Show Me What Democracy Looks Like

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I was informed at the SDEA Board meeting (March 16th) by President Lindsay Burningham that the school mailboxes cannot be used during the election. I found this to be very odd, since the use of school mailboxes had been cleared up at a board meeting earlier this year. Per the board discussion on October 21, 2015 when Election Committee Chair Karen Ellsworth and committee member Kandi Nieto presented the proposed changes to the Standing Rules, SDEA Executive Director Tim Hill started the discussion by telling everyone that he had checked with CTA and referenced a local in Long Beach to clarify that the day the election window opens, fliers can be put in school mailboxes for member to member communication regarding union business. I clarified this statement several times, and each time it was explained to me that the physical school mailbox would be acceptable

Then I asked about using school emails and was repeatedly told that email is completely different than school mailboxes, and that only school mailboxes could be used- but only with the approved election flyer, and only during the election window because the election is part of protected union business.  I asked these questions individually to ensure there was no misunderstanding.  I asked the same question so many times, that not only did the election committee explain it to me, emphasizing that mailboxes were okay but not email, but other SDEA board members explained it as well.  And with this super clarified and repeated information, we organized our election campaign.

While the proposed changes to the Standing Rules that were discussed that night have not been approved, they do not affect this situation, so the use of school mailboxes is not a violation.  The line item in the election standing rules has not changed in the old or the revised versions, it was simply clarified.

After Burningham stated this reversal on using the mailboxes, I emailed the Election Committee on Thursday, March 17th to once again clarify this, and emailed them again March 22nd.  Instead of receiving a direct response to my emails as a candidate, a union-wide response went out AFTER the fact. AFTER the election had already started. AFTER the voting window had been open for two days.  This is an incredibly frustrating situation, which is why so many of our members feel disenfranchised by our current leadership.  Let’s stop playing games and do what we have always done, support and protect member to member communication regarding union business. How else are we supposed to have democracy?

While I was waiting on a response from our election committee over the weekend, I traveled to CTA headquarters in Burlingame for a scholarship committee meeting with members from locals from all over the state.  I asked them about their election rules.  All other locals I spoke to said that of course they use school mailboxes to campaign, how else were they supposed to reach all their members?  They thought it was weird that the Elections Committee would suddenly halt a long-standing practice.  Stopping the practice of using school mailboxes to campaign coupled with holding our election when teachers are on spring break serves to protect the incumbents and the status quo in the union by severely limiting the ability of challengers to campaign.  Where’s the democracy in that?

I finally received a response from the Election Committee today:


Michelle,

My apologies for not responding sooner.  The election committee met yesterday to discuss your questions an [sic] concerns. The discussion at the Board meeting was with regard to a change in policy at a school/district in Long Beach, California. Their decision resulted in a policy change in their district.

The current election guidelines for the SDEA have not changed. The directive from the District has not changed either. Mailboxes may not be used.  You may, however, hand deliver or pass out as much election material as you like.  Please remember that, in addition, the SDEA office has provided each site with a set of election handouts produced by those candidates who submitted them prior to the March deadline.
Hope this helps clarify.

It does not help clarify because our District has a policy against using district mail, not mailboxes, which is why the Election Committee lists them as separate entities in the email they sent out AFTER the election had started.  Additionally, saying that “district property” can’t be used while telling us it’s okay to place fliers on every type of district property (teachers desks, lunchroom tables, etc.) other than mailboxes is also illogical.

  • Candidates and their volunteers cannot use district property or resources (school mail, school mail boxes, district email, etc.), district staff during work hours, or district time, to participate in campaign activities.

But the really big red flag in all of this is, even if the District did suddenly change its policy three years ago when we started running in SDEA elections and gave a directive that we could no longer use our mailboxes for legally protected union business, at no time since then has our union organized an action or filed a complaint to push back on this blatant intrusion into our basic union rights.  Our District has a directive about not using our mailboxes for political campaigning; that is COMPLETELY DIFFERENT than the union business that happens during our internal elections.

At this point we know that no matter what, no matter who wins, there will be challenges from either side because these rules are repressive to the point of being impossible to follow, which is why other CTA locals simply don’t interpret their rules this way. So just like we did three years ago to make the point that this rule is too easy to break and makes it too easy to sabotage someone else’s election, please go to school tomorrow and put fliers for BOTH slates in the mailboxes at your school.  BOTH groups of candidates deserve to be fully considered by the membership. This suppression of ideas during our very short election window needs to stop.

And don’t forget to VOTE!

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