Originally published in Rethinking Schools Volume 11, No. 4 — Summer 1997.
Here are the two letters written to NEA President Bob Chase by Wisconsin teacher union leaders.
February 20, 1997
We write to you on behalf of the 25,000 members represented by our unionsto express how angry we are with your Feb. 5 address to the National PressClub.
For one who was elected to advocate for members, your remarks are not onlyappalling, they ignore the fundamental strength of a union. The very foundationof our union is threatened by those who will capitalize on your remarksas an expression of weakness.
What is most profoundly disturbing is your acknowledgment that “traditionalindustrial style teacher unions have brought major improvements to publiceducation,” then to proceed to debauch these accomplishments with theinsight” that it’s time to create a new union,” to “reinventit.” We are union and we are proud; we stand in solidarity to defendagainst those who are attempting to destroy us. There is no reason to accommodatethe privateers, those who would destroy the essence of bilateral determinismachieved through collective bargaining. It is, at best, naive to believethat the people who are attempting to destroy our union for ideologicaland economic gain will be assuaged because of your pledge to get “thebad teachers out of the classroom.”
Because you were a social studies teacher before you became President ofNEA, you should understand the results of appeasement in Eastern Europein the 30s and 40s.
Members pay dues for us to promote their interests. In our work with ourmembers who have been judged by management as being deficient, we have,with the assistance of other union members, helped those in need becomesuccessful teachers and when necessary, counseled them to seek alternativeemployment. Why should we accept the responsibility for poor quality teachingin light of inadequate teacher preparation programs at schools of educationor the inept or politically expedient hiring decisions of administrationand school boards?
You must understand our reality. We have a governor and a legislature committedto wiping out the rights of our members, curtailing collective bargainingrights, attempting to shift precious resources from our schools to privateand religious schools. They are the true impediments to reform of publiceducation. In the 80s Frank Lorenzo tried the same tactics in commercialaviation. He was publicly excoriated and banned from the business.
We contrast your comments with the reinvigoration of the AFL-CIO leadershipaccepting the challenge to return to its roots, to organize and to challengeemployers all over the United States. It’s time that NEA joins the labormovement, renews its commitment to its members, and moves forward in itsquest on behalf of education employees across the nation.
Miles Remsing, President; Richard Feldhausen, Executive Director, Green Bay Education Association
Sara Bringman, President; John Matthews, Executive Director, Madison Teachers Inc.
Chuck Howard, President; Sam Carmen, Executive Director, Milwaukee TeachersEducation Assoc.
Dennis Wiser, President; James Ennis, Executive Director, Racine EducationAssociation
This is the Second Letter.
March 5, 1997
At the February meeting of the Wisconsin Education Association Council Boardof Directors, the topic of your February 5, 1997, address to the NationalPress Club was raised. … Let me state at the outset that while there wereBoard members on both sides of the issue … a clear majority, includingmyself, found your remarks cause for concern. …
Those who favored the new direction thought that your comments clearly articulatedwhat they believed — that is, that a time had come for just such a changeand that we need to be driven by what the public thinks about public education.
Conversely, those opposed (a majority) found your remarks troubling. Wisconsin,like many other states, has a rich tradition of collective bargaining, memberadvocacy, and unionism. The view of a majority of the WEAC Board membersis that a balance must be struck between “member advocacy” issuesand the “professionalism” issues. … Many in Wisconsin view your”new direction” as moving that balance dramatically in the directionof “professionalism: at the expense of “member advocacy andunionism.” Further, we feel that this issue is not an either/or debate…. You have already received a letter from four of our urban affiliates,which represents their position, and in large part, mirrors some of theattitudes expressed by the WEAC Board. …
Terry Craney, President, Wisconsin Education Association Council