NEA: tell us how you really feel

In stark contrast to National Education Association (NEA) affiliate Education Minnesota's touchy-feely, warm-fuzzy, "it's for the children" public persona, the NEA's retiring general counsel made it perfectly clear in July that the NEA is a powerful union first, last, and always.

Neal McClusky of the Cato Institute provides this transcript of Bob Chanin's "salty valedictory" (McClusky's words; I really wish I had thought of the description). You can see and hear Chanin for yourself on YouTube (fast-forward to around 16 minutes, about halfway).

Chanin also plainly says what he thinks of all of you conservatives, even those of you with children enrolled in public schools and who support public schools and the teachers unions with tax dollars (via union dues extracted from teacher salaries). His speech got thunderous applause and a standing ovation from NEA delegates.
Why are these conservative and right-wing bastards picking on NEA and its affiliates? I will tell you why: It is the price we pay for success. NEA and its affiliates have been singled out because they are the most effective unions in the United States. And they are the nation’s leading advocates for public education and the type of liberal social and economic agenda that these groups find unacceptable….

At first glance, some of you may find these attacks troubling. But you would be wrong. They are, in fact, really a good thing. When I first came to NEA in the early ’60s it had few enemies, and was almost never criticized, attacked, or even mentioned in the media. This was because no one really gave a damn about what NEA did, or what NEA said. It was the proverbial sleeping giant: a conservative, apolitical, do-nothing organization.

But then, NEA began to change. It embraced collective bargaining. It supported teacher strikes. It established a political action committee. It spoke out for affirmative action, and it defended gay and lesbian rights. What NEA said and did began to matter. And the more we said and did, the more we pissed people off. And, in turn, the more enemies we made.

So the bad news, or depending on your point of view, the good news, is that NEA and its affiliates will continue to be attacked by conservative and right-wing groups as long as we continue to be effective advocates for public education, for education employees, and for human and civil rights.

And that brings me to my final, and most important point. Which is why, at least in my opinion, NEA and its affiliates are such effective advocates. Despite what some among us would like to believe, it is not because of our creative ideas. It is not because of the merit of our positions. It is not because we care about children. And it is not because we have a vision of a great public school for every child. NEA and its affiliates are effective advocates because we have power. And we have power because there are more than 3.2 million people who are willing to pay us hundreds of millions of dollars in dues each year because they believe that we are the unions that can most effectively represent them, the unions that can protect their rights and advance their interests as education employees.

This is not to say that the concern of NEA and its affiliates with closing achievement gaps, reducing dropout rates, improving teacher quality, and the like are unimportant or inappropriate. To the contrary, these are the goals that guide the work we do. But they need not and must not be achieved at the expense of due process, employee rights, and collective bargaining. That simply is too high a price to pay!

When all is said and done, NEA and its affiliates must never lose sight of the fact that they are unions, and what unions do first and foremost is represent their members.