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May 4, 2015

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Conservative think tank, teachers union continue battle over union opt-outs


Sam Morris

Teachers Ashley Nebe, left, and Jodi Wilde helps students during summer school class Friday, July 5, 2013 at Clark High School

This Las Vegas political campaign almost sounds like a late-night television advertisement:

If you’re a member of the Clark County teachers union, you could save more than $750 a year! Just send a letter to the teachers union by July 15, and start saving now!

OK, so what’s the catch here?

The savings only accrue to teachers who drop their Clark County Education Association membership — and the accompanying obligation to pay membership dues.

Union officials say the group encouraging teachers to do so does not have teachers’ best interests at heart.

The Nevada Policy Research Institute — the conservative think tank waging the campaign — wants teachers to know they can leave their union between July 1 and July 15, and they’ve been publishing instructions about how and why teachers should consider writing an “opt-out” letter to rescind their union memberships.

The think tank escalated the information campaign this year after boasting of success in 2012 during the July 1-15 union opt-out period.

The organization launched a national “Employee Freedom Week” to advise members about how they can leave their unions. The initiative received coverage in local and national media, including from The Wall Street Journal and Fox News.

To support its campaign, NPRI commissioned a poll and even filed suit against the Clark County School District for teacher email addresses. The organization claims to have about 9,000 email addresses for teachers, but NPRI wants email addresses for every teacher in the district so it can tell all of them how to drop union membership.

“We’re not at this point able to contact every teacher,” said Victor Joecks, communications director for NPRI. “We’re in court trying to get public records for public email addresses for Clark County School District teachers.”

Why is NPRI aggressively encouraging teachers to drop their union?

Under Nevada law, unions lose their collective bargaining rights if their membership dips to 50 percent or lower of the targeted membership pool. In other words, the union loses its right to represent teachers in contract negotiations when only half of the employees it represents pay dues. (In Nevada, workers cannot be compelled to join the union as a condition of employment.)

As a matter of political principle, NPRI has campaigned vigorously against collective bargaining laws, which allow unions to form and negotiate contracts with employers. It argues such contracts put too much strain on government budgets and tie the hands of elected officials to make decisions.

The state’s 50 percent threshold is a looming problem for the Clark County Education Association, which like many unions nationally has seen its membership levels drop.

In 2007, the teachers union had 13,012 members. Six years later, that number has dipped to 10,865.

Currently, 63 percent of School District teachers are union members, down from 70 percent in 2007.

Despite the shrinking membership, teachers union representatives have publicly shrugged their shoulders at NPRI’s campaign, which attacks the union’s very existence.

No big deal, union officials say.

“This is like water rolling off a duck’s back,” said John Vellardita, executive director of the Clark County Education Association. “Their impact on us is nowhere near what they want to claim it is.”

Despite its appearance of taking a nonchalant attitude toward NPRI’s increasing attacks, the union has sent several mailers to its members proclaiming its legislative victories. It has also written blogs and made Facebook posts defending the union’s merits.

In one mailer, the union proclaims it is “only as strong as our membership is big” and calls on teachers to “step forward” and join.

“(NPRI’s) essential campaign is to take out the advocacy of the teachers union,” Vellardita said. “They want to take away the voices of teachers.”

Joecks said NPRI only intends to inform teachers of their rights.

“Like we did last year, there’s a lot of teachers who are no longer interested in being part of the union, but oftentimes they don’t know or don’t remember that this is the window period because it’s right in the middle of summer,” he said. “Totally unintentional, I’m sure.”

Still, the organization has posted numerous items on its website listing reasons why teachers should consider leaving their union.

The institute argues teachers can save money and gain liability insurance through alternative professional organizations. The organization also argues the union is inappropriately spending teacher dues on politics and salaries of union employees.

The institute also is using the popularity argument: “In the last few years, more than 2,100 teachers have left CCEA,” it claims.

Vellardita disputes the numbers and has told union members that NPRI was not a group that had teachers’ interests at heart.

“You can put lipstick on a pig, but it ain’t a lady,” he said.

Union members helped get a 2 percent business margins tax on the 2014 ballot — money they claim will force the Nevada Legislature to bolster education budgets, reduce class sizes and spend more on educational programming that could help teachers.

