Why do Minnesota teachers pay dues to bail out NEA DC bosses?

Officials at Education Minnesota (the statewide affiliate of the NEA) went berserk the last day of the Minnesota special legislative session, demanding that Governor Dayton veto the K-12 education budget for the next two years.  The reason?  The new budget, that also includes more than $1.3 billion in increased funding for Minnesota’s public schools includes a new provision that ends the ridiculous teacher tenure law known as “Last In, First Out.”  This default policy ensures that teachers with the most tenure keep their jobs while newer and often highly motivated young teachers can lose their job due to antiquated tenure rules enforced by the state.
 
No more.  Legislation was recently signed into Minnesota law allowing school boards to negotiate in each district a more equitable way of ensuring that every classroom has the most effective teacher working with those students.   This simple change in state law will allow school districts to negotiate with their teachers and to keep and promote the most effective teachers in the classroom regardless of seniority.  It’s just the start of allowing more freedom in teacher contract negotiations – you know, like they have at the NEA headquarters in Washington, D.C.
 
Collective bargaining contracts between school districts and the union tell us a lot about what’s important to union officials.  While copies of these contracts are often extremely difficult to obtain, they are goldmines of information on what union bosses value: higher pay, reinforcing seniority, layoff policies, and expansion of employee benefits that exist virtually no where except in government union contracts.
 
The most interesting contract provisions I’ve ever seen are contained in the contracts that the NEA has negotiated with their employees in the union’s Washington, D.C. headquarters.  Copies of previous contracts show that the NEA pays very generous salaries as well as providing a very generous package of employee benefits.  According to one previous contract, “teachers union employees also traditionally have their full premiums paid for disability insurance, group term life, dental, vision, occupational liability, malpractice, accidental death and dismemberment, and salary protection.”  Researchers also found one state NEA affiliate that paid for its employees’ automobile insurance premium.
 
But unions bosses negotiating contracts are often known to be sticklers for details – and details contained in their own contracts regarding employee benefits are sometimes, well, unique:
 

  • “Some union staffers can receive incarceration pay ‘for reasons stemming from actions taken by him/her in the scope of his/her Association employee.’  The NEA contract specifies that this will be at the regular hourly rate for all time spent in jail.” 
  • “All contracts have nondiscrimination clauses with the usual categories of race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, etc. But one staff contract included non-discrimination on the basis of weight.”
  • “’The Employer will not pay for alcohol consumed by an employee on a work day from 8 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.’”  Yep, they had to put this in writing….
  • “Employees shall not be required as a normal practice to work on a computer monitor continuously for more than two hours without a break.’”

 
Why do these costly and sometimes bizarre contract provisions matter?  Because every school teacher is required by state law to become a member of the union in order to teach in a Minnesota public school.  That means that the dues forcibly extracted from every Minnesota public school teacher pays for these extravagant benefits for someone they’ve never met in the NEA’s DC headquarters.  It isn’t hard to see why younger teachers quickly tire of the system rigged against them and leave the teaching profession entirely.  This bold legislative action is an important step towards ensuring that every classroom as the most effective teacher and that those teachers enjoy true worker freedom.

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