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Every year, the Connecticut Education Association takes $489 from my paychecks.  The National Education Association takes $183, and my own local union takes…well I’ve never actually looked into it since the deduction is automatic and I can’t stop it anyway.  I teach units in US History about the importance of unions, workers’ rights and collective bargaining, yet I regarded my own union as a convoluted pyramid scheme I was locked into since there is no “opt-out” option.  How’s that for professional cognitive dissonance? I know they negotiate our contracts, which being the arrogant, invincibility-complex young man that I am, always left me wondering if I could have done a better job striking a deal on my own.  The only other thing I knew about our teacher’s union was that they will provide a lawyer if you either do something bad, or get accused of doing something bad.  As I didn’t ever plan on doing anything wrong or making any enemies that would bring false allegations against me, I felt this money to be unjustly stolen.  Around $800 each year is taken and I have gotten nothing in return.

CEA Orientation Group, 2015. Taken from CEA Facebook page.

CEA Orientation Group, 2015. Taken from CEA Facebook page.

 

The CEA boasts 43,000 active members and 6,000 retired members, who can either pay a lifetime membership fee of $250 or $55 each year.  They also boast 3,000 student members, but I’m not sure what the financial obligation for a college student is.  Overall, this inflates the Hartford cash-cow to $22 million of annually flowing dues money.  Now, rest-assured, every single penny brought in is also spent, as verified by outside CPA firm audits; but what does such a powerful sum of pooled capital really get? How is it put to use? What does it buy?

 Had I been as resourceful as I pride myself in being, I could have just logged onto the CEA website and figured all of this out.

The CEA headquarters across from the Capitol is owned outright by CEA and was built in 1991.  CEA itself is housed on the 5th and top story where membership, media, policy and all of the things one may associate with the union actually go down.  Each floor below it is devoted to its own specific role that is vital to CEA’s mission and a whole 292 parking spaces exist in the convenient underground garage to support the individuals working in this 113,000sq.ft. facility.  All of this is according to Glenn Silva, Director of Technology, Administrative, and Building Operations.  I’m not sure why one job title covers technology and the building, but if it works, it works.

CEA Board Room

CEA Board Room

It is up on the 5th floor where Vinnie Lofredo, Director of Government and Political Relations organizes testimony to be given before the General Assembly.  He showed off his stylish lanyard and tag that all lobbyists are required to wear in conjunction with regulation policies that require they report all money and time spent politically.  I’m absolutely positive these regulations came amid the shady, closed door dealings for which lobbyists are renowned in pop culture.  While many policies that make the legislative agenda through the time and effort of his team seem like they should be common sense initiatives anyway, I recognize I am looking at this from the bias perspective of an educator.  If the existence of lobbying is necessary in this modern day labyrinth of laws, I’m happy to have the gears of the political machine greased by people in my own self-interest.  At least the peculiar organization that is the education lobby is funded by educators as opposed to some sketchy third part conglomerate and maintains wholesome and moral goals.  At the end of the day we are trying to shape laws to benefit all students and provide more equitable learning opportunities.

Of course, political relies on public opinion and a valuable asset to any reform is to win the hearts and minds of the people.  Laurel Killough is the New Media Coordinator/Editorial Assistant for Communications who connects educators and the general public to the issues.  Utilizing tried and true methodologies like the CEA Advisor, coverage of special events and projects, 21st Century media tweets its presence as well.  Social media of all types are leveraged which in part help provide a platform for digital content which go beyond blogs and standard web applications to include sublime videography most recently coming out with this official commercial:

 

The CEA will help local chapters establish a web presence and give tips for growing a platform that will function properly and attract real usage from the membership.  Dave Canales, webmaster and lead designer at CEA has invested three years of coding his golden vision into CEA.org to transform it from an antiquated plop on Google’s baziliionth page of search results for “CEA” to a number one result that offers streamlined and user friendly information diffused through a gorgeous web platform.  The site houses resources that union members want, need, and use. All negotiated contracts are posted on the site, so if members are entering negotiations and want to see what other districts have used for legal language to establish a clause for sabbatical, or class size caps, the previously unavailable information gives teachers negotiating power.  Teachers can see decisions being made in Hartford that will affect them and unite to take courses of action in support or defense of proposed policy.  One other beautiful feature of the webpage is a listing of upcoming sponsored events, many of which the union covers costs for.  Want to learn about racial inequality in education, teaching sexual tolerance, education and the law, or connect with other educators at political events? There’s an event to suite your needs! The webpage is an important tool that unites us as a profession.  Knowledge is power and that’s exactly what the CEA website offers us all.