“If we were not a functioning organization, which is what these groups (NPRI) want, you would not see these things on the ballot,” Vellardita said. “It would never occur. So that’s one reason alone why their intent is to destroy organizations that would give voters that opportunity.”

The Nevada State Education Association, the parent organization of CCEA, also has weighed in on the matter.

“Educators see NPRI as an arm of the right trying to work to dismantle public education,” said Ruben Murillo, president of the Nevada State Education Association.

The politics are simple: Teachers unions typically align themselves with Democratic candidates and causes, and the NPRI often sides with Republicans and other conservative think tanks.

Joecks said the campaign has nothing to do with political motives. Nor is the organization targeting the teachers union for any particular reason, he said.

“We can’t focus on everyone, so we picked a group that we could focus on and let them know,” Joecks said. “The reason that we’re getting the information out is that the information isn’t out there.”

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  1. NPRI is a well funded extremist group. It's purpose is to union bust. It is anti-teacher, anti-public education, and anti-tax. They do not have any right to ask my employer for my personal information or invade my privacy in anyway and I hate getting spam on my work email. I equate this ultra scary extreme right wing group with other hate groups which do nothing productive. They aggravate and instigate.

    If the public is interested in helping improve public schools - it is time to get involved with promoting the Teacher's Education Initiative. We need to tax millionaires and billionaires to fund our schools. We cannot continue to starve our schools and fail our kids.

  2. What needs to happen is the Teachers unions need to tell the public where NPRI is getting it's funding for NPRI's adventure in union busting.

  3. Hurray for the NPRI! Public employees should never have been allowed the priviledge of unionizing. Even that most hallowed of Commie-lites, FDR, was opposed to the idea. Public employees had plenty of protection under Civil Service agreements and no need of unions to front for them. Educating students and being unionized have absolutely nothing in common and is merely a way for Socialists (and that is what unions are at their core) to extend their political power over the rest of us so, yes, Hurray for the NPRI!

  4. I just got back from Atlanta to represent CCEA in a Representative Assembly of the annual NEA Conference. Nine thousand people worked very hard to debate issues that plagued not only our schools, but also the community, and the world.

    We debated not only about education, but also about what NEA's position should be on matters such as food that our children eat in our schools, the Common Core standards, students with special needs, effects of high-stakes test, homelessness, the dream act, the dangers of misuse of prescription drugs to children, support of striking Bay Area Rapid Transit Workers, the Affordable Health Care Act, International Teachers Advocacy, the parent-trigger law, ELL, Voting Rights, education of children all over the world, and many other issues that allow children and people to live with dignity.

    Representatives, both conservatives and liberals, debated issues and voted for or against, depending on their beliefs. It was democracy in action and I have NEVER BEEN PROUDER to be a member of CCEA!

    If CCEA does not exist, who would carry the voice of one person against the mighty and the powerful who want to destroy it for their own financial gain? Administrators? HUH! They too are afraid for their own jobs. All they say when you need help is, "There's nothing I can do about it!" All that is important is making that infernal AYP.

    NPRI and those who want to silence the voices of the underdogs: I hope you will be able to sleep nights after you hatch your evil deeds. Remember: Who will stand for you when it is your time? Do not think for a moment that the powers-that-be who is your master now will be there. A spot in that ship costs a billion dollars. Unless you have it, you too will sink with us.

  5. Contrary to what NPRI claims, CCEA's mission is not to get more money from the government or anyone. We VOLUNTARILY contribute from our meager salary so that we and the children we represent will have our voices heard. NPRI is funded by rich people who want to silence the voices of the educated populace. NPRI is funded by rich people who want to destroy education because as one of them believes, NO ONE needs more than a sixth grade education! Except of course their kind.

    CCEA is composed of teachers -people who are the only ones left working for children. Anyone who cares about children ARE teachers. The rests are simply working for that all mighty dollar.

    Children are the poorest population in this country and the world. If you speak against teachers, you are NOT for children.

    NOT ALL children have the luxury of two parents, or one, or a caring adult. Their being in school IS and THE ONLY haven they look forward to, to eat, to be cared for, and to have a friend.

    Blame society, blame the parents, blame the government, blame anybody. Without teachers, these children would be in prison, on the streets, or have perished long time ago.

