Teacher In Name Only: Labor prez works union time on the taxpayers' dime

As we wrote about recently, the Minneapolis school district and the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers (MFT) are in mediation after the union prematurely cut off negotiations on the 2013-15 teachers’ contract. Consequently, the $250 million contract is now being sorted out behind closed doors and out of public view, just as the MFT wanted. The union filed a similar request for mediation in 2012. According to the Star Tribune, union president Lynn Nordgren said at the time "she was tired of being sniped at by outside observers who argued that the district isn’t aggressive enough in contract demands. She also said that open talks make it difficult for the union to control the flow of information to its members."

Nordgren’s role as local union president is apparently very demanding. In fact, it’s a full-time job. According to the union’s IRS Form 990 for fiscal year 2012, Nordgren worked full-time – 40 hours a week – on union duties. She was compensated well for her work, collecting a hefty, six-figure salary of $111,997, more than double the average salary of Education Minnesota’s dues-paying teachers. Nordgren also received about $23,000 in additional compensation in the form of retirement benefits and non-taxable benefits, bringing the total compensation to nearly $135,000.

But while Nordgren’s compensation is listed on the union’s tax return, her work does not appear to have cost the union a dime. The MFT’s Form 990 states: "Lynn Nordgren’s compensation is paid by the Minneapolis School District, an unrelated organization." The union provides the following explanation: "Compensation is dictated by the Minneapolis School District under the contract between the Minneapolis School District and Minneapolis Federation of Teachers, Local #59. The contract determines salary on the step and lane of each employee based on years of experience and educational degrees." Previous years’ tax returns include similar disclosures.

It turns out that the Minneapolis school district has kept Nordgren on the payroll as a "Teacher on Special Assignment" (TOSA), the "special assignment" being full-time union boss. The district’s website says Nordgren is a TOSA in Labor Relations/Employee Relations, and lists the union phone number as her official contact information.

There are other benefits to being a TOSA as well. Provisions in the 2011-13 Minneapolis teachers’ contract include:

"At the conclusion of the posted designated time period, Teachers on Special Assignment may return to their most recent school if a vacancy exists in the same licensure area."

"TOSA positions are 38-week assignments, which may have additional extended time. Compensation for this extended time may be based on a mutually agreed upon professional pay framework."

Nordgren’s privileged role as a TOSA predates her role as union president.

According to a 2008 profile of Nordgren by Workday Minnesota: "For the past 14 years, she has been on special assignment working with peer assistance and review, professional development, and alternative compensation."
Regarding her time on special assignment, Nordgren said "I’ve really been carrying out union work through my district position." And that is precisely the problem.

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