September Rep. Council Report, Part Two: Why Nice Unions Get Screwed

Here is a fundamental truth of all unions, that our union seems to be re-learning the hard way: The more friendly we get towards the District, and the more we give and give, the worse their treatment of our union gets. An examination of SDEA’s relationship with SDUSD over the past two years couldn’t make this more clear.

At the most recent Rep. Council meeting, new SDEA Executive Director Tim Hill gave a thorough and disgust-inducing report about all of the “unfair labor practices” the District has recently been committing towards our union. These “unfair labor practices” occur when the District shows total disregard not only for our contract, but for our union’s legal rights under the law. Apparently, the District’s trampling of our union’s legal rights has been getting worse and worse.

Why is the District’s treatment of our union getting worse than it’s been in years? It’s because for the first time in years, we’ve been showing the District weakness. The District knows our union is weak now, not because we have internal democratic disagreement, but because SDEA President Bill Freeman and his Board have shown the District loud and clear that no matter how little respect they show our membership, Freeman and the Board will still play ball.

This is exactly why so many ARs objected last spring when Freeman shoved a resolution through Rep. Council stating that we would “open lines of communication” with the District. We knew that by showing the District we would reopen lines of communication right after they issued another 1,500 pink slips, we would be rewarding bad behavior and therefore encouraging more of it. And that’s exactly what has happened.

Strong unions act the way our union used to, by showing power through our membership, not chatting it up in back rooms with our School Board buddies. It’s no coincidence that two years ago, our union fought back 1,350 layoffs with 50 school protest rallies, and last year, our union bought back 1,350 layoffs by giving up a 7% raise AND taking up to 19 furlough days. The difference was in our union’s orientation towards our employer. When SDEA organizes and fights, we win. When SDEA collaborates, we lose. This is the fundamental problem with Bill Freeman’s style of leadership, and if we think we’re going to get something different out of him this spring, we’re crazy.

The good news is that SDEA does seem to have a plan to address at least one of these “unfair labor practices.” District Chief Counsel Larry Schoenke has decided to pretend that our new hard cap of 36 students at secondary schools doesn’t exist. During Hill’s report, SDEA Field Organizer Erin Clark reviewed SDEA’s plan for ARs at all secondary schools to file grievances with their principals next week over the class size violations.  (If your school’s AR/CR did not bring this information back to your site yet, please contact your Field Organizer ASAP!) These grievances will eventually be combined into a class action grievance. This plan is intended to put grassroots-level pressure on the District in addition to pursuing the legal path to defend our contractual class sizes. I agree with SDEA’s plan here, and I hope that every secondary AR participates. But this wouldn’t be necessary if Bill Freeman and the Board hadn’t repeatedly acquiesced to the District over the past year. Can you imagine the District taking such a brazen stance towards us and our clear contract language two years ago?

Even though I did not agree with opening our contract this past spring, during those negotiations, SDEA did have an opportunity to demand resolution of our ongoing grievances against the District, like the principals’ union did, before we agreed to anything. But we didn’t take good advantage of that opportunity. In fact, the only grievance we settled, we settled to the District’s benefit, using our own grievance settlement money to extend laid off teachers’ healthcare through September, instead of the District paying for it like they did with every other bargaining unit but ours. Considering the District has refused to honor our contract language regarding our nurse and counselor staffing ratios, which is why those two groups have been hit so hard with layoffs and reductions, why is SDEA surprised that the District is now refusing to honor our teacher ratios, too?

The real question is, what is SDEA leadership doing about the broader problem that the District is trampling all over our formerly strong union? We have to wonder what Tim Hill makes of this. It was clear from his presentation that he understands the depth of the problem our union is facing with the District, and the need for SDEA to fight back and do something about it. But how does he expect SDEA to change the District’s behavior when the union president himself exchanges favors with the top District brass? Just last week, Larry Schoenke sent out an email on behalf of Superintendent Bill Kowba asking principals to violate our contract and help prevent Freeman and his Board from being recalled, before we had even gotten our recall petition approved [read the post HERE]. Freeman was the only Board member notified by the Elections Committee about the recall at that point, and so the only Board member who could have asked the District to send that email.

I can’t imagine that Larry Schoenke or anyone else at the District presently takes SDEA’s demands to enforce our contract seriously when SDEA leadership itself is asking the District to violate our contract to help them out with the recall. But good luck trying.

— by Shane Parmely, Garfield and Twain High Schools

2 thoughts on “September Rep. Council Report, Part Two: Why Nice Unions Get Screwed

  1. Pingback: Why Are Things As They Are? » Blog Archive » Rouge Forum Dispatch: All Out October 7th! Up the Rebels!

  2. Pingback: NEW: Few Fireworks at Board Meeting Devoted to Charter Organizing « The Breakfast Club Action Group

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