A renegade teacher and a rival union are leading charges against one of the National Education Association’s (NEA) largest local affiliates, opening up a legal dispute and a debate over who best represents the interests of teachers.
Ron Taylor is circulating a petition to hold an election that would allow licensed teachers in Clark County, Nevada’s largest school district, to vote out the Clark County Education Association (CCEA) as their bargaining agent. A self-identified “union man,” Taylor claims CCEA provides teachers with inadequate representation.
“If a teacher is being charged with something, they’re not being represented by a lawyer,” said Taylor. “These Uniserv directors that represent members, they’re elementary teachers. They don’t know what they’re doing, and they’re just looking forward to a position with the district.”
CCEA President Mary Ella Holloway disputes Taylor’s claims. She says Uniserv directors are trained to resolve problems favorably for teachers at the building level, but that other options are also available if they cannot reach a satisfactory settlement with the principal or other administrators.
“Any time it proceeds to that, our teachers will have lawyers,” said Holloway.
Taylor was provoked to action in 2006 after he learned CCEA charged its members much more ($3,600) to take Center for Teaching Excellence (CTE) professional development courses than charged by a regional government program ($810). Both entities since have changed the fee to $2,400.
“They are working in cahoots,” said Taylor.
The CCEA president attributed the higher initial price to overhead costs for facilities and attorney fees.
“After we set everything up, we’ve been able to reduce those fees, because we’re not paying as much overhead,” Holloway said.
After his persistent complaints, CCEA terminated Taylor’s membership in February 2007. He said the group also sought to have him dismissed from his teaching position with the Clark County School District. He has filed several unsuccessful legal challenges against CCEA.
From June to October 2007, Taylor worked with the Teamsters Local 14 to promote decertification of CCEA and to organize new representation.
Taylor and the Teamsters, who went their separate ways due to disagreements over tactics and differing agendas, have circulated separate petitions. At press time, Taylor reported having 100 signatures in hand, while the Teamsters had collected 350 cards. The support of 30 percent of the school district’s 18,000 licensed employees is needed to trigger an election. If more than half of current employees sign, CCEA would automatically be decertified as the bargaining agent.
Taylor says a lack of time and opportunity, as well as some resistance from school officials, have kept him from collecting more signatures. At one school, he said, 40 of 43 teachers signed.
“Anyone who looks at the petition when I’ve handed it to them, they have yet to turn it down,” Taylor said.
Holloway said CCEA’s lawyers insist the deadline to collect signatures was November 30, the end of “the only open period to challenge us.”
But another labor expert disagrees, noting CCEA was certified in 1972 by school district recognition without an employee election.
“If the organization was recognized by the employer without an election, then the statutory rules do not govern,” said LaRae Munk, director of legal services for the Association of American Educators (AAE). “All Taylor is going to have to do is show the employer that the CCEA no longer represents a majority, and they will withdraw recognition.”
AAE, a nonunion professional association for teachers, sees the growing turmoil as an opportunity to step up its cooperative approach. In November, the national organization teamed with local members to form the Professional Association of Clark County Educators (PACCE).
“We are so proud of our members because of their motivation to establish a professional educators group that is devoted to working collaboratively with all stakeholders in education,” said AAE Communications Director Heather Reams.
“PACCE is about solutions, not a revolution. We know that this school year has been divisive for many teachers in the district. We don’t want to be a sequel,” Reams said.
Holloway discounts AAE because of the organization’s refusal to engage in collective bargaining. “Bargaining is a crucial role that [CCEA] does for its teachers,” she said.
Holloway cited her organization’s recent successes at negotiating a $4,500 increase in starting teacher salary and a 13 percent rise in the school district’s contributions to teachers’ health insurance premiums. She said CCEA is better equipped than other unions to negotiate for teachers.
“We understand education and things the Teamsters don’t understand–prep periods, testing procedures, and those sorts of things,” said Holloway.
Taylor isn’t ready to give up, convinced the current representation is not serving him and his colleagues well.
“NEA represents the best interests of NEA, not teachers,” Taylor said.
Ben DeGrow ([email protected]) is a policy analyst for the Independence Institute, a free-market think tank in Golden, Colorado.
For more information …
More information on Ron Taylor’s petition campaign can be found at http://teachers4change.net.