For the foreseeable future, NSO members will find our Staff Unions under assault as NEA and State Affiliates attempt to cut back and restructure in the face of the Janus threat to fair share, as well as legislative attacks on collective bargaining, payroll deduction, and a host of other union rights and new mandates intended to eliminate unions, such as annual certification requirements. While change will likely be necessary, we need to make sure we are equal participants in creating & shaping that change. That includes ensuring that our contracts are as strong and tight as possible. To protect & strengthen our Staff Unions we need to take the following steps:
1. Maintaining Unity & Educate Your Staff Union Members.
Organize around meaningful opportunities for member engagement, education, feedback, and leadership— build a culture of transparent, participatory democracy.
Make sure your members know the threats they face, internal and external, and that the way to face them is by standing together. Don’t let despair rule the day!
Review your union code of conduct. Solidarity is our strength, not individual relationships with management, which can change at any moment.
2. Strengthen Your Contract Language.
Strengthen your Seniority and RIF language & your language around Transfers & Reassignments. Don’t let managers use these crises to pick and choose staff, allowing them to reshape your union in their image. Make sure processes are clear, well-defined, & based on seniority. Keep management’s ability to RIF, Transfer, or Reassign as narrow in scope as possible. You should bargain strong, specific, and accountable triggers for any kind of reduction using verifiable financial figures (e.g. from the LM Report or the IRS 990) rather than membership reports, since those can be easily manipulated.
Make sure you also have strong language to limit Subcontracting/Outsourcing and the use of temporary employees. Don’t let them take work away from your Staff Union and cost member jobs by effectively creating a scab work force.
3. Make Sure Your Staff Union Crisis Funds are Adequate.
Do you have a special crisis fund assessment & fund governance structure set in your bylaws? Is that assessment adequate to supplement member incomes in the event of a strike or lockout? If not, make the necessary changes now. Don’t wait!
4. Don’t Let Your Employer Claim Financial Distress Without Proof!
Go over your employer’s finances:
● Secure copies of recent audits
● Determine reserve fund balances (use DOL & IRS documents & not just theirs)
● Go over membership trends over the last 5 years
● Analyze your Pension’s Funding Ratio (asset vs. liabilities)
● Look over prior year surpluses and losses (deficits)
● Analyze their budget documents, not so much for the numbers themselves but to help identify what their priorities are
For virtually all of these recommendations, NSO can be an invaluable resource. If you need assistance, contact your NSO Regional Director. Don’t be taken advantage of just because your affiliate didn’t get help that was available!
Only if we are strong will we be able to move forward as equal, if not controlling, partners with governance and management in what lies ahead.