SDEA Bylaws Committee to Scale Back Union Democracy

The SDEA Board’s new “Bylaws Committee” had its first meeting last week, and is fast-tracking significant changes to SDEA governance documents.

Where is this coming from?

SDEA members in recent months have been successful in using existing SDEA rules and processes for challenging the direction for our union. This has included speaking out against the concession-laden TA this summer, attending and speaking out at SDEA board meetings, lodging complaints with our local, state and national union leadership regarding the Board’s violations of our union rules, and recently launching a recall of SDEA President Bill Freeman and other Board members who lied during their campaigns last year.

Rather than accept that this is a healthy part of a democratic process, the SDEA Board has decided instead to just change the rules. The proposed changes, detailed below, will transform SDEA into an organization that prevents rather than promotes debate, discussion, and disagreement as means of moving our union forward.

If this worries you as much as it does us, join us at the next meeting of the Bylaws Committee on Tuesday, October 9 at 4:30 pm at SDEA to voice your concern. If we stay silent, we are will soon lose our voice to object at all. Read the detailed ACTION ALERT account of the first meeting of the new “Bylaws Committee” below.

ACTION ALERT: SDEA Bylaws Committee to Strip Key Democratic Protections from Bylaws

I attended the first Bylaws Committee meeting held this past Thursday, Sep. 20 to see what changes are being proposed for the members of SDEA. Our union’s governance documents (Bylaws, Standing Rules, and Constitution) reflect the principles of democracy and self-determination that our union was founded upon. There are four big proposed changes that the committee is pushing that we must prevent from happening if SDEA members are to retain the ability to have a voice in the decision-making process of our union:

#1 “All officers shall support and implement the decisions agreed upon by the Board of Directors.”

#2 SDEA Will Control the Content and Dissemination of All “Informational Material.”

#3 SDEA Staff Will Take Over SDEA Elected Leadership Responsibilities.

#4 How to Complain About Each Other.

These proposed changes are designed to stop our ability as union members to have democratic debate about the direction and decisions of our union. Just as important is what’s missing. Specifically, at the August Rep. Council, AR Bobbe Abts asked that in September, changes be brought to Rep. Council to ensure that all future contract ratification votes have a signed security envelope. Bill Freeman promised he would place it on the agenda, failed to do so, and now the new Bylaws Committee has ignored this important request as well.

Bylaws Committee Composition

All members of the newly formed Bylaws Committee have been appointed by SDEA President Bill Freeman, and with the exception of Ron Reece (PHHS) who was part of the Concessions Bargaining Team, are all current SDEA Board members or previous Board members. Three members of the committee are subjects of the current recall campaign: Freeman, Scott Mullin, and Eleanor Evans. When I arrived, the meeting was being held behind closed doors in Freeman’s office with Mullin, Board members Elizabeth Ahlgren and Iris Anderson, and Reece in attendance. Former Board member Debbie Hoeltgen arrived near the end of the meeting (due to a personal emergency). Evans arrived after the committee had completed its work for the day.

#1 “All officers shall support and implement the decisions agreed upon by the Board of Directors.”
During discussion, Freeman stated that once a decision is made, then all officers should support that decision. He gave the example of the TA. Immediately, my First Amendment red flag went up. The purpose is to silence dissenting Board Members, even when it comes to speaking with membership about an issue on which membership is being asked to vote, like the TA.

Remember, our Board officers are elected by the membership, not by the other members of the Board, and they should be accountable directly and only to THE MEMBERSHIP. It is entirely possible that union members with diverse opinions ourselves will elect Board officers who also have diverse opinions. Don’t we want the officers we elect to represent us to be able to share their honest opinions with us, their constituents, even if they are in the democratic minority?

During this conversation, Scott Mullin brought up fiduciary responsibility again, suggesting that according to a 1959 court decision, elected officers’ “fiduciary responsibility” prevents them from being part of an “adversarial group.” Since when are teachers who disagree with other teachers an “adversarial group”? For decades, SDEA’s leaders have been able to meet their “fiduciary responsibility” without resorting to authoritarianism. (And history teachers, feel free to remind us what sort of environment was influencing court decisions back in the 1950s…) Ron Reece stated that he always understood that fiduciary responsibility meant that someone was responsible to the beneficiaries of the position, which would be the membership. That actually makes sense. Elected officers have fiduciary responsibility to the members of SDEA, and it is entirely possible that the members of SDEA might best be served by our officers having the backbone to stand up and tell us the truth even when their fellow Board members wish they wouldn’t. When I read the Wikipedia for fiduciary responsibility, all I could think about was how all of the laid off SDEA Board members put their own personal interests before what was best for our entire membership this past spring. Fiduciary responsibility has no relevance to silencing people who disagree. And no matter how badly certain people want to label other SDEA members as adversaries, dissidents, dissenters, or a splinter group, the truth is that we aren’t going anywhere. We are part of the family and you can’t just disown us because we dared to disagree with you during a family get-together.

