This is a re-post, courtesy of our friends at Education Action Group.
RECORDING REVEALS GR UNION LEADERS’ HOSTILE STRATEGY
School board take over, possible strike in store for GRPS
Grand Rapids city residents who are still hoping for a dignified resolution to the teacher contract deadlock can apparently stop holding their breaths.
Leaders of the Grand Rapids Education Association, the union that represents approximately 1,700 district teachers, have a far less noble agenda, which they discussed at length during a recent informational session at a Michigan Education Association conference in Detroit.
A recording of that session was recently sent to the Muskegon-based Education Action Group, a non-profit organization that advocates for spending reform in Michigan schools.
EAG has broken the recording down into 14 clips, which can be found below.
The recording proves that the union’s preferred option is to take control of the school board by defeating incumbent board members in the May election, and replacing them with candidates who will give the union a blank check at the bargaining table.
If that plan fails, they would like to delay the start of school in the fall with a strike, either by teachers, or if they’re not willing, the district’s contracted bus drivers.
Under no circumstances do GREA leaders appear interested in reaching an agreement with current school board members, whom they described as “puppets,” or the Grand Rapids school superintendent, whom they described as the “stuper-intendent.”
During the informational session, MEA Uniserv director Buz Graeber predicted that the school board will invoke its legal right to impose a new labor contract on the teachers union sometime before September.
To prevent such a move, Helder admitted that the union will purposefully drag out the current fact-finding process.
“It’s going to be a zoo,” Helder said. “That’s by design. The only thing that keeps the district from imposing is fact-finding. The longer that process goes on, the longer it takes for them to be able to impose on us.”
In the meantime, Helder made it clear that the union plans to go on the offensive, starting with the May school board election, where it hopes to remove current board members who stand in the way of its financial goals.
There are three seats up for grabs in the May election. Incumbents Arnie Smithalexander and Tony Baker are seeking new terms, while incumbent Dave Allen is not running again. Helder didn’t specify which of the incumbents will be targeted for defeat, though the union endorsed Baker in the last election.
“Last year we were able to knock two members off the board, and this year we plan on taking out two more, and that still won’t be enough,” Helder said. “The only way out of this is to elect a new board of education.”
If that doesn’t work, it’s clear that the GREA leaders are ready to consider a strike to force their will on the school board.
Graeber noted that in the Utica school district, teachers recently threatened to strike if the school board imposed a contract. But he but wondered if Grand Rapids teachers were willing to make the same commitment.
“I’m not sure we can convince our members to tell the board, if you impose, we’ll walk out as soon as school opens in the fall,” Graeber said.
But Graeber quickly added that the school district’s bus drivers are now represented by the MEA, even though they work for a private transportation company that contracts with the school district.
He noted that the bus drivers do not have a collective bargaining agreement with the district, and could strike at the start of the school year if that remains the case.
“They’re not public employees anymore,” Helder chimed in. “Now they have a legal right to strike.”
Throughout the discussion, the GREA leaders demonstrated their general disdain for current school board members, saying there are “two or three of them capable of some kind of independent thought, but that thought is always being controlled by someone behind the scenes.”
The union leaders also voiced their disrespect for the superintendent of schools, Dr. Bernard Taylor.
“Make sure it’s doctor, not mister – he had a meltdown when someone called him mister,” Helder said of Taylor.
“Bernard is from Kansas City, in one of these glorious quote, unquote, right-to-work states. While he was there, I don’t need to tell you, the union there hated him.”
Helder predicted that the outcome of the district’s labor dispute will have repercussions in other districts where the MEA is involved. So if voters or the current board cave into union demands, he thinks MEA members in other districts will be more likely get their way, too.
“Our concern is more than just GR,” Helder said. “I don’t suppose any of us have to be told, certainly nobody in our county needs to be told, whatever happens in GR, whatever precedents are set there, will echo.”
Grand Rapids recording
Recording reveals GR union leaders’ hostile strategy
Education Action Group recently came into the possession of a recording of a presentation given by Paul Helder, president of the Grand Rapids teachers union, and Earl ‘Buz’ Graeber, an MEA Uniserv director working with the Grand Rapids union.
We have posted excerpts of it because we feel it is information parents, taxpayers, school board members, and the community ought to hear–straight from the union leaders’ mouths.
The recording appears to be from the session ‘Grand Rapids EA Story,’ from the recent MEA Bargaining, Political Action and PR Conference, held February 5-7, 2009 at Cobo Hall in Detroit.