    Anybody in this forum who thinks he represents children, please feel free to list your activities that directly help children. I would say thank you to you.

    It's a shame these people blame teachers, do nothing for children, AND yet they call themselves Christians. They are anything BUT!

  6. The teachers who opt out from membership did so because they fell prey to the powers-that-be machination: Cut teachers salary! They had to do it because they had to cut their expenses simply to survive. The powers-that-be won that round. They cut our salary, increase health premium due to increases in medical and prescription costs, increase in cost of gas and groceries, and everything else. What would a poor teacher do?

    But we will prevail. We won our fight to return our salary and benefit cuts, such as they are. We won our fight to fund ELL and class-size reduction. We are fighting for education initiative.

    Malala, the girl from Pakistan who the Taliban shot, is alive and well. She spoke in front of the United Nations delegation to advocate for education for ALL children, and she got a standing ovation.

    Yes, we will prevail, despite what NPRI does because we are educated and we are fighting evil - the evil that BIG money is propagating.

    Look what BIG money has done to the economy and to USA. And guess who is the most corrupt entity in the whole wide world - WALL Street! And NPRI is going after teachers?

  7. NPRI = NUT JOBS, Class Dismissed.

  8. ImproveLV:

    What is so wrong with improving teachers' lives? Why would that be in conflict with education? Anyone who is happy in his job becomes more productive and creative. If you can give me one argument that conflicts with that fact, please do so.

    CCEA's mission is not simply to get more money for teachers. That is a misconception, even among teachers themselves. As I have written earlier, we do way, way more than that. During the assembly, teachers' salaries did not even come into the picture. We addressed issues that affect children and families - even ordinary citizens. We took positions about what Monsanto is doing to our food source, what Wall Street is doing to the economy, and what education enemies are doing around the world.

    Yes. We take positions of doing what is right for children, for families, and for society. We are doing it not to get rich, but for the future of our children and the kind of world we leave for them.

    What does NPRI stand for? What do you stand for? What is it that we do that is so wrong that offends you more than what the powers-that-be are doing to us? What is it that they are scared of about us that they have to stop what we are doing?

    If anyone wants to stand for something, why not address those who are causing our economy to collapse, or those who are killing children, or those who make insane public policies affecting education? Why pick on those who are powerless and simply want to be heard? Why pick on those who simply want to tell the truth?

  9. I realize that with the sudden demise of Dwight Jones, teachers and CCSD administration are now supposed to be singing Kumbaya around the campfire. It may be germane, however, to ask if CCSD administration has any hand in NPRI's campaign. Are there, for example, any personal relationships between CCSD administration and NPRI staff or donors? Regardless of the outcome of litigation, NPRI is collecting email addresses at a rapid clip. Anti-union moles anywhere?

  10. Improve LV:

    What is it exactly that you think we are not upfront about? What is it exactly that you want us to admit? I have told you already what we do, and yes, it's not just for kids or teachers. It is also about fighting the evil that is destroying our children's future - the climate and the environment, the food we eat, the air we breathe, and the freedom of thought. You do not believe it because you choose not to. As such, you become a part of those who worship power and greed.

    Yes. The previous CCEA officials made a mistake. That was not CCEA's fault. That was the fault of greed - the culture of which the whole country and the world seem to thrive. I do not argue that greed does exist among us, but being a teacher does NOT make anyone rich. That is laughable even just to mention it. THERE IS NO WAY IN THIS EARTH that teachers will ever get rich from teaching. We are not controlling corporations, or congress, or most of the wealth in America. We are simply trying to counter their negative influences. Try teaching children to be decent people amidst the dichotomy they see every day.

    We band together so that we have a stronger voice against those who are destroying our way of life.

    Don't begrudge us for wanting to live a decent life for us and for our children.

    I urge you to read carefully what I have written and to try your best to understand it beyond your prejudices. Thank you.

  11. NPRI, CATO, Hoover, AEI, CEI, Heartland, and other alphabet soup propaganda mills were created because actual academic institutions that teach critical thinking show conservatives that their ideas have no logically coherent merit.
    The general public falls for their propaganda courtesy of media reporting that also lacks the critical thinking skills to reject them for the low brow propaganda mills they are. Media need to be fair to the public first and reject simplistic both side style arguments in favor of analysis that serves that public interest.

