Volume XXXV, No. 7 Dec. 1, 1997






By Morty Rosenfeld


Readers of the November issue of NEA Today were undoubtedly as nauseated I by the lead article You Be the Judge, a piece designed to sing the virtues of peer assistance and review, a chapter in the gospel of Bob Chase's New Unionism. Centered on the experience of Columbus, Ohio teacher Dennis Grossman and his peer reviewer Pat Stedman, the article should be a warning to all who toy with blurring the distinction between labor and management. Contrary to the purpose of the piece, the article presents a clear picture of cooperation run amuck - a portrait of how cooptation flows immediately from abandoning our role of union advocacy.

Imagine a teacher with 28 years on the job being threatened with the loss of his employment because his classroom was adjudged by his principal to be "in total disarray." And, Heaven forbid, his lesson plans were late. Ah, the terror of it all. More difficult to imagine is a union that buys into stupid criticisms of this kind and voluntarily buys into becoming active participants in the treat to his employment, even though, in the words of their elitist peer reviewer, "He [the teacher] scores high on the kid-meter...When others are straightening their records and organizing their rooms, he's doing science projects with the kids." What is he crazy? Daring to do science projects instead of getting his lesson plans in on time.


One would have to suspect that this is the best example of the virtues of peer review that our leaders in the NEA could find to present in their major membership publication. If this is the best, what must really be going on when unions conspire to destroy their own.




At their meeting of Monday, November 17, 1997, the Plainview-Old Bethpage Board of Education did not adopt two proposed policies that would have brought random drug testing of student athletes as a condition of participation in the district's athletic program as well as drug testing of members of the student body upon reasonable suspicion of drug use. The PCT had vigorously opposed the passage of these policies. Citing deep concerns about the right of students and their parents to privacy and the belief of some board members that such policies would extend the responsibilities of the schools into areas normally belonging solely to parents, a unanimous Board of Education nixed the two proposed policies. In doing so, they appeared to have broad support from various community groups including the PCT, PTA, the Athletic Boosters, and Kennedy High School Student Government.




Also slated for decision at the last meeting of the Board of Education was a proposed policy on the use of the Internet by students and employees. The PCT took exception to facets of the policy that in effect would sanction the employer snooping on staff Internet usage. Although their reasons are as yet unclear, the Board of Education voted to defer action on this policy, stating that it would be reworked and recirculated. Hopefully, those parts of the policy objectionably to the PCT will be eliminated.




The Board of Education also heard a report on November 17th from Superintendent Anthony Cavanna on the comparative size of the district's Special Education program relative to other comparable districts on Long Island. In great detail, Dr. Cavanna laid out the numbers showing that indeed POB has somewhat higher Special Education enrollments than many comparable districts. Cavanna spoke about consideration of plans to lower these numbers by finding alternative means to provide services to students short of classifying them.

Cavanna's report follows an extensive series of highly slanted articles in Newsday critical of the growing cost of Special Education. During the public participation period following Dr. Cavanna's report, PCT President, Morty Rosenfeld, rose to question the apparent thrust of the superintendent's report. Rosenfeld expressed the concern of the staff about the context in which the questions about our and other Special Education programs have been raised. Rosenfeld said, "It's one thing for the Board and the administration of the district to engage the teachers in a dialogue on the possibilities of improving the educational services to children with special needs. It's quite another thing to read the poison being spread by Newsday and to say that we have to look at getting our costs down by changing the way we deliver services. These two approaches yield very different results." Rosenfeld went on to recall the proud history of Plainview's Special Education program, observing how successive Boards of Education carefully built a program second to none. He also recalled the plight of students with special needs prior to the advent of Special Education, when these children were considered dumb and essentially uneducable. He warned the Board and the audience that we must be careful not to turn the clock back on these needy students.

Rosenfeld's comments were warmly received by the audience who greeted them with applause. Board President Ginger Lieberman pledged that the Board would begin the dialogue with the staff that Rosenfeld called for.



By Alexander Cockburn


The reform movement in the Teamsters does not depend on one man," the union's president, Ron Carey, said Monday. "This union has been changed forever and the members will never go back to the corruption and weakness of the past."

Of course labor's enemies will revel in the supposed irony of the circumstances in which Carey made this statement, in the wake of former federal Judge Kenneth Conboy's decision to disqualify Carey from running for reelection on the grounds that he used sanctioned the use of more than $800,000 in Teamster funds in his race against James Hoffa Jr. last year. But what Carey said was true, and whatever his own future may hold, Carey has been a vital part of the reform.


A sense of proportion is necessary. Conboy terms Carey's conduct "classic self-dealing." In a desperate race against Hoffa--who had announced he would spend "what it takes," which came to be about $4 million--Carey exposed himself and his victory to the federal inquiries that culminated in Conboy's verdict. Yet no one has accused Carey of looting the union treasury to squirrel away a personal fortune, far less of having his opponents beaten and murdered. Such was the regular currency of the Teamster leadership before he and the reformers arrived in the early 1990s. In the 1980s, there were no less than 20 Teamster-related killings.


We may agree that the election should be rerun, but the decision of a retired federal judge to rule that 1.4 million Teamsters have lost their right to vote for the candidate of their choice is outrageous and wrong. Even Conboy noted the tension between the democratic rights of union members and the government's control, as trustee, of the Teamsters.


The prime imperative of election rules is that the will of the electorate prevails, and Conboy lost track of this central point. Who can doubt that, in the wake of the successful strike against United Parcel Service, Carey would have swept to victory over Hoffa? Just who is being protected by the rules invoked by Conboy? Teamster members? Or are they protecting the trucking companies from Teamster power?


This is no idle question. Next spring, the Teamsters will be negotiating with these same companies the master freight contract, affecting more than 100,000 Teamster truck drivers. There can be little doubt that the trucking companies and their allies in Congress are celebrating over Conboy's decision.


Indeed labor's foes everywhere surely see this as a happy hour. Over the past few months, Teamsters secured their great victory over UPS, and John Sweeney's AFL-CIO was a powerful force in the defeat last week of President Clinton's bid to get fast-track negotiating power on trade agreements. The great fear of business, ably voiced for the corporate leaders by Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan, is that an invigorated labor movement will start to break the de facto wage freeze that underlies the present economic "boom." The master freight agreement will offer just such an opportunity.


It's hard to believe that Hoffa would be an effective and militant leader of the Teamsters in a battle against the truck owners or against such legislation as fast-track, given his more management-friendly outlook. Nor is it realistic to suppose that Carey's presidency can long survive Conboy's decision. The best that Teamster reformers can hope for now is that Hoffa will also be disqualified.


This brings us back to Carey's own words. Indeed, the reform movement in the Teamsters does not depend on one man. Behind Carey has been the Teamsters for a Democratic Union, begun by rank and filers in Cleveland in 1976. TDU got ordinary workers involved and turned them into extraordinary leaders. The drivers and loaders in the group became the shop-floor leaders and linked up nationally in an effective network. As organizer Ken Paff said recently, "We reached out to support Carey and to turn out the old guard, while retaining a grass-roots movement as a model, as a leadership school and as a watchdog to prevent backsliding."


This coming weekend in Cleveland, Teamsters for a Democratic Union is holding its convention. It will have the opportunity to demonstrate its vitality. There are excellent Teamster leaders out there with the qualifications to lead the national organization. In Oregon, there's Tom Leedham; in West Virginia, Ken Hall, a negotiator in the UPS strike.


"Reform" is not a matter of fulfilling the demands of the Justice Department. It's about building a militant union, acting for its working people. That's Ron Carey's vital legacy, of which he should be forever proud.


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