 

The CEA contract section has tons of valuable resources.  Looking at job postings and wondering what the salary schedule is for certain districts? Look it up at cea.org

The CEA contract section has tons of valuable resources. Looking at job postings and wondering what the salary schedule is for certain districts? Look it up at cea.org

 

Linette Branham, the director of Policy, Research, and Reform took from and center of the CEA boardroom to explain her role in the noble cause of education.  She first warmed us up by saying that there is an “Evaluations” tab on the CEA website to see policy letters that the Governor and other higher-ups send to Superintendents.  I think everyone was pleased to learn of the transparency available and the fact that if we wanted to see initiatives or political information coming down the pipe, we could easily do so.  Loving this option, she next stated that she was in charge of TEAM.  Now her immediate inclination was to go on a jaunt about how superior this program is to BEST, the old system of new teacher training and induction. Being one of the only young bloods around the table, I think I was one of a handful who understood the stressful fury of TEAM, but I also recognized that compared to BEST, this was a cake walk.  I have in fact never, EVER, heard one good thing about BEST, so am thrilled it has been trashed.  As I pondered on the words Linette spoke and thought about my own early education excursions, I realized just how important the program was.  While it was a stressful struggle to be a new teacher and balance the million things a new classroom bombarded me with, I had to research and experiment in the classroom while tracking results, being observed, and log a final report.  The process for 2 years was daunting, but I can honestly say it made me a better educator.  I still use pieces of a token economy I implemented in year one and all of the research in innovation has led me to where I am today: constantly trying new things.  I have flipped my class, gamified learning, and am rolling out Mastery Based Learning and Standards Based Grading next year.  My mentor has continued to be my guide in the district long after the program has finished, and knowing that many educators don’t get the guidance to find current trends in education post-college, I always provide information on that topic at the start of professional development seminars I run.  So, TEAM, to me you are like high school English class.  I hated you at the time, but looking back, I am so fortunate you were there to give me the skills that are contributing to my current success.  Thanks, Linette. Just for fun, if you want to see an unknown draft of my first TEAM paper, you can do that here: Brian’s First TEAM Paper.

The entire fourth floor of CEA’s building is devoted to workman’s compensation, which is a legal matter that my mind has never dwelled on much.  Still this seems like a floor worthy cause, especially as we are first of all a labor union and also looking to include mental impairments in coverage as well. For more information on that, please see the following article: Workers Comp to Cover Mental Impairment

The third floor houses legal counsel.  Everything I gleaned about their operation comes from Chris Hankins, head of that department. From his seven minute synopsis, I could tell this is the type of guy I’d love to have a coffee with; authentically enthusiastic and humorous at the evening hour he spoke with us, his demeanor definitely made him a joy to listen to.  Chris and the two other members of his counsel have a 72 page booklet for distribution called “Teachers and the Law” which they will bring to a PD of the same name if 30 or more educators in the district attend.  He says the 3rd floor is rather empty, but that legal has to have its own floor because when the press comes to cover CEA activity, if they caught crying teachers seeking consultation, it would be bad publicity.  On that topic, Chris says it is their official policy to have a box of tissues in every single room and that “men cry harder than women.” He hit a noticeable number of tangents cursing DCF, so while legalities restrict him from talking about what exactly he sees teachers for, it is not good.  The hierarchy for problem solving in the union goes like this: 3,000 building reps–>157 Union Presidents–>24 Regional UniServ Reps–>3 Counselors.  We were assured that the counselors get involved only after the hierarchy has been exhausted and it is almost certainly a career ending event.  Basically, if you see Chris Hankins come into your school, you’re going to want to talk to him because he’s probably an awesome guy, but you’re also about to have the worst day of your life.

 

Men cry harder than women.

 

The second floor houses the American Federation of Teachers, which I believed was the other “rival” union in the state.  When I worked in New Haven, they represented us and as I learned in orientation, they serve mostly large urban districts.  Apparently in the 1980’s these two unions were poaching each other’s members.  If CEA was perceived to not handle something properly, a teacher from a district where this happened was likely to call AFT who would then rally the district to switch the entity that represents them and the long, expensive tug-of-war with membership would begin.  By the late 80’s the strain had been seen, and for the greater good, both unions called a truce.  They decided to join their powers and collectively bargain with politicians for better schools, better support, and better outcomes.  So while the unions remain two separate entities, they act as friends of a common cause that have united to improve the lives of educators, students, and families which will have an untold ripple effect across our state and nation.

 

Sandy Hook Memorial. It was promised to be built on Capitol property, but was denied for unknown (to me) reasons. It's now housed in the CEA lobby across the street.

Sandy Hook Memorial. It was promised to be built on Capitol property, but was denied for unknown (to me) reasons. It’s now housed in the CEA lobby across the street.

To see the high resolution photo album from the trip, click here: Brian F Germain’s Flickr Account, CEA/NEA Orientation Album

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