Sunday, June 8, 2014

Conversation Re: Illinois Union Leadership, Communication, & Membership

Conversation: Union leadership, membership and communication in Illinois and Public Sector Unions

Dear Fred, John, and Glen,
Mr. Rogers gave valuable adult lessons to children, parents, teachers, and all of us.
“I like to be toldIf it’s going to hurt, If it’s going to be hard, If it’s not going to hurt.I like to be told. I like to be told.”
…Active and retired teachers in Illinois and across the nation are besieged with attacks on basic teacher rights, salaries, working conditions, evaluations based on the scores of classes they never taught and students they never had in class, pillaging earned compensation (present and future pensions), and much more.
The technical ability to mass communicate today has never been better or easier. Are teachers being told what they need to know by their own leadership?
Illinois and Chicago have two separate teachers’ union leaderships. Chicago has the Chicago Teachers Union led by Karen Lewis. Illinois has the Illinois Education Association led by Cinda Klickna…
With SBI in court, which cuts earned income for retired teachers while continuing to mandate that teachers pay 9.4% and more into a system which is intentionally robbed (underfunded) as a quasi-legalized form of wage theft, Klickna and IEA send automatic updates of member discount coupons for Men’s Wearhouse, Brooks Brothers, Worldwide Golf Shops, IZOD, Under Armour, Texas de Brazil Steakhouse, etc…
Lewis and CTU regularly appear at every venue that gives an opportunity to update members with the truth – good news or bad news. Lewis calls for a fair tax on stocks and futures transactions to pay what is legally owed to the pillaged teacher pension systems. “We don’t have a pension crisis, we have a pension shortfall and a crisis in [legislative/political] leadership.” View and read HERE.
How the producers of the reality TV show Chicagoland attempted to intimidate her into being part of the series. View and read HERE. The racial and political abuses presented in raw power Chicago politics. HERE.
The CTU opposition to Common Core, why Rahm Emanuel and an appointed group of multimillionaires and billionaires who invest and profit from charter schools should not be Chicago’s School Board, what Emanuel’s re-election destroy in public education (HERE) and much more.
The most recent episode of Klickna and IEA taking actions and keeping members updated was the fiasco of endorsing ($50,000) the recent IL Chair of ALEC Kirk Dillard (R) as a “pro-public education, friend of teachers” gubernatorial candidate even as he spoke to right-wing groups about closing schools, firing teachers, and stealing teacher pensions. Read HERE.
Because IEA leadership has not searched for or created a candidate within the last few decades who is pro-public education, members are fed this political insanity as the old lesser-of-two-evils routine rather than as an example of a lack of effective union leadership. Leadership with long term progressive building skills.
Even worse, IEA/NEA teachers are now being given silence or updates consisting of store coupons for Men’s Wearhouse and other stuff. This is insulting on more levels than can be expressed in a single blog.
This is NOT an anti-union diatribe. This a demand for real leadership in Illinois. WE NEED TO BE TOLD THE TRUTH IN A TIMELY MANNER.
- Ken Previti

Dear Ken,
You have hit on a topic that is guaranteed to get my blood flowing. From my earliest days as a union member and union activist I have fought for the idea that a democratic organization requires that the members have access to information. I guess that is why we became bloggers.
I recall an IEA Representative Assembly a few years back when I and other members proposed establishing an internet-based system that would allow local members to contact each other for the purpose of political action and lobbying.
The leadership put the kibosh on that faster than you could say Ken Swanson. You know how that works, Ken. When the leadership wants a proposal to die, they put a price tag on the proposal that is so high that the delegates’ only response is to vote it down. However, the leadership’s real purpose is controlling the message.
Member to member contact without going through Government Relations? No way. To me, the issue of the free flow of information and communication between the leadership and the rank-rank-file is but a single part of making our union more democratic and more powerful.
Milwaukee teacher union President Bob Peterson writes in his essay, “A New Teacher Union Movement Rising”: “We promote an organizing model with a strong dose of internal union democracy and increased member participation. This contrasts to a business model that views union membership as an insurance policy where decision-making is concentrated in a small group of elected leaders and/or paid staff.”
This is the choice facing active and retired members of the IEA. Do we stay with the old business model? Or do the threats we now face demand an organizing model with internal democracy and the free flow of information?
I don’t think that the old model – which is the IEA’s current model – will get us through the next period.
Do you?
- Fred

