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Teacher Union Democracy

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Teacher unions claim they are democratic institutions but in some cases it seems that democracy is only skin-deep. Perhaps unions play politics even amongst their own members and force teachers to pay for it.  Andrew Marra and Sonja have the story in the Palm Beach Post.

The article also makes a powerful point about teacher union officials’ power over school boards through exclusive representation, even in a Right to Work state. Teacher union officials are granted access to all teachers via school emails.

After trying unsuccessfully to bar four teachers from running for union president, Palm Beach County’s teachers union sent out a message last week that omitted the four candidates’ names while praising the others in the race, prompting accusations of favoritism just days before voting begins.

The Classroom Teachers Association’s message was sent Thursday to more than 7,000 public school teachers via the school district’s email system, which the union won access to after promising that the message would include only general information and “no campaigning,” district records show. 

The use of district email to single out four candidates for having no alleged election violations – and omit four others who did – drew a rebuke from Schools Superintendent Robert Avossa, who said the message violated his agreement with union president Kathi Gundlach.

In an interview, Gundlach denied writing the initial message, saying it had been authored by the union’s elections committee. But she defended the message, saying it was important to explain to teachers “that some people had no violations.”

Union leaders sent out the message Thursday afternoon, two days after The Palm Beach Post published an article on its website describing the union’s unsuccessful efforts to remove four of the eight candidates from the race.

The controversy prompted accusations that the disqualifications were an attempt to eliminate outsiders challenging candidates who are already part of the union’s leadership team.

After detailing the allegations and explaining that the four banned candidates had been allowed to re-enter in the race “in the spirit of unionism and inclusiveness,” the message went on to name the four candidates who had not been cited for violations of campaign rules or eligibility requirements:

Don Persson, one of the candidates banned and then reinstated, called the email “an attack” on him and other candidates who are out of favor with CTA leaders.

He called the move an ironic turn, since CTA had moved to bar him and two other candidates after accusing them of violating union rules by using the district’s email system to campaign.