State of the Union 2017
Posted on October 11, 2017
As delivered by SDEA President Lindsay Burningham at the October 2017 SDEA Fall Leadership Conference
Good morning everyone, and welcome to our 2017 SDEA Fall Leadership. For those of you here today who I may not have met, I am Lindsay Burningham, kindergarten teacher and SDEA President. It is hard for me to believe that I am in my fourth and final year as SDEA President and delivering my last State of the Union address to all of you. When I became a kindergarten teacher just over 13 years ago, I never would have imagined I was going to be the president of SDEA, but I want to thank all of you for giving me the opportunity to be in this position. We have accomplished a lot together in the last 3 years and we have a lot of work to do in the year ahead!
I would also like to thank each one of you for choosing to be here today. I know that on a Saturday morning, the last place you probably want to be, is back at school. But you’re here, and if you’re here, it’s because you are dedicated to each other, our union, public education and especially to our students. Thank you for giving up your time to build your skills as a union leader and build the capacity of our union to win the fights ahead.
I also want to thank you for stepping up and being a union representative and leader in SDEA. I know that being a representative of this union isn’t easy, it takes courage and hard work. What you do for our members, is more than just advocating for their rights under the contract and more than just attending a meeting with them. What you do for our members is lead them to build strength in themselves, and when you do this, it allows our members to help their students and school communities to do the same. It’s the perfect combination of both teaching and doing; it is the reason we all chose to be educators, our belief and faith, that public education is a means to a better world.
We all know the last school year was challenging, and after all our hard work and commitment in the 2016 election, we still awoke to face a stark and an unknown reality, not only for Public Education, but for our entire existence as we know it. A reality grounded in immense insecurity at the national level stemming from the election of a President and the appointment of a Secretary of Education who believe public education should either be privatized or dismantled. We also experienced our own homegrown insecurity, created by the district’s decision to make slash-and-burn cuts to its own budget, a decision that not only led to issuing over 900 layoff notices to our members and colleagues throughout the district, but also instilled fear and insecurity in our students and their families.
Today, even though we succeeded in bringing back all our members, we are still fighting to undo the damage created by such an ill-advised decision. None the less, through all this insecurity we remain united and committed to our students, their families and our educators. You rose to face the challenges that were placed before us, head on. Last year, we conducted over 125 bargaining input sessions and launched our SDEA L.E.A.R.N.! bargaining campaign for the schools our students and educators deserve. Through the L.E.A.R.N.! campaign, we are committing to advocate for the resources and support that our educators and students need both in and outside the classroom. The priorities you shared in the bargaining input sessions have become the foundation for our bargaining proposals. If you are to succeed in the classroom, you need the resources and supports to get you there.
SDEA also joined forces with more than 50,000 educators, from large urban school districts across the state and created the California Alliance for Community Schools. An alliance committed to fighting against the privatization of our public schools, through joining organizing efforts with labor and community partners across the state. This alliance of education unions currently represents the largest cities in the state, from the Oakland Education Association to the United Educators of San Francisco and the United Teachers of Los Angeles. These large urban school districts face many of the same challenges we face in San Diego, from disinvestment in schools and communities, especially those with the greatest needs, to educational policies that discourage authentic teaching and learning, and the rapid expansion of privately managed and unregulated charter schools at the expense of our neighborhood schools. As we stand up and stand strong to face these challenges and win, we will be doing so united with over 50,000 fellow CTA members and public education warriors across the state.
As we all know, life is not without its challenges, and one major challenge comes from the appointment of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court of the United States.
In 1977, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the Abood v. Detroit Board of Education decision, which established a public employee union’s right to collect “Fair Share”. Fair share is the idea that everyone who enjoys the benefits and protections of the union contract should, in fairness, contribute to maintaining the contract. Current Supreme Court rulings acknowledge that it’s not fair for some people to get union benefits for free while others pay. Whether it’s the General Legal Service program that provides our members with outside legal representation, or the funding necessary to advocate for the rights of educators and students at both the National, State and local levels, our union’s ability to collect our “fair Share” of dues has been a major component in SDEA’s ability to fight back all threats to public education that would harm our members and students. The appointment of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court and Supreme Court case Janus v. AFSCME will change all of that, when it is expected to be upheld in June 2018.
The law would continue to require public sector unions like SDEA to bargain and enforce the contract for everyone, but would allow individuals to decide whether to pay or not pay their fair share for those benefits. Lawsuits like Janus are being funded by the same billionaires who stand to profit from privatizing public schools once our unions die. Public sector unions are the single strongest and most effective defender of public services. With our unions out of the way, the path will be clear to convert or replace public schools with for-profit charters and other money-makers that are good for billionaires, but bad for kids, bad for our communities and bad for educators who deserve to live a stable, middle class life.
If you want to see what life looks like for educators without fair share, look at our sisters and brothers in Michigan and Wisconsin where state legislators have recently killed fair share. Many members think they will get the same benefits without paying union dues, and stop paying. The union then becomes too weak to effectively bargain and enforce the contract. Wages decrease. Health care premiums skyrocket. Basic workplace protections around hours, safety, class size and other supports vanish. Overnight, educators in Michigan and Wisconsin went from having a 150-page contract to a 15-page handbook, which in one local required female teachers to wear skirts and pantyhose to work. I don’t want my employer dictating what I wear, do you? If SDEA members don’t band together to protect our union, this could be our new reality within a year.
Unlike Michigan and Wisconsin who faced these attacks overnight, we know they are coming. We have time to prepare and we have time to stand together, stand united and stand up for our union and public education.
The challenges we face today, are not unique to these times we live in. This union has faced similar challenges before, and we’ve always come out the other side stronger and better equipped to represent our members, students and public education.
But, if we are to succeed in our endeavors, we will need to evolve, and we are going to need everyone! It is not a matter of if, but when public sector unions will lose Fair Share fees, with the strong likelihood that it will happen around June 2018. At the same time, schools in San Diego Unified face a steady decline in enrollment due to charter schools. The solution to both these problems is one and the same. We must organize!
We must organize to build a union so powerful that every member understands the value of their membership, and we must organize with parents in our school communities so that they understand the value of their local public schools.
Despite good conversations and stated commitments to creating an organizing culture at SDEA, the reality remains that the bulk of our work continues to be representational. Why? Because the fundamental structure of our union roles and responsibilities remain those of a representational union, not an organizing union.
If we want an organizing union, we must create leadership and staff structures that allow and support organizing. We cannot continue to have a handful of members and staff doing all of the work within our school sites and our union. We must walk the hallways of our buildings, talk to our fellow members, build relationships and get them more active and engaged in the work we all do.
Although member dues are necessary to do the work we do, they are not the key to our success. Our success and the future of our union is, and always will be in our members ability to unite in defense of themselves, their students, their communities and the future of public education. We are over 6,000 members, every one of us connected by our profession and passion for public education.
All of you here today, could have decided to be somewhere else, but you didn’t. You chose to be here, and for that, you are your Union’s greatest asset. I am immensely grateful for everything you do every day for your students, your school and SDEA and I want to thank you in advance for all the work you will be doing in the year ahead as we build a stronger SDEA to win the fights ahead. You are SDEA! We are ALL SDEA!