  12. tbvegas:

    Where did it say that we are indoctrinating them? Those positions we debated about are NEA's positions that we want the government to address.

    Yes. We teach them what they need to know. We have a Common Core Standards that we follow. Our administrators make sure we follow them OR ELSE.

    GEEZE tbvegas, you need some lessons in reading comprehension. I can teach you!

  13. All they are doing is informing teachers of something the union would rather keep quiet. To me the union is only to benefit teachers. It doesn't benefit students.

    The union and the school admin are in it for themselves. They cry and cry for more money every year. They skew figures to make it look like we don't spend enough. No matter what they get, it's never enough. Yet, the kids don't do any better. We have increased spending so much with little effect on the results.

    You see it all over the country, the same problem. The Obama administration wants to stop the D.C. voucher program even though it has a 97% graduation rate. Democrats loves teachers but could careless about students. Republicans on the other hand think parents should be empowered to get their kids a better education. Why do think documentaries like "Waiting for Superman" and "The Lottery" touch a nerve. That's because Democrats, teachers unions, and school admins aren't doing the job and they really don't care to change for the better.

  14. Sad, isn't it? When people run out of arguments, they resort to personal attacks. So bold because their names do not show. So lame, so juvenile, and so cowardly.

    Oh well. I knew this was a futile exercise. I wasn't trying to convince people to change their mind, which is already made up.

    As usual, the dregs came out and personal attacks began. Isn't there anyone in this forum who can offer a convincing argument about the issue at hand, instead of personal attacks?

    I just wanted the truth out about NPRI's motives. What will NPRI gain out of this so 'sacred mission' that it has to spend money suing for a list of teachers' email address? All the teachers did was delete it without even reading. Whoever thought about that idea is possibly deranged.

    What a pity. Such a waste.

  15. NVTeacher16 and Manfromuncle1

    Thank you for offering some arguments that are worth my time to discuss. I appreciate them except the personal attacks. Let's get away from that. They really too immature.

    Teacher: You are right! There are those who are terrible teachers and I, too, hate them for what they are doing to the association. They are the reasons others do not want to belong to an association that harbors such undesirables. But, wait...

    What are the principals doing about it? How did the situation become so desperate that 'no one respects this teacher at all,' as you say. Why is she still there? You see, there is what the law calls 'due process.' Look it up. It is something that protects people from being fired simply because the boss does not like him. To fire that person, the principal must establish 'due cause' and not just one time, but a series of infractions that shows a graduated intervention of directions, assistance, and warnings. If all these interventions are ignored by the teacher, then he is fired. All this must be documented of course.

    The principals are too busy with many other things that they fail to follow this process. The CCSD Legal Department knows exactly how this teacher can be fired and unless the principal follows the procedure, they won't even entertain the issue. CCEA is simply there to make sure this process is followed.

    Now, as for that horrible teacher at your school, why is she still there? Nah... You are giving too much credit to the association's influence. Look what your principal is doing. I know a few principals who instead of doing what they are supposed to do, simply yells at teachers repeatedly, or assign the teachers to Kindergarten after many years of teaching fifth grade. This of course will result to resentment and the 'attitude.' That move does not show leadership. Yes. It is convenient to blame teachers, but a leadership skilled principal will NEVER allow this to happen.

    Now, as to the other person who claims about my 'rant' against Wall Street. Well... I do not claim intimate knowledge of what it does, but several research have posited that it is the most corrupt entity around. Do some research on your own. Also, please read my posts in its entirety before making any comments about it. If you do not understand some of it, please ask me to clarify. I rest my case on this one.

    Here I presented my arguments and I wait for rebuttals.

    Thank you.

  16. First of all, we need to identify NPRI for what it is, and over time, has evolved into.

    Commenter Tanker1975 states, "NPRI is a well funded extremist group. It's purpose is to union bust. It is anti-teacher, anti-public education, and anti-tax."

    Tanker 1975 further states, "NPRI is ONLY targeting teacher unions in this campaign. NPRI apparently thinks that the only "bad" public employee union is one that represents teachers? Why?

    What is the funding source for NPRI? They have NEVER disclosed who is funding them. Based on their own press releases, NPRI is spending a quarter of a MILLION on this national campaign.

    What is their agenda in trying to break the teachers unions by reducing membership? Is NPRI pushing for schools run by for profit corporations?

    Until those questions are answered, I for one, will remain a proud education union member."

    The email battle and action is between NPRI and the school district, CCSD, not the CCEA (the teacher's association/union). These emails simply pose as a nuisance and could be considered unsolicited spam subject to filtering or the delete button!

    Be assured that the primary mission of teachers is to educate. As a condition of being hired by an organization, they teach the prescribed curriculum. Teachers are also concerned about the welfare of their students, as they are human beings with needs that are oft times ignored or neglected at their homes or by society, and it affects their capacity to learn.

    NPRI has been less than transparent to the public. Furthermore, it is doubtful any of their members bother volunteering at their neighborhood schools, or are genuinely involved with their local PTAs. It appears that NPRI and ALEC are two peas in a pod.

    If you don't like what is going on in education, get involved. There is plenty to do, and many hands make the work light. Thank you.

    Blessings and Peace,

  17. I asked: What exactly does NPRI gain from this campaign? Here's what Joecks said:

    ..."We can't focus on everyone, so we picked a group that we could focus on and let them know," Joecks said. "The reason that we're getting the information out is that the information isn't out there."

    All teachers know. All members know. It is in newsletters sent to each member when they can opt out. If they fail to read it, it is not CCEA's fault.

    NPRI wants information to be out there? OK, here's information I want:

    1. How much money do lobbyists pay for each politician who voted for their interests?
    (The ones that don't ever get mentioned?)

    2. How many government jobs were given to people who got them because they knew somebody?

    3. How many government contracts were awarded to companies because they know somebody?

    4. How much money does the county spend on say, cellphones for executives, gas for executives, per diem, travel, entertainment?

    5. How much does the state government pay for electricity?

    6. How much of state government expenditure is necessary and how much is sheer waste?

    These are my most pressing information-need.

    According to its website...
    "The Nevada Policy Research Institute is a free-market think tank that seeks private solutions to public challenges facing Nevada, the West and the nation. The Institute's primary areas of focus are education and fiscal policy, with the goal of advancing free-market principles in both."

    The teachers and their association do not dictate education nor fiscal policy. It is but a tiny organization compared to the enormity of forces that are influencing public policies. It exists for the sole purpose of protecting voices that otherwise would be drowned by self-serving organizations who wish to silence them.

    Give us a break NPRI. Go for something that would REALLY solve 'public challenges facing Nevada,' say JOB CREATION?

  18. There it is! "...With the goal of advancing free-market principles for both (education and fiscal policy)..."

    The powers-that be already advanced free-market principles and control of most of USA, now they want control of the billion-dollar industry called education!

    Oh boy, what a surprise.... DUH!

  19. I offer the following arguments against NPRI's claim that its mission is supported by research:

    "Children ...deserve better schools, and children in poverty remain the exact students most underserved in those schools. No one is suggesting that education reform be set aside or ignored. But many current school reform policies are simply wastes of taxpayers' money and educators' time that would be better spent on education reform that addresses the conditions of teaching and learning, and not just more of the same standards-and-testing mandates tried for 30 years."

    "More pressing is social reform because without addressing childhood poverty, workforce stability and quality, the costs of living, single-parent homes, and concentrated high-poverty communities, most education reform measures are doomed to be fruitless."

    "As The Economic Mobility Project reveals, children ... across the United States are likely to have bright futures if they are born into relative affluence, and those children, even without attending college, are apt to succeed over impoverished children who rise above the challenges of their homes and communities by graduating college."

    "Grit" and "no excuses" are simply slogans, hollow and cruel in the bright light of the evidence.

    "If kids count in the United States, and I am not sure they do, political leadership will change the course of education reform and begin a commitment to social reform that attends to the needs of the growing numbers of impoverished, working poor, and working class families who populate the country, and thus, depend on public education."

    From The Educational Value of Being Born Rich by Valerie Strauss, published by The Washington Post with quotations from the 2012 book,

    "Ignoring Poverty in the U.S.: The Corporate Takeover of Public Education,"

    by P.L. Thomas, an associate professor of education at Furman University in South Carolina who also edited the 2013 book "Becoming and Being a Teacher."