SDEA leadership has been referring to the Breakfast Club as “divisive” though many unions have committees, or caucuses within their union to promote common goals within the union. Here is a definition from the Association for Union Democracy website:
“What is a caucus? Most caucuses start out (and many remain) small informal groups of like-minded members of a union who wish to pursue some common goals. Most caucuses are independent of the union and they are certainly not subject to control by the union leadership. Nor do you have to register your caucus with the union.”
Looking at this definition, the Breakfast Club is exactly that. A group of like minded individuals working towards a common goal. Our purpose has never changed- from the beginning we defined ourselves as a group against all layoffs, and against concessions. At the time that our group came together, our purpose was exactly in line with what SDEA was promoting at their general membership meetings. In fact, we asked President Bill Freeman repeatedly if he was for no concessions and no layoffs, and he responded that he was absolutely against all concessions and layoffs. Unfortunately, what he said did not line up with his and the SDEA board’s actions, and we took note. We noticed that though Freeman was saying no concessions and no layoffs, nothing was planned to combat the district’s ultimatum of concessions vs. layoffs as the final answer to the district’s budget woes. In short, SDEA had no action plan in place to fight against the district, and this worried us. We were also told, when asked what the plan was, that we were to organize ourselves. So we did.
Here are some examples of how union caucuses have been used to work WITH their union to make positive changes.
In Chicago, a caucus named CORE (Caucus of Rank and File Educators) mobilized to stop the district from closing more public schools and privatizing other schools. How did they do this? They had a summit, they worked with community members and they organized actions to bring attention to what was happening to their schools. Similarly, those opposing this caucus took to lies and name calling- referring to CORE as “Radical” and smearing the good name of CORE supporters who were running for office. Members were also told that it was against the board’s policy to distribute CORE information and principals were warned against holding meetings on school grounds. Sound familiar?
Here is another example of a reform caucus. The caucus “Academic Workers for a Democratic Union” is a group within the United Auto Workers Local 2865. This group worked to get their members elected to all 10 executive board positions proving that reform groups can be successful in refocusing their union.
There are three other reform caucuses in education: The Educators for a Democratic Union San Francisco, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island. This is a growing trend within teachers’ unions and their purpose has many important similarities with some of the actions that the Breakfast Club has already taken. These reform caucuses wish for a democratic union that functions with transparency, defends the rights of all members, empowers members at sites, and defends public education through progressive taxation. The purpose of these caucuses is to make sure that a union isn’t there just for the sake of saying there is indeed a union- these groups hold their unions accountable and make the union proactively work for all members.
So why is it that SDEA leadership sees us, paying union members, as divisive? Forming a committee within a union is DEMOCRACY.
Why is SDEA leadership sending out cease and desist orders to the current and democratically elected Vice President, simply for her participation in this sub group?
Why is SDEA leadership working so hard to silence opposing voices and telling all members how exactly to vote in their ratification election?
A war is being waged against public education all over the country, and it is clear that during this tumultuous time our Education Association needs to be held accountable for its actions in order to preserve our students’ education and our teachers’ rights. Asking questions, participating in civil debates, and fighting for what we believe in is part of the democratic process and should be welcomed. If our work someday translates into a caucus within our union, then we will be doing what thousands of other educators are doing around the nation- working to save public education, and working to strengthen our union.