IN THIS ISSUE
The Florida Education Association Meets
The Florida Education Association is Florida's teachers' union, with over 140,000 members from kindergarten teachers to university professors. And UFF is a "union local" of the FEA. The FEA is a representative democracy, and all union locals (including UFF) elect representatives to attend the annual FEA Delegate Assembly, which is the primary policy-making body of the FEA. Last weekend, 681 delegates met to plan for the coming year.
For the next FEA Delegate Assembly, UFF members will elect UFF's delegates in spring – and all UFF members are free to run.
- THE COMING YEAR. While the union locals recruit new members, the FEA is looking forward to a spring of wrestling with the legislature. For more, see below.
- JUST DROPPING BY. Democratic National Committee chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Vice President Joe Biden, Senator Bill Nelson, and former Florida Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink spoke to the Assembly. For more, see below.
THE COMING YEAR
This is going to be a hard year.
The Delegate Assembly mostly addressed Tallahassee issues, for Tallahassee is the immediate problem. Florida House Appropriations Committee Staff Director JoAnne Leznoff told the committee last month that Florida faces a general revenues deficit of $ 1.2 billion to $ 2.3 billion; if the Legislature chooses to balance the budget entirely with cuts, that would mean a general revenues cut of about five to ten percent. So FEA is preparing to face calls for additional cuts to education.
Meanwhile, legislators are preparing anti-union and anti-public employee legislation. Several of FEA's union locals – including most university chapters in UFF – would be vulnerable to any new version of Representative Scott Plakon's bill to require majority membership in a union in order for that union to represent employees in bargaining and grievances. FEA's primary response to this threat is to appeal to union locals to recruit more members. While FEA intends to fight this legislation, the fight is expensive and FEA's resources are limited.
FEA is continuing battle against the 3 % "contribution" we are required to make to our state pensions. After Governor Scott signed the law requiring that we make the payments, FEA sued, and the suit is now before Leon Court Circuit Judge Jackie Fulford. FEA lawyer Ron Meyer told Fulford that "If the state can simply walk away from its contractual rights ... and spend it on whatever it likes, there would be no contractual rights" (see the Miami Herald story Judge: Cuts to state employees violated contract. This case is expected to reach the Florida Supreme Court – and union dues are paying the legal fees.
JUST DROPPING BY
Ever since Rick Scott was elected governor, FEA President Andy Ford has been seeking an audience – unsuccessfully. Unlike Scott's predecessor, Scott is invariably unavailable.
Meanwhile, like the FEA Delegate Assembly, the annual Florida Democratic Convention met in Orlando last weekend. Perhaps because the Florida I-4 corridor is regarded as a critical battleground for next year's election, many VIPs from the Democratic Party were there. Some had the time to drop by the FEA Delegate Assembly to say a few words.
Debbie Wasserman Schultz is a congressperson from Florida, chair of the Democratic National Committee, and the first guest. She told the Assembly that there was a new "narrative" blaming teachers and unions and rationalizing educational budget cuts. Meanwhile, class sizes are exploding (she complained about the 40+ students in her son's high school Spanish class), the teacher shortage is worsening, and Florida schools are getting unfunded mandates. "Nations that out-educate us now will out-compete us in the future," she warned.
Joe Biden, Vice President of the United States, was introduced by his wife Jill Biden, an Instructor of Developmental English at Northern Virginia Community College. Joe Biden said that educators "believe in possibilities," especially those of their students. Biden said that he had a stutter as a child which affected him enough that he had been greatly moved by the recent movie The King's Speech. He said, "Thank God that I had teachers who convinced me that I wasn't defined by my stutter." Opportunity is, he claimed, "The fundamental question before us today," and he complained that "The way that some people talk about our children, they talk about them as if they were someone else's children."
Alex Sink narrowly lost the gubernatorial election against Rick Scott last fall, and she told the Assembly that she has founded a new non-profit organization, Florida Next, for developing small businesses in Florida. She said that when she met a recent roundtable with small businessmen, they told her that their biggest worry right now was cutting education. She went on to say that the FEA is the only strong organization to fight Scott politically – and in the courts.
Bill Nelson is the senior U.S. senator of Florida, and said that "You do the Lord's work. It's a great honor to come before people who do the Lord's work." His primary concern was with Florida's new election laws, which have deterred organizations like the League of Women Voters from conducting voter drives in Florida. "They made it harder to vote. They made it harder to register to vote. They made it harder to make your vote count." Noting that in 2008, half of the provisional votes weren't counted, he condemned the requirement that voters who have recently moved but not updated their drivers' licenses (like many college students) cast provisional ballots. He described the plight of New Smyrna Beach High School teacher Jill Cicciarelli, who ran afoul of the new law and now faces thousands of dollars of fines.