The National Stage: NEA Under Attack
The Breakfast Club has spent some time exploring the good and bad elements of SDEA’s relationship with our state affiliate CTA (read more here), but we haven’t written much about our national affiliate, NEA. Considering the fact that SDEA has had an NEA staffer working in our office full time since January, we thought we’d spend some time analyzing our relationship with NEA as well.
Just like with CTA, NEA gets a large chunk of our union dues money each month. And just like with CTA, we are part of a shrinking pool of people who are paying dues to NEA. Since 2010, NEA has lost about 100,000 members. To put that in perspective, that’s about one third of the total membership in all of CTA. NEA knows they have a problem, and it’s described pretty well here in this article.
After some pretty massive defeats in Wisconsin and other states, it’s clear that NEA is struggling to protect the ability of teachers unions to even exist, let alone get stronger. It’s also clear that NEA gets how different SDEA is – or at least, how different we were up until five months ago. We remain the only NEA local in the nation to have a dedicated project about unionizing charter schools. We were also incredibly unique in our success at bargaining a good contract and fighting layoffs up until this past spring. That’s why throughout the past year, NEA repeatedly asked Craig Leedham (the SDEA Executive Director that our Board just pushed out) to do a series of in person and online presentations to unions all over the country about how they could copy what SDEA had been doing to get stronger themselves. NEA even asked SDEA to host a special training on organizing at their Pacific Regional Training Conference just this past February. Many SDEA members even participated as member trainers in this incredibly successful event.
NEA was right. We were onto something special. There are two ways NEA can stop their hemorrhaging dues dollars: Either they bring in more members, or they survive off of the membership numbers they have by pushing concessions in exchange for layoffs while continuing to raise dues. Historically they’ve taken the second option, just like CTA and other state affiliates. While this has allowed NEA to continue to exist, this strategy has resulted in making teacher unions nationwide weaker, and is simply not sustainable. NEA realized that SDEA had built a better model, one that could bring in new members AND keep wage standards intact for current members. And so in January, they sent NEA organizer Mayrose Weggman to work fulltime in the SDEA office alongside Craig Leedham and the charter project organizers, Muni Citrin and outgoing SDEA Vice President Camille Zombro, to support the charter project and then take what she learned to other local unions so they could start doing the same thing.
But since March (when SDEA President Bill Freeman and the SDEA Board made a huge directional shift), Weggman has been seen working entirely on supporting Freeman’s agenda, even corresponding with SDEA members in an effort to convince them to support SDEA’s “yes to concessions” campaign, instead of working on the charter project. Is that how our relationship with NEA is supposed to work? Is that how teachers’ unions at the local and national level are going to survive the attacks we’re facing? How exactly did this happen? Read below for a Breakfast Club member’s account of her experiences with our “on loan” NEA staffer.
My Experiences with NEA Organizer Mayrose Weggman
By Shane Parmely
My first and only real conversation with Mayrose Weggman was at the June 13 SDEA Board meeting. While the Board met in Executive Session, I found myself sitting in the SDEA lobby with other members of the Breakfast Club and Mayrose. Two members began a conversation with Mayrose, asking questions about the upcoming NEA convention and voicing their concerns about NEA raising dues at a time when teachers nationwide are being asked to take concessions. I knew that Mayrose was responsible for the phone survey that SDEA tried to do about concessions because she was the person who addressed that agenda item at the June Rep. Council. I also knew that she was a very articulate person who helped Bill Freeman explain some of the choices that the SDEA Board has made. But then I remembered she said something about charter schools before she started answering NEA questions. I wasn’t exactly sure who she was or what her job at SDEA was, so I decided to find out.
“I’m sorry, what is it you do exactly?” I asked Mayrose.
Mayrose explained that she is an NEA staffer here on loan to do charter school organizing.
Huh. That’s odd… because all I have seen or heard is that she helps Bill Freeman, the SDEA Board, and SDEA staff work on dealing with layoffs and concessions. So I asked.
“How’s the charter school organizing going?”
She explained that they were in talks with several schools. I asked about getting updates about what was going on and she explained that they obviously couldn’t advertise what they were doing. Negotiations are delicate. She didn’t mention any schools that she has been involved in helping to unionize since she came to SDEA, which I thought was the main goal in supporting the project. She did mention that there was some bargaining going on at Iftin and America’s Finest Charter School, but couldn’t really give any details, and did not seem to be directly involved in what was going on there. This contrasted starkly with the level of detail and explanation she was able to give about what was going on with SDEA’s organizing and potential bargaining with the District.
So I told Mayrose that I was part of the charter school organizing group and that I hadn’t heard anything about it since February, four months prior. I asked why I had yet to receive any contact from her about anything related to charter school organizing during the past two months that she had been here on loan from NEA to help organize charter schools. (I later found out that when she said she had only been here a couple of months that she had actually been here for five months. Maybe I had misheard her?) At this point, she deferred to Muni Citrin, an SDEA organizer who has been working on the charter project for the past two years. She said that he was in charge and she called for him to join us in the lobby. I repeated to him that I hadn’t received an email about anything related to charter school organizing from him either and asked for an update.
