Models of Union Strength, Member Advocacy

National Education Association Executive Director John Stocks addresses 7,500 delegates at NEA Representative Assembly.

Giving the close of Day One of the 2017 NEA Representative Assembly the feel of an organizing rally, National Education Association Executive Director John Stocks celebrated the student advocacy, member solidarity, and recent victories by NEA state affiliates.

“All across the country, you are demonstrating that we have the resolve to fight for what’s right for our students and educators, the resilience to take a hit and bounce back, the audacity to demand respect, and the relentless will to win,” Stocks said. “In school after school, campus after campus, local after local, state after state, it is you who are giving voice to the needs of our students, educators, and public education.”

Stocks called attention to a half dozen states acknowledging, for example, the Maryland State Education Association’s leadership in both rejecting the privatization agenda of President Donald Trump and Secretary Betsy DeVos and for helping to override the governor’s veto of the Protect Our Schools Act, which “put the focus back on teaching and learning — not testing.”

Stocks also praised the Connecticut Education Association’s efforts for not giving up when a new law involving test scores and teacher evaluation stalled in the Legislature.

“You and your allies took your campaign to the State Board of Education — and you won,” he said. “And, today, thanks to your resolve, not one more teacher in Connecticut will be judged by the state’s mastery exam scores.”

The Illinois Education Association was acknowledged for the community outreach they built with doctors, hospitals, universities, and school districts regarding students whose severe trauma interferes with learning and achievement.

“Together, you are training thousands of educators, administrators, and parents how to meet the needs of the whole child,” he said.

Bargaining Power Through Organizing

Stocks noted that tremendous organizing strides are being made in states such as Utah and Iowa.

In Utah, the Utah Education Association coordinated organizing and negotiating efforts across the state that resulted in a pay raise of 12 percent, for example, for members of the Granite Education Association.

“But that’s not all,” he said, mentioning Box Elder, Cache, Iron, Morgan, and Wasatch, which all won at least 6 percent pay raises. “The list goes on!”

Iowan educators were showcased for their leadership efforts in opposing state legislators who “stripped away your collective bargaining rights and made it harder to become an ISEA (Iowa State Education Association) member … you didn’t take it sitting down,” said Stocks, who then referenced a law suit that was filed.

“You rallied your locals, worked with more than a hundred districts to extend contracts, and built public support,” he said. “And you came up with a new way to sign up members … and tens of thousands of them stepped up and recommitted to the union.”

The California Teachers Association and its members also spearheaded the successful passage of a law that requires school districts to introduce new educators to the union.

“Districts (now) have to hand over their contact information to the union,” he said.

For their “relentless advocacy,” Stocks heralded the work of the Washington Education Association for the paraprofessional training law they demanded and fought for over the past five years, recently signed by the governor.

Inspiring Testimonials

A video highlighting the innovative work of three state Associations — the Massachusetts Teachers Association (MTA), the Georgia Association of Educators (GAE), the North Carolina Association of Educators (NCAE) – preceded Stocks’ speech.

“The degree to which people really wanted to hear from educators, I think ignited our members to have more conversations and become more fully engaged,” said MTA President Barbara Madeloni, one of those featured in the video.

In another segment, Sid Chapman, GAE president, stressed the importance of organizing members.

“My number one message to any state affiliate: Organize, believe that you can win, and never give up,” he said.

NCEA Vice President Kristy Moore asked delegates to remain mindful during their deliberations of struggling families and students with special needs.

“We have to remember that child in that classroom who can’t speak for themselves because they may have special needs,” she said. “We have to remember that parent that works two or three jobs and can’t come and fight for their child in legislative buildings. That’s who we fight for.”

Moore added: “And we keep telling our members, if we continue to stay strong, have that union strength, have that association strength, lock arms, never let anyone tear us apart, then we will make a difference and they cannot continue to come after us.”