Dear Ken, Fred, and Glen:
Received your ideas and concerns about union communication and leadership and found myself wondering what the last brontosaurus mused while munching swamp grass a hundred and forty million years ago.
Of course, Ken, your polemic against the offers of shirts and linens through the IEA internet contact was amusing, and I always did have an appreciation for the calming influence of Mr. Rogers, but the message was pretty clearly non-political, only a membership offer for consumers prior to a holiday. In fact, it included a click point to refuse receipt of further consumer materials from IEA. Just click it, Ken.
On the other hand, your and Fred’s concerns certainly mirror my own unsettling thoughts about what is coming and if we (IEA, IFT, and others) are quite prepared.
Like Wisconsin, we too could be looking at a sea change in leadership very shortly, a continuing fiscal crisis certainly, and a dubious outcome in the court battle over our benefits from pensions we worked for and deserve.
Except for the last item, it appears that neither IEA nor IFT have anticipated any of these issues, and Fred’s reference to the need for a new model is certainly fitting; but if we are to become a leaner and certainly meaner machine like Karen Lewis’ CTU, we’d better start creating and promoting a different kind of active IEA member. I hear ennui and exasperation from actives, not anger – at least in the suburban areas. That would need some serious adjustment. And we’d (retirees too) all better be prepared to do a lot more politically and educationally than we ever have before.
Union membership is less than it was in 1915 now. And our numbers are sinking about as quickly as the Lusitania. Furthermore, recent drops in public union memberships in Wisconsin and Indiana tell a very dismal tale of what happens when a Rauner-like character gets in the governor’s door. Have you seen any mobilization to stop that?
I remember a year ago, Will Lovett remarked to a group of retired IEA members that the “very atmosphere” had changed in Springfield; everything had transformed. This was more than just preparing us for SB2404; it was a truism about how a disappearing power is treated, and the legislators can feel union power and influence fading away.
Will the old top-down model survive what’s continually coming, asks Fred?
Not a chance.
- John

Dear Ken, Fred, and John:
“Are teachers being told what they need to know by their own leadership?”
Generally speaking, a union leadership will never reveal the inner workings of its clandestine decision-making process to its membership; nor should it. What cabal will share its secrets anyway, except when it might be deemed necessary to create an illusion of powerful self-restraint and intelligence to mask incompetence or diffidence? Furthermore, keeping union members in metaphoric “darkness” until leadership decides to tell them what they need to know and when to act maintains mystery and power.
Conversely, it is prudent for the IEA not to reveal the significant details of the current so-called “pension reform” litigation, and perhaps it is better for most members not “to be told if it’s going to hurt” since many retired and harried IEA members seem to prefer a leadership that allows them to live life without more trepidation.
Although it is often said that “ignorance is bliss,” history reveals quite consistently that what we do not know can “hurt” us, nonetheless. Perhaps this is why some retired and active members of the IEA demand meaningful communication from their leadership.
We can expect Illinois General Assemblies will continue their assaults on our constitutional contract. Senate Bill 1 and several antedated court cases prove chronic attempts at theft. Thus, we need a dynamic leadership with the determination to inspire and to listen to its politically-informed members when fighting against the next assaults upon constitutional rights and benefits and public school teachers.
This necessitates a current leadership that does not readily condemn differences of opinion from those who might question and challenge the IEA leadership regarding the significant issues confronting all of us. This unfortunate situation has been exacerbated by two IEA ex-presidents who have labeled any disagreements as blatant disloyalties.
As stated by John Stuart Mill: “If a [differing] opinion is right, [leadership and the membership will be] deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth: if wrong, [leadership and the membership will] lose what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error” (On Liberty).
According to author and activist Chris Hedges: “Unions, organizations formerly steeped in the doctrine of class struggle and filled with those who sought broad social and political rights for the working class, have been transformed into domesticated partners of the capitalist class. They have been reduced to simple bartering tools.” Of course, when we consider the CTU’s leadership, this perception is wrong.

- glen

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