I asked if there was a plan for this summer. Will we be meeting like last year? Will we be organizing outreach like last year? People need to know now so that we can get the dates on our calendars. They both reassured me that there would be organizing and outreach and that they would be contacting people soon. Well, here we are, halfway through July, and I still haven’t received an email, a phone call, or any other hint that there is any charter school organizing plan for this summer. This is a big deal because the contacts we build over the summer set the stage for the new charter organizing campaigns in the fall. This year, we were able to help unionize three more charter schools (which was our goal) because we did a house visit blitz to identify targets and build relationships last summer. If that isn’t happening again this year, how can the project continue to be as successful as it has been?
I have not had any contact from Mayrose about the project since (and none of the other teachers I know in the charter project have either). However, since my June 13 conversation with Mayrose, I have seen her working diligently alongside SDEA staff and Board members during the TA ratification vote to help ensure that it passed. Why was she campaigning for and working at our ratification vote? NEA staffers have absolutely no business involving themselves in the internal politics of any union, let alone taking sides. Is the NEA in favor of us taking a pay cut while they simultaneously ask us to pay more in dues? How much did NEA spend to have Mayrose help with our ratification vote?
Since my June 13 conversation with Mayrose, I have also been told by members around the District that she has been answering questions over the phone and through email about our contract, retirement, etc. While everyone relates that she has done an impeccable job of answering these questions, the bottom line is that none of these questions are being asked by charter school teachers, have anything to do with charter school organizing, and are normally the responsibility of the SDEA Field Organizers and Contract Specialists. We already have local staff to do that work. How much money did NEA spend to have Mayrose assist our SDEA staff with their daily work duties? Did NEA even know that’s what she was doing instead of organizing charter schools?
Since my June 13conversation with Mayrose, I have also read her posts on her Facebook wall supporting the TA ratification and then celebrating once it was ratified. On June 23 she “liked” the Vote Yes [on the TA] Facebook page. Then on June 27 she posted that she was “so proud to have been a part of the San Diego Education Association’s campaign to save jobs, protest [SIC] their union contract, and keep great schools for San Diego’s students. Record voter turnout and a huge margin of victory. Congrats to all the members who voted.” Aside from the fact that she feels victorious while our most veteran teachers will go another two years without seeing a dime added to their paychecks while the cost of living keeps increasing… Aside from the fact that she says that the ratification passed with a huge margin of victory when it passed by the lowest margin ever… And aside from the fact that Mayrose is celebrating her involvement in the SDEA campaign to ratify a TA that financially punched members in the face while guaranteeing that NEA would not see a drop in the dues they collect from us… The huge problem with all of this is that none of this work is even remotely related to organizing charter schools.
Mayrose arrived in January to help organize charter schools in San Diego as part of an NEA pilot project. NEA is spending tens of thousands of dues dollars that they have collected from us and other educators to send Mayrose to San Diego for the explicit purpose of organizing charter schools. NEA is not spending tens of thousands of dues dollars that they have collected from us and other educators so that SDEA could have an assistant to help our members agree to concessions. At least, I hope NEA didn’t send her here to help us take concessions in order to keep our dues dollars flowing to them. How much did NEA spend to have Mayrose campaign for the ratification?
This TA was nothing to celebrate, a fact that was not lost on SDEA Field Organizer and concessions bargaining team member Morgan Thornberry, who commented on Mayrose’s post, “I wouldn’t really characterize it as a victory. It’s pay cuts to avoid layoffs.” At least she’s being honest about what just happened to our union. Although I have to ask, where was that message from SDEA staff before we all voted on the TA?
So, here we are. It’s almost August and I still haven’t heard anything about charter school organizing since February. Thinking back to our conversation in the SDEA lobby, I also realize that Mayrose was working late that night to attend the SDEA Board meeting while there was absolutely nothing about charter schools on the agenda. There are too many educators currently working under abusive administrators at charter schools without any type of real workplace protection for us to squander this amazing opportunity of having a fulltime organizer allocated to the cause of unionizing charter schools. This is a pilot program, and if it flops the repercussions will be felt far beyond San Diego’s city limits. Mayrose Wegmann is clearly affable, knowledgeable, dedicated, and hardworking. Hopefully, I will get to witness her apply these attributes to organizing charter schools sometime in the near future instead of helping our membership agree to proposed future cuts in pay, benefits and/or working conditions.
If NEA really wants to maintain and grow a strong membership, talented people like Mayrose need to exclusively focus their time and energy on building unions to improve working standards where currently no unions exist, and absolutely not assist in any way with the erosion of gains made previously by unions that do exist.