If you are reading this then you probably already know that yesterday a group of SDEA members launched a recall of five SDEA Board members who ran on a platform of “No Layoffs, No Concessions” only to trade concessions for layoffs as soon as they were reelected. Despite the fact that the recall petition filers only received approval from the SDEA Elections Committee yesterday, and despite the fact that the SDEA Board only received written notification of the recall today, yesterday morning at 8:08 a.m., SDUSD chief attorney Larry Schoenke sent an email to all principals stating the following:
A “dissident group of teachers not authorized by SDEA may attempt to use the district mailboxes for a recall petition of elected SDEA leadership by that dissident group. This is not authorized Union mail nor authorized District mail. Please ensure that your mailboxes are used only for District business.”
Not only does Schoenke’s email violate our union contract, which it does, it also violates California’s labor law. It is illegal for an employer to attempt to influence a union internal election process. Which is why so many people contacted us about this email. (Thank you!)
But even more disturbing is the fact that SDEA’s current leadership leaked the fact that they were being recalled to our employer and asked them to get involved.
We have already raised these concerns with SDEA Election Committee Co-Chair Karen Ellsworth today. First and foremost we want to state that based on everything other people have told us and from our own brief experiences with her, Karen seems to be an incredibly honest, friendly, and dedicated educator. When we asked Karen about who she had notified about the recall and when, she was honest and forthcoming. She said she immediately notified SDEA Contract Specialists Larry Moreno and Rafal Dobrowolski, SDEA Executive Director Tim Hill, and SDEA President Bill Freeman in order to ensure that the Elections Committee handled the process appropriately.
Of these four people, only one of them is actually the subject of a recall. Only one of them has the potential to lose his position. Only one of them regularly talks about chatting on the phone with School Board President John Lee Evans and other District big wigs. And only one of them just led our union in donating $15,000 to layoff-supporter John Lee Evans’ campaign: Bill Freeman. (Also, as SDEA staff members, the other three are precluded by the SDEA bylaws from in any way, shape, or form interfering with the recall process, and would be getting themselves into some pretty hot water if they did.)
What does this all mean?
SDEA President Bill Freeman has reached out directly to our employer, SDUSD, to shut down dissenting voices within our union. Bill Freeman has asked the District to silence the voices of those of us who disagree with him, and the District is more than happy to comply because they know that keeping Bill Freeman in office is their best bet for continuing to get massive concessions out of SDEA.
And while the email was sent on behalf of Bill Kowba, let’s take a minute to look at just who it is that our union leadership caused to come knocking on the desktops of our principals: SDUSD’s Chief Legal Counsel Larry Schoenke. The same Larry Schoenke who many of us remember at the layoff hearing as fighting as hard as he could to violate our contractual and legal rights to keep us from getting our jobs back. The same Larry Schoenke who is currently leading the District’s legal department in crumpling up our new contractual language about secondary class size caps and tossing it in the trash can. Bill Freeman should be using whatever influence he has with Larry Schoenke to demand that he honor our contract, not ask that he help silence his political opponents. Plus, what kind of credibility does our union have now when we are asking the District to violate the very contract we keep demanding that they uphold?!
This is an abuse of Bill Freeman’s office of the presidency at the expense of the very fabric our union: our democracy. At the Fall Leadership Conference this past Saturday, Bill Freeman gave a welcome speech and in it he spoke about how democracy and disagreement are important in our union and how we need to respect people that disagree with us. How could he say that while keeping a straight face? The disjointed juxtaposition of his actions and his words would be truly hilarious if he didn’t have the financial futures of 7,000 employees and their families entrusted to him.
And this isn’t the first time this has happened. This communication is similar to an email sent out earlier this year by Bill Kowba to all principals and vice principals in which he states that SDEA contacted the District and asked them to stop “persons other than those authorized by the Association” from putting materials into other members’ boxes—an email he sent after being asked to by SDEA leadership.
Just to be perfectly clear, no one at the Breakfast Club has engaged or will engage in these sorts of inappropriate actions. We are exercising our democratic rights as union members and playing by the rules in order to make our union stronger and more transparent. We are using our own time, efforts, and resources to do so. (That’s why the emails go out so late at night.) The formation of union caucuses like the Breakfast Club is the natural response when leaders lie to, mistreat, and abuse the trust of educators that went into teaching to try to make the world a better place.
If you are receiving our emails, it is because you did one of three things. Most likely you signed our Three-Step Plan petition last spring, or you have since signed yourself up for our mailing list. It is also possible that a friend of yours who thought you might be interested gave your information to us and we added you. And no matter which of those categories you fall into, you can always click the unsubscribe link at the bottom of all of our emails and simply unsubscribe yourself. As it is, there are 400 hundred people who signed up using their school email addresses and the district has been blocking our emails to them. Ask your colleagues if they are still receiving our emails, and if not, tell them to sign up with a personal account.
So what next? In addition to formally requesting that the SDEA Elections Committee conduct an investigation into this gross impropriety, the Breakfast Club will file all available legal charges and call all pertinent parties to the witness stand to stop this incredible abuse of power and violation of the law. But the real way to stop this abuse of power is to remove the people who are abusing their power from elected office. If it weren’t already obvious that a recall of the SDEA Board members who misled us last spring is necessary, it sure is now.
Get involved in the recall by CLICKING HERE and scrolling down to download the petitions and instructions.
We are simply classroom teachers like the rest of you, and we do not have the benefit of being able to use union or district resources to get our way. And unlike the District or the union, we do not have free legal resources at our disposal. But we do have passion for our union and our profession, and the hope that by working together we can make things better.
Like Margaret Mead said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”