Guest Blogger: Gretel Liana Rodriguez describes her experiences as a novice NEA RA attendee

Gretel Liane Rodriguez This is my third NEA Representative Assembly, and I am as excited to be here as if it were my first! My first RA was in Washington, D.C., and I think that is the best place to attend the RA for the first time. I traveled all alone and didn’t know anyone that year. I have seven friends traveling with me this year, and I am rooming with two of them. I had to beg to find a roommate my first year. Luckily, a veteran took me under her wing. 

There is one true fact about the RA: Everyone is so friendly and kind to “newbies.” You feel loved and cared for – so Shout Out if you are new so that others can help you.

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Harris V Quinn Decision Silences Workers' Voices

This morning, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its long-awaited decision in Harris v. Quinn along the narrow scope of the original case. In the 5-4 decision, the high court ruled that eight Illinois home health-care workers cannot be required to contribute union bargaining fees.

Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. wrote for the majority: "Because of Abood's questionable foundations ... we refuse to extend Abood to the new situation now before us," Alito wrote. "If we allowed Abood to be extended to those who are not full-fledged public employees, it would be hard to see just where to draw the line, and we therefore confine Abood's reach to full-fledged state employees."

While NEA and CTA narrowly escaped the loss of fair share fees, other cases are in the pipeline to strip unions of rights set forth in Abood. There are corporate forces behind efforts across the country taking aim at the rights and power of middle class families. While they have money, we have the spirit and the numbers. We will not give up fighting for the rights of our members, their families, and our middle class brothers and sisters, and for a fair economy that works for all of us.

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North Hollywood Educator To Receive National Recognition

Mel HouseMel House, a physical education educator at Rio Vista Elementary School in North Hollywood, CA, will receive the 2015 California Casualty Award for Teaching Excellence, one of public education’s most prestigious awards.

House is among 39 public educators who will be honored at the NEA Foundation’s Salute to Excellence in Education Gala to be held in Washington, DC on February 13, 2015. One of public education’s most anticipated events, the gala attracts more than 850 of the nation’s leaders from public education, philanthropy, and the private sector.

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CTA/NEA Retired Presents Scholarships Honoring Russo

CTANEA Scholarship RussoMembers of the CTA/NEA Retired Association presented two $1,000 scholarships Thursday to two college students in a Bay Area ceremony. This was the first annual awarding of the Sharilynn Gardella Russo Memorial Scholarship to honor the education contributions of Russo, who worked for over 35 years as a speech and language pathologist and audiologist for the Contra Costa County Office of Education.

There is currently a shortage in California of speech and language pathologists and their assistants. “With these CTA scholarships we hope to encourage students to enroll in these programs,” the CTA/NEA Retired said in a statement, and the two students receiving the scholarships are going on to study in this field. The award event was held in the Sharilynn Gardella Russo Conference Room at the CTA Regional Resource Center office in Concord. Russo died in a car accident in 2012 shortly after being elected president of CTA/NEA Retired.

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NEA President: We Won't Give Up

NEA President Dennis Van Roekel responds to the latest round of attacks on the teaching profession and our union:

"I have a message for those people who would seek to reduce children to a test score and teaching to a technological transaction. You are mistaken if you think we will see your attacks and get discouraged, that we will read the headlines and give up. You may put students in the name of your campaigns but that doesn’t mean you really care about the millions of children in our public schools. If you did truly care, you they would look at the more than half of public school children who live in poverty and wage your crusades against the inequity in our economy." 

Watch the video to hear his full statement:

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Vergara Verdict Flawed, Like Lawsuit Itself

Like the Vergara lawsuit itself, today’s ruling is deeply flawed. CTA, CFT and the state of California will appeal. We will appeal on behalf of students and educators. Circumventing the legislative process to strip teachers of their professional rights hurts our students and our schools. 

During the nearly two-month trial, numerous defense witnesses, including superintendents, principals, teachers, and nationally-recognized education policy experts testified that these laws work well and benefit students in well-run school districts all over the state. The plaintiffs put on administrators from poorly-managed school districts like Oakland, who attempted to blame the challenged statutes for their district’s problems, rather than poor management and an incredibly high teacher and administrator turnover rates.