Debbie Hoeltgen took it one step further and suggested that people should have to agree to this before they can run for SDEA office. I appreciated Debbie’s honesty. Simply stated, the sole purpose of this addition to our Bylaws is to be able to control and retaliate against SDEA members who voice a minority opinion.

#2 SDEA Will Control the Content and Dissemination of All “Informational Material.”
Currently, SDEA leadership and possibly SDEA staff have violated their Duty of Fair Representation and collaborated with SDUSD to misquote our contract in order to prevent members from sharing information about our union and the recall with other members. The first time SDEA did this was in May. Instead of organizing rallies and pushing back against the District’s layoffs, SDEA leadership chose the odd tactic of trying to squash member voices who actually were trying to fight back against District layoffs. And now that members want to hold those SDEA Board members accountable, they have contacted the District again to stop SDEA members from sharing information.  And even SDEA leadership is aware that it has no legal right to prevent members from communicating about our union because now they are trying to rewrite the rules so that they can justify their actions.

The proposed changes to Bylaw 4.10 are underlined and in bold below.
4.10 Distribute informational items approved or provided by SDEA. These items may include
a. SDEA Advocate
b. Bargaining Updates
c. Election Information
d. Informational Material

This would be hilarious if they weren’t serious. “Informational material” is broad enough to encompass pretty much anything anyone would put on paper, subjecting any attempts at written speech between union members at our worksite to SDEA Board approval.

Under this change, a site AR wouldn’t be able to do something as simple as put a union meeting notice in member mailboxes without getting it approved by the SDEA Board. More broadly, this change would mean that instead of elected ARs representing their members’ voices and interests to the SDEA leadership, they would be forced only to represent the SDEA leadership’s voices and interests to the members. This is a blatant attempt to squash dissent out at school sites and inhibit our ability as union members to communicate with one another without “SDEA” approving it. The Board needs a reminder: WE are SDEA.

#3 SDEA Staff Will Take Over SDEA Elected Leadership Responsibilities.
There are several places where the responsibilities of the Secretary are being stripped and given to SDEA staff. Iris Anderson assured me that the Bylaws Committee wasn’t just picking on the position of the Secretary, that all of the positions would be revised, and a handbook would be created for each. Yet, the focus of the first meeting was almost completely dedicated to limiting the powers of the Secretary, and I don’t think I saw a single change proposed for any of the other Board of Director positions. Current SDEA Secretary Michelle Sanchez speaks up when she disagrees with the direction of SDEA leadership, and so they are changing our decades-long-standing governance documents to squash her dissent. It really is that simple.

Scott Mullin and Bill Freeman talked about changing the agenda and minutes to match the style described in Robert’s Rules of Order Newly Revised. Freeman commented that the minutes should reflect what was done, not what was said. I have heard him say this repeatedly lately which is odd because I noticed that last year’s Secretary, Lindsey Burningham, did indeed include descriptions of what was talked about at meetings. I would post a link to the meeting minutes so you can read for yourself except that SDEA minutes are not posted online. During the meeting someone asked about posting the minutes online. Freeman said they would not be shared online but that people can request them, a departure from his previous promise to have them electronically posted.

Interestingly, Elizabeth Ahlgren shared that, “At one time we used to tape record the meetings and then we’d transcribe them.” I think Ahlgren is onto something. If meetings are recorded and anyone can listen to them afterwards, truncated minutes that conceal what elected representatives talked about at open meetings of the SDEA Board wouldn’t be an issue.

#4 How to Complain About Each Other.
This proposed addition comes after 6.5 Count Ballots and before Due Process:
Sec 1. Any SDEA member desiring to file a complaint against another SDEA member should discuss the complaint with their UFO. We have no procedures in resolving such issues. Members should make every effort to resolve their issues. If the complaint is against an employee of SDEA it should be submitted to the Executive Director of SDEA. No complaint should be submitted to any state or national affiliate without first being submitted to SDEA and affording SDEA leadership an opportunity to resolve such issues.

This one doesn’t even make sense. What is my UFO (UniServ Field Organizer) supposed to do if another member and I have an issue? Isn’t he or she supposed to represent both of us? The UFO is staff, not leadership. Leadership should be handling member issues. And what gives SDEA the right to tell me what communications I can or can’t have with CTA or NEA? I pay a hefty chunk of my paycheck to CTA and NEA every single month, and if I want to communicate with them about issues I’m having as a member, I have every right to do so.

Next meeting: Tuesday, Oct. 9 at 4:30 p.m. We’ll see you there!

— by Shane Parmely, Garfield and Twain High Schools


8 thoughts on “SDEA Bylaws Committee to Scale Back Union Democracy

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