NEA - IT JUST WON'T THINK UNION

7/10/03

 

   Iíve just returned from the annual National Education Association (NEA) Representative Assembly in New Orleans. Billed as the largest democratic governing body in the world, about ten thousand teachers and educational support professionals gathered to discuss the issues facing people working in public education. As I sat through hour after hour of mind-numbing debate on such items as should we have a Mr. Rogers Day, I was struck by how little of the action of the convention will affect the daily lives of the hard-working people whose dues money allows this yearly potlatch to occur. I became alert, however, when amidst fuming and fussing of the delegates over resolutions and new business items that to me seemed mostly inconsequential , the delegates turned their attention to a proposed NEA policy statement on kindergarten/pre-k education. As one who has argued for some time for the organizing of child-care/pre-school workers in the public and private sectors, I was interested to see if the assembled union leaders would vote to take this next step in the unionization of education workers. I was interested to see if the delegates would seize the opportunity to add thousands of unrepresented and highly exploited workers to the membership rolls of the NEA.

    To anyone with the most slightly developed union consciousness, this should have been a no-brainer. However, too many NEA leaders turn out to be very fussy about whom they admit to membership. We canít organize private sector child-care workers because most of our membership is in the public sector, and we are devoted to public schools. To boost the wages and improve the deplorable working conditions of these private sector workers was somehow seen by the committee who proposed the policy statement and the Representative Assembly that voted on it to be anathema to the welfare of our union membership.

    But wait just one minute! How can organizing people who work with pre-school age children, even though they are mostly in the private sector, possibly hurt public school teachers and educational support professionals? If we were to raise their wages, would ours fall? Would fewer people send their children to public schools? Would our members give up their positions in public schools to go to work in the private sector? What on earth are the so-called union leaders talking about? They sure arenít thinking union. Not to worry, the AFT or some other unions wonít have any problem organizing these unrepresented workers.

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