I guess I never thought about the fact that the NEA would have to negotiate with its staff, but the idea is just a little entertaining. Well, maybe more than just a little. As someone who negotiated numerous contracts with my teachers’ NEA affiliated union, I would love to be a fly on the wall when the NEA staffers negotiate with management. What exactly does it look like? Is it like peeking behind the curtain at the Great Oz?
While the NEA doesn't reveal much, it appears that negotiations between union labor and NEA management look a whole lot like negotiations between union labor and school management. Sawchuk reports that because of declining membership, the union has had to cut $17 million from its budget, resulting in an early retirement incentive and attempts to reorganize. NEA management sought more flexibility in staff assignments and dismissal. Also on the table were questions about how to calculate seniority, which, of course, is crucial when it comes to layoffs. Other items for negotiation were salary and benefit issues. Union members held informational pickets outside the union’s headquarters in Washington, D.C.
Negotiating with people who help other unions negotiate could be tough. I wonder if the NEA union negotiators used tactics similar to what school union negotiators do. Did they compare their salaries and benefits with other union members’ or with workers in private industry? Did they insist that they should be protected by seniority? Did they question evaluation procedures? Did they tell management they’ve forgotten what it’s like to work on the line? Inquiring minds would love to know.
As I read Sawchuk’s column, I have to admit that a little wave of schadenfreude washed over me, and my guess is that maybe other school administrators might have felt a drop or two as well. It turns out we all have to deal with the fact that reduced budgets mean adjustments for employees. Reduction in staff means that being able to assign staff where they are needed rather than where they’ve always worked could be a huge benefit to the organization. With the rising costs of health care, employees may have to pay a greater share. Nobody likes having to reduce benefits, that's for sure, and nobody does it without worrying how it will affect not only the organization, but its workers and their families. Negotiations aren't ever easy, and I have to thank Sawchuk for bringing the whole matter to my attention. The irony of all of it brightened up my day just a little.
Said an NEA spokesperson, “This is a process every employer should offer.” Memo to NEA spokesperson: We already do.