— By Jenny Rivera, Dailard AR and SDEA Board Member-elect
Last fall, during a member-led effort to inform fellow SDEA members about a pending recall petition against sitting SDEA Board members and why it was needed, our District inappropriately and in violation of the California labor law inserted itself into what was, at that point, an internal union member discussion.
Larry Schoenke, SDUSD legal counsel, sent an email on behalf of Superintendent Kowba telling principals to stop “dissident teachers” (i.e. Breakfast Club members) from putting unapproved recall-related materials in other union members’ boxes. This email was sent out BEFORE the recall of several SDEA Board members had been publically announced by SDEA. How did the District know what was coming, if it was not in close communication with SDEA leadership? It is highly inappropriate (and also in violation of the California labor law) for a union’s leadership to work against its own members by collaborating with the employer to squash member-to-member communication.
The District’s actions also violated our union contract, which allows union access of members’ mailboxes, and designates the elected site Association Representative (AR) as the formally recognized representative of the San Diego Education Association at the school site. As a newly elected AR, I initiated a grievance regarding this direction from my principal. Eventually, the grievance went to a level three at the District level, and discussion was held with a district lawyer about the grievance. The lawyer ended up ruling against me, saying the flier was not from the Association and could not be put into District boxes. This is incorrect. Every single member that pays dues is the Association! WE are the Association and the Association is US! Our Association Representatives are empowered by our contract and internal union governance documents to act as the official representatives of the Association comprised of all the rank and file members at each site. This grievance denial by the District sets an incredibly dangerous precedent for the ability to communicate with each other as union members.
The next step would be to take this issue to arbitration, which I wanted to do. Yet our union’s Grievance Committee (appointed by the current SDEA Board) and our SDEA Board itself declined to do so. End of the road.
The big question is, who is the Association, if not us, the members of SDEA? The Association is not a small body of people who are the only ones allowed to have input on our relationship with the District or on our working conditions. WE are the Association. The flier in question was of interest to many of the members, but free communication between members was denied at that time. Our current Association Bylaws do not prohibit the dissemination of information, and our union contract protects it. This is a very dangerous precedent for the District to set, and a very dangerous precedent for our SDEA Board to decide not to contest.
It still has not been clarified how in the world the District became involved in the planned actions of the Breakfast Club. The recall was an internal union situation. By law, the District may not interfere in internal union issues. While I will not make any definitive statements about how this happened, I really do wonder what kinds of communication went on between our union leadership and the Superintendent that would lead to inference in matters between members.
Here are the five questions I left the SDEA Board with during my appeal to them last week:
1. What are your thoughts on the District Superintendent inserting himself into our union discussions and information dissemination?
2. How will you clarify “who is the Association?”
3. Where is the demarcation of what is or is not a District resource that SDEA members are entitled to use?
4. Can you clarify, based on the contract, where it says members are prohibited from using District resources such as mailboxes?
5. Will you report out to me after the Executive Session?
I have an appointment with SDEA Executive Director Tim Hill on April 22 to discuss these questions. I’d really like some answers. Perhaps you would as well.