-$50,000 more on the position (while we all take a 10 to 17% pay cut per the new TA), but we will give up our complete control over the time and direction of our own Executive Director! The shifts in our union leadership’s actions this past spring were just the first steps in what we are now seeing is an intentional change to return our union to the way we used to be, back when we saw nearly a decade of economic boom go by without meaningful improvements in our working lives. Last year we had a locally employed Executive Director, who led our local union in holding 50 site-based rallies to successfully protest 1,350 layoffs. This year, we had a CTA manager as our Interim Executive Director, who led our union in holding only one centralized rally (that received no media coverage), and then led our union in taking concessions the likes of which we’ve never seen, during what was supposed to be a “closed contract.” Local control matters.
What Can We Do?
If we don’t want to end up right back where we are again next March, we need a return to strong, local direction of our union. Is SDEA our local and our union? Or will we stand by as the power we all organized so hard to build is eroded, and we become just another CTA affiliate characterized by concessions bargaining and lackluster organizing plans? If you want to do something about this, go to the SDEA Board meeting on Wednesday, July 11 at 4:30 to give voice to your concerns. Let’s keep SDEA strong, united, and LOCAL!
Here’s some background…
There are two types of locals in CTA: Option 1 and Option 2. We, as an “Option 2” local, are one of few CTA affiliates with real independence. We control our own budget and hire our own staff. We have been incredibly successful under this model, bringing benefits to CTA such as our charter school organizing project. But this also makes us “frenemies” with CTA for a number of reasons, not the least of which is our union culture, which runs counter to CTA’s more traditional union culture (an issue we discussed HERE).
Having a CTA manager in place as SDEA’s Executive Director is not new. The first to serve in this role was Bill Harju back in the 1980’s and 90’s. Harju was followed by three more CTA ED’s (Robin Rose, Robin Whitlow, and Dick Gale).
In 2008, SDEA decided to return to employing our own ED because we saw how CTA could direct the position in conflict with SDEA’s priorities. We also saw that CTA’s response to the oncoming crisis in education (both the financial crisis and the challenges to unions brought on by NCLB) was far less than the aggressive, local-based strategy we knew was needed to keep our union strong. So we hired Steve Johnson, a veteran teacher and staff organizer from our Wisconsin NEA affiliate as SDEA’s own ED. When Steve returned home to his family in Wisconsin, SDEA promoted Craig Leedham to the position in 2010.
Much has been said and written about how Bill Freeman and the SDEA Board dismissed SDEA Executive Director Craig Leedham as part of the overall shift in SDEA’s direction. To be clear, this is not about Craig. This is about the SDEA Board giving away a crucial piece of our local independence. The decision to revert to a CTA manager rather than employ and maintain our own locally hired Executive Director underscores that Craig’s dismissal was motivated by a desire to change the direction of our union, and does not bode well for our union.
Many SDEA members (including one founding member of the Breakfast Club) have only recently started paying close attention and getting involved in our union. Some of us have been happily complacent in our involvement because we thought we knew that we had strong union leadership that was fighting for us. We voted to reelect Freeman in March only to discover after the ballots had been counted that his campaign promise to “defend our contract” and the guarantees at General Membership meetings of “no concessions” were hollow reassurances designed to placate us. If we want to do something about our current frustration, we need to get involved and stay involved in our union’s decision-making process. Let’s make sure the SDEA Board hears our input before bringing in our new Executive Director. We’ll see you on the 11th!