By Shane Parmely, Twain/Garfield HS
An additional SDEA Board of Directors meeting had been scheduled for April 23, 2014 to deal with a personnel item so the agenda was extremely short. Secretary Michelle Sanchez added “Organizing” as a discussion item, to which BOD member and Tierrasanta Elementary teacher Melody Welch complained saying, “This keeps happening.”
In case you’re wondering what “this” is: At the February 26 SDEA Board meeting, Sanchez and I added a discussion item, and pointed out that our Board was supposed to have approved the spending of thousands of union dollars to send SDEA members (including Vice President Lindsay Burningham) to the Labor Notes Conference in Chicago. In response to pointing out that he had broken a rule, President Bill Freeman said that there were “many rules” in our union and that we wouldn’t like it if he started enforcing them. The Board never did discuss or vote on spending money to send people to Chicago, but since then President Freeman has decided not to add any items to the agenda unless they are emailed to him two days in advance. However, he keeps forgetting to include everyone when he emails it out so he “allowed” Sanchez to add the item. I mention this because I realize that unless you attend these meetings, you have no idea how condescending and dismissive the current leadership and Board majority are towards the B-Fast caucus Board members.
But back to “organizing” or the lack thereof. During the discussion about organizing, Executive Director Tim Hill left the room, but UniServ Field Officers Jonathan Mello and Abdul Sayid were present to answer our questions. Sanchez and I and other Board members and MANY of you want to know one thing: As we go into bargaining our next contract, what is our organizing plan to actually WIN the Fight for 5? Because the District clearly isn’t going to hand it over to us, which means we’re going to have to act like a union, or once again get left with table scraps. So after much discussion, here is the entirety of SDEA’s organizing plan to support our contract campaign:
1) Do wear your Fight for 5 button to start a conversation with parents.
2) Do pass out fliers to your parents and start educating them.
3) Do NOT go to today’s SDUSD Board meeting and speak because SDEA is already sending a delegation of 5 people and one of them is a parent and this is enough for now.
4) Do go to the May Day rally and march organized by other people.
5) Do go to the SDEA Day of the Teacher that we hold every year.
And… that’s it! The million-plus-dollars-a-year SDEA organizing staff, President Freeman, and Vice President Burningham think this is all the organizing plan we need right now to support our contract negotiations that start May 1, and they were confused and really annoyed that Sanchez and I were not satisfied with it.
Given this reaction to our concerns, it was somewhat surreal when, during Round Table, Burningham made a point of saying that she would like to have her Team Unity slate and our Strong Union, Strong Contract slate all sit down together to discuss the issues. Uh… that’s what we’ve been trying to do for the last two years. That was LITERALLY what we were just doing during the discussion about organizing, and all of our concerns were completely belittled and dismissed. In fact, during that discussion, Burningham started coaching Freeman on how to use Roberts Rules of Order to cut us off. Every time we bring up an issue we are shot down and told that our concerns are invalid and that we are being “divisive.”
During Round Table, Board member and Morse HS teacher Monique Anderson expressed her concerns about the level of respect and disrespect shown to elected members of our Board. She said that she felt like our Board was more of a dictatorship than a democracy, and that anyone who doesn’t agree gets cut off and talked over. She specifically pointed out how I am treated when I speak. She said that respect is earned, not given, and that if people want to be respected then they need to be treating other people with respect, too. Freeman nodded in complete agreement — and then a few minutes later during his Round Table turn launched into yet another attack on me. Honestly, it would be funny if it weren’t actually happening.
This time, during Round Table, Freeman actually referenced comments I made during Executive Session. So I, of course, repeatedly objected, pointing out that he was not allowed to talk about things we said in Executive Session. According to our union’s rules. The rules Freeman talks about a lot. And he, of course, completely ignored the rules and came up with a justification for why what he was doing was okay and kept talking. As much as I would LOVE to tell you why this topic came up during Executive Session… I CAN’T! Because it happened during Executive Session, and if I were the one who decided to flagrantly disregard that rule, I bet I’d experience some actual consequences. But the topic of how Michelle Sanchez and I were targeted and then attacked by a group of mostly male SDEA members, including two sitting SDEA Board members Scott Mullin and Manuel Gomez, came up. And Freeman felt it was his duty to correct the “misinformation” I had put out.
Here’s the thing. These sort of bizarro-land attacks happen at our Board meetings all the time. We usually don’t write about them, because frankly, it’s exhausting and it could fill a book, and we all have actual lives. So we try to focus on the actual work we’re trying to accomplish. But it’s a little hard to take during the same meeting where Burningham and her supporters are calling for us to come together and talk. We’ve been sitting here, talking, for the past two years. And now that we’ve picked up a Board majority, a board majority that the president needs to get anything approved, NOW you want to talk with us?!
I’m happy to participate in any conversation that makes our union and our contract stronger, because it’s not about me, or any one Board member or union member. I know all of the candidates I just ran with feel equally committed to our union. But it’s like Anderson said: Respect has to be earned. It’s not enough to use the word “unity” on a flier. You have to actually match your actions to your words.