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Vergara Trial Nears End

Vergara Trial testimony wraps up this week with closing arguments scheduled for March 27. Lawyers (bankrolled by billionaire David Welch and other corporate “reformers”) representing nine student plaintiffs have charged that California statutes dealing with layoffs, dismissal, and granting permanent status after two years are all unconstitutional and inflict disproportionate harm on poor and minority students. The State of California and intervening parties CTA and CFT have responded that these statutes work well in school districts all over the state, that they help school districts attract and retain quality teachers, and in fact have nothing to say about which teachers are assigned to which schools or to which students.

While the legal arguments are firmly on our side, and hopefully the judge will agree, a quick look back at the testimony over the past two months should lead anyone with common sense—without requiring a law degree—to conclude that the plaintiffs in this case have no case. 

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Alpine Teachers to Strike, Beginning Feb. 20

Alpine Teachers Association members will go out in an Unfair Labor Practice strike, beginning at 6:00 a.m., February 20, as the result of a decision made at yesterday's general membership meeting.

Although ATA members were hopeful that the district would return to the bargaining table with fair, reasonable settlement proposals, they were met instead with a rehash of the same offer the district had made in a previous proposal rejected by ATA members on February 5: a 7.58% salary cut and an $8,000 health benefits cap effective January 1, 2014, that will leave many ATA members with 30% or more less per year in total compensation. Because the district will extract double health benefits cuts for May and June, some members will receive NO pay in those months.

“Unfortunately, the district is intent on building their reserve fund and breaking teachers’ backs financially, based on faulty financial assumptions,” said ATA President Gayle Malone. “Ultimately, it is the students and the entire community who will suffer.” 


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Trial Underway for Meritless Lawsuit Targeting Teachers' Rights

The Vergara trial attacking due process for teachers facing dismissal, seniority/experience-factored layoffs, and the two-year probationary period began in Los Angeles this morning. After plaintiff attorneys opened by previewing a case they claim will show these teacher rights are unconstitutional, attorneys for the State of California, as well as attorneys for intervening parties CTA and CFT laid out strong arguments for why their case would show that the plaintiffs claims are completely without merit, and that these laws actually provide students with a quality, stable teaching force.

Students Matter, the shadowy organization behind this lawsuit, did not let a weak case stop them from pulling out all the stops for a huge noon press conference. Silicon Valley billionaire David Welch and lead attorneys and case plaintiffs all addressed the media, trying to make a case, where, frankly, there is none. Parent Revolution Executive Director Ben Austin was on hand to lend support, showing the connection between some of the same groups of anti-union corporate education "reformers" and this case. Fortunately CFT President Josh Pechthalt and CTA Board members Leslie Littman and Toby Boyd were there to give educators a voice and to tell our side of this story.

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Alpine Teachers Association Strike Fund Growing

Delegates to the California Teachers Association's State Council meeting in Los Angeles swelled the Alpine Teachers Association's strike fund by over $20,000 this weekend alone (January 25-26, 2014) in a flurry of union solidarity with their San Diego County colleagues.

CTA chapters and individual members from throughout California matched other donations or raised the ante to provide support for Alpine teachers should they have to walk picket lines. Chapter contributions include $1,000 from the San Jose Teachers Association, $2,000 from United Educators of San Francisco, and $5,000 from the San Diego Education Association. Once CTA's over 1,000 chapters and 325,000 individual members have opportunity to join in the drive, the potential for additional financial support is exponential.

Alpine Teachers Association members voted overwhelmingly to give their executive board authority to call for a strike. They did so in response to draconian salary and benefits cuts callously imposed by the Alpine Unified School District Board of Education.

A significant number of ATA members will be financially crippled by losing up to 35 percent of their annual compensation. "None of us want to strike," said ATA President Gayle Malone, "but the board's punitive imposition leaves us no viable alternative if they persist in failing to bargain with us fairly."

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