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Analysis: How the sausage gets made — more than you ever wanted to know about the internal workings of the California Teachers Association

Mike Antonucci | December 4, 2019

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Mike Antonucci’s Union Report appears weekly at LA School Report

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With 310,000 members, more than 400 employees and $200 million in annual revenue, the California Teachers Association is a large-scale enterprise. It wields great influence at the statehouse, but its presence is felt in the smallest communities throughout the state. Nothing happens in education or fiscal policy without a CTA hand in it.

We have fundamental knowledge of how the organization is run and what it believes, but we can still find some surprises as we dig through the mammoth 497-page CTA Organizational Handbook. We have embedded it here, but it’s not something you’ll keep on your nightstand. I’ll hit a few highlights.

CTAOrgHandbook1920 (Text)

Members elect their local officers and representatives to the union’s 731-member State Council, which the union considers its highest policy-making body. The State Council in turn elects the board of directors and executive officers.

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As with any representative body, there are a host of standing committees and advisory groups devoted to single issues, such as finance, special education, retirement and charter schools.

Few CTA members know that the union has an internal initiative process. The signatures of 10 percent of active members can force a statewide rank-and-file vote on any matter affecting CTA. Additionally, a vote of two-thirds of the State Council can put a referendum on any issue up to a vote of the rank-and-file. To my knowledge, neither of these provisions has ever been used.

CTA’s day-to-day operations are run by a staff of professional and support employees overseen by its executive director. Department managers handle matters like the state union’s communications, legal activities, accounting and government relations.

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Local affiliates take care of their own business, but at any time they can call on CTA labor relations consultants assigned to their region. These professional staffers provide services and advice on contract negotiations, grievances and political action. They are especially valuable to smaller affiliates, who could never afford such services if they had to rely on their own limited dues income.

In addition to describing CTA’s structure, the handbook also lists the union’s beliefs and policies. Some are surprising and informative.

It seems that quite a few of the union’s core beliefs are breached in practice. For example, “CTA believes charter schools can have a positive role in California’s education system. When not-for-profit charter schools are created by local, democratically elected school boards, they provide students, parents and CTA members with educational opportunities in the public school setting.”

Alas, that belief is accompanied by 28 detailed restrictions and the admonition that “all charter school employees should be organized as union members to ensure both quality education for students and professional/employment rights for school employees.”

That’s not the only case of a disconnect between CTA belief and action.

  • “CTA believes that a school employee has the right to resign his or her employment at any time the employee chooses.” However, you can resign union membership and cease paying dues only during a 30-day window each year.
  • “CTA believes majority rule is a fundamental of our democracy. Any initiative, local measure or state policy should be passed by 50% plus one.” However, CTA requires a two-thirds majority vote for locals to disaffiliate from the state union.
  • “CTA believes any legislation or district regulations requiring faculty to swear to specific oaths of allegiance should be opposed.” CTA bylaws expect local affiliates to “maintain and extend loyalty to the Association.”
  • “CTA believes the public’s business should be transacted in public. Public agencies must take their actions openly and their deliberations must be conducted openly.” Unless, of course, the public’s business is negotiating a contract with public employees.
  • “CTA believes that to fulfill the mission of the U. S. Department of Education, the U. S. Secretary of Education must have a minimum of five (5) years’ teaching experience in public education.” Unless I’m mistaken, the only secretary who has ever filled this requirement was Rod Paige, secretary of education under President George W. Bush.

There may be a good reason why we know so little about how the CTA sausage is made. Although the union believes that “protection of sources of confidential information is essential to the continuance of a free press,” it simultaneously does its best to ensure that those sources within CTA don’t speak to the press.

The media policy as described in the handbook states, “No CTA elected leader or staff member shall initiate contact with any print or broadcast journalist to encourage or develop an article that in any way reflects on CTA policies or positions without the specific authorization of the CTA president or their designee. A request for such authorization will include a detailed account of the subject(s) the journalist wishes to discuss as well as the approach(es) they may be expected to take.”

A policy like this may go a long way toward broadcasting the party line, but it also forces dissenting or alternative views underground. Over the years, that has been good news for me personally, because those views have few other outlets to be heard. But it’s bad for well-rounded coverage of teachers unions.

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