The preface, found on page 47 of the MEA announcement, said:
The Grand Rapids EA has gone through a difficult year with no settled contract and the reality of teachers in buildings not meeting AYP being displaced from their jobs. Hear their story.
In the recording, Helder and Graeber give their unvarnished opinions of district leaders, school board members, district contract negotiators, their goal of winning the May school board election as a way to affect contract negotiations, strike potential, and ways they reward and punish the local media.
Last year, we made the argument the central question in the school board election was “Taxpayers or Union Bosses – Who do you want in control of Grand Rapids schools?” Based on these clips, it certainly seems that will be the fundamental issue this year, as well.
This recording seems to indicate the union’s highest priority in the upcoming May election is electing candidates as a means to securing a better settlement and staving off an imposed contract. Absent from the union’s agenda, apparently, is improved educational quality, more district reforms, or items that would actually improve the education of Grand Rapids students.
We provide 14 clips from that session which cover these issues, opinions, and tactics.
1 Helder’s school board analysis: 1helderschoolboardanalysis
Helder: ’There are 2 or 3 of them capable of some kind of independent thought’
Helder: ’Last year, we were able to knock two members off the board and this year, we’re planning on taking out another two.”
2 ‘Stuperintendent’: 2stuperintendent
Helder: ’That is the stuperintendent as he is referred to’
3 Baiting them: 3baitingthem
Helder: ’Part of what we’ve decided to do is start calling the district on the idea 1. that they’re broke and 2. that they’re spending their resources appropriately. As such, because I’m that guy, I’ve spent a little time baiting them…’
4 It’s going to be a zoo: 3itsgoingtobeazoo
Helder: ’The only thing that stops the district from imposing is fact-finding. The longer that process goes on, the longer it takes for them to impose on us. That has to be done.’
5 Ruga-meter: 4rugameter
Union leaders discuss ways to use legal expenses against the board of education, specifically citing attorney Barb Ruga. While they don’t talk about the over half-million in salaries that go into the Grand Rapids MEA Uniserv team (see the Leadership & Staff page)–working day-in and day-out to secure a better deal for members–it’s possible the Grand Rapids legal fees could be significantly less of the union bargained in good faith by acknowledging the financial situation of the district and didn’t intentionally drag the process out.
6 Crisis Team focusing on election: 5crisisteamfocusingonelection
Graeber: ’Our focus right now is at the board election in May’
Graeber: ’Grand Rapids Public Schools is going to impose [a contract]–no question in anybody’s
mind. Our only way out of that is to elect our board of education.’
7 Striking over an imposed contract: 6strikingoverimposition
Graeber: ’I’m not sure that we could convince our members that if there’s an imposition which we think would come down some time in August–we’re not sure we can convince them to tell the board “if you impose, we’re going to walk out as soon as school opens in the fall.”‘
8 Using bus drivers to strike: 7usingbusdriverstostrike
Apparent union strategy: private transportation employees have the legal right to strike, and the union will use them to strike–so to not face punishment–and eliminate the only means many student have to get to school.
9 Increased union communications: 8increasedunioncommunications
Helder: ’One of the things I’ve been trying to do with my, I guess, free time is get a little better feel for how labor strife works out and who wins in the end.’
10 Using safety as an issue: 9usingsafetyasanissue
Helder: ’We’ve been attacking the safety and security issue. With as many students as we have, certainly there are always going to be those who cause a little bit of difficulty.’
11 Helder’s 2nd school board analysis: 10helder2ndschoolboardanalysis
12 Helder: It’s more than just GR: 11helderitsmorethanjustgr
Helder: ’Our concern is more than just GR. … Whatever takes place in GR, whatever precedents are set there are going to echo…because there are opportunities in that area.’
13 ‘Education Action Guy’: 12educationactionguy
Helder and Graeber on the activities of Education Action Group
14 Care and feeding of the local media: 13careandfeedingofthelocalmedia
Helder: ’Dave Murray is fantastic. He has been an enormous help to us.’
Graeber: ’We’ve always gone to Dave Murray just before his deadline and said, “here’s the information David. We’re not going to give this to anybody for another two hours. … He has the impression, true as it is, if I’m going to hammer on these people, I’m not going to get first crack at this story.
Graeber: ‘ We’ve had meetings and we’ve had activities where we’ve told Peter Ross to go away just because he has always treated